How is a Soup Nazi Like Nail Decals?

Soup Nazi at Dewey Square

Soup Nazi at Dewey Square by jeffcutler, on Flickr

Sometimes you just get a confluence of events, forcing themselves onto your attention and demanding that you respond, or at least think about them. I recently had such a confluence, and I would love to know your thoughts, too.

I have to admit to not being a Seinfeld fan. I was not aware of the Soup Nazi meme until I heard the term on a recent Business Jazz podcast. The reference was entirely apropos (Jane was talking about the possible advantages of a regimented process in business), but the term itself led to an interesting Twitter exchange between Roger Overall and myself. He was not as shocked as I was. I’ve also had discussions with people about terms like Grammar Nazi or feminazi. People don’t seem to realise how they are trivialising a horror beyond understanding.

But lest you think that Jews are immune to this sort of trivialisation, I recently had this gem come over my Facebook wall. Nail decals depicting the Ten Plagues of Egypt. The terrible, horrible things that G-d inflicted on the Egyptians to persuade their hard-hearted Pharaoh to let the Israelites leave. Grisly diseases, the death of their cattle and destruction of their agriculture aside, the Plagues culminate with the Slaying of the Firstborn of Egypt. “Every firstborn in Egypt will die, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the firstborn of the slave girl, who is at her hand mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle as well. There will be loud wailing throughout Egypt—worse than there has ever been or ever will be again. ” That’s when Pharaoh finally broke and let them go.

The Sages who put our Passover Seder together understood the terror and grief that the Plagues inflicted on the people of Egypt. During our recitation of the story, we remove drops of wine from our cups to diminish our joy in sympathy with their suffering. The Babylonian Talmud tells a famous story about the Song of the Sea, when Moses and the Israelites sang a song of thanksgiving after their redemption from the pursuing Egyptian cavalry, which drowned in the sea. In this story, the angels desire to sing as well, but G-d rebukes them, saying “The work of my hands is drowning in the sea, and you wish to sing before me?”. The humans were allowed to sing because they had reason for gratitude, but merely rejoicing in the death of G-d’s handiwork was not acceptable.

Given all of this, how can it be acceptable to wear nail decals portraying the plagues? Or indeed, to wear cutesy masks or play with adorable stuffed toys? I confess to owning a set of the latter, although in my defence it was given to me. I will have to think long and hard about whether we will put them out this year.

I am thrilled to know that I am not the only one struggling with this question about the trivialisation of horror. Whether the horrors happened 5000 years ago or 70 years ago, to this generation they seem to be equally distant and unreal. Our grandparents said “Never again!”, but is that true?

How can we, to whom the Holocaust, the Holodomor or the Rwandan genocide are as distant as the Plagues of Egypt, prevent our souls from becoming inured to horror?

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6 Responses to “How is a Soup Nazi Like Nail Decals?”

  1. Lynne Thompson Says:

    These are excellent points, Hadass, and I am right there with you. It’s why I don’t like Hallowe’en or the show Walking Dead or True Blood. I know what you are talking about is different, but it is a symptom of people crossing a line, not having anything that is sacred, thinking that whatever we think or say, no matter how horrific, is just “all in good fun.” It makes me ill. There is a lack of sensitivity out there 🙁 and as you allude to, a lack of knowledge and memory.

  2. Holly Jahangiri Says:

    I struggle with these things, too, Hadass, and I’m glad you’ve opened a conversation, here, about it.

    I didn’t know this about the Passover Seder, but I love it. No matter how horrible someone is, they were once a child of God, a child with a mother who loved (or should have loved) them, a child with the potential to be good. If they turned out horrible, it’s a tragedy.

    I once gave up a good freelance job as a contributing editor of a magazine because I refused to review a PC game – a technically excellent but morally vapid game that I felt trivialized the Holocaust and humanity in general. It was a “you can’t fire me, I quit” scenario, and ironically, it was a Jewish man who could have backed me up in this and refused to. (We’re still friends; I won’t name names. But I did find it odd.)

    Having said that, it also bothers me when symbols of luck and happiness are co-opted by evildoers and turned into something ugly, so that centuries of native art – in countries and by people who had more right to those symbols than the evil people who chose to use them. For example:

    I don’t need to experience horror first-hand to experience empathy; I feel sorrow for those who do. Because I believe they will, in this existence or the next. I pray that I won’t.
    Holly Jahangiri recently posted…#HPS3: Crossing the StreamsMy Profile

  3. Margaret Gerard Says:

    Well put Hadass. We seem to have learned nothing – so many instances of mass murder. Conversations like this don’t reach the perpetrators and I believe would have no effect in any case, so no answers here:>(

  4. Chris Brogan Says:

    Okay, so I’m not a member of the Tribe, as sometimes it’s said. Discount me as that.

    I think it’s a really difficult line. I’ve read in many places that the tragedies of the Holocaust are being somehow forgotten or dampened in the minds of the youth of today, that the story is more and more a “that’s a bad thing that happened” with a headshake and not as much a cautionary tale of what could happen again, lest we lose our vigilance.

    The word “Nazi” has come to mean something completely different, and as you say above, is often used to say “someone who puts rigor over many other choices.” That’s terrifying. It’s like saying it’d be okay to say “Turkey Rapist” if someone really loves eating turkey and that somehow being okay.

    So all that blather to tell you this: thanks for bringing it up. It’s important to stay sensitive to trivializing of an important shared past. Thank you.
    Chris Brogan recently posted…The Words We ChooseMy Profile

  5. Hadass Eviatar Says:

    Thank you, Chris! No need to be an MOT to have a valid opinion. That’s also one reason I mentioned other 20th century atrocities, although I find it interesting nobody is likely to create a Soup Hutu any time soon.
    Hadass Eviatar recently posted…How is a Soup Nazi Like Nail Decals?My Profile

  6. Liz Says:

    I totally hear you. Every Passover I end up getting a bit introspective over this topic at some point in the Seder night. This year I’ve been thinking about it weeks before since it’s the first year my nearly 4-year-old son is learning real concrete details about the history. He’s been taught the plagues, but interestingly, he doesn’t seem aware of the last one – Death of the Firstborns. Other kids in his class don’t include that one either. I’m ok with that. It’s a tough one. Even for me as an adult. Especially for me as a mother.
    Liz recently posted…Liz’s How To: become a total creep over Hello KittyMy Profile

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