The rise of Downfall

Everyone has a favourite. There's the one where Hitler finds out Michael Jackson is dead ("Anybody who does not own Thriller, Bad or Dangerous, leave now"), the one where Hitler is informed that Oasis have split up ("If you don't think Oasis are the Best Band Ever . . . leave now") and the one where Hitler discovers he is flying Ryanair rather than Lufthansa for his skiing holiday in Slovakia ("Those of you unfortunate enough to have flown with those clowns before, please leave the room").

The Downfall parody, the Hitler rant - call it what you will - is one of the most enduring of all internet "memes". The conceit is simple - take the climactic scene from the 2004 film about the last days in Hitler's bunker and rewrite the subtitles according to your theme.

The scene starts quietly with Hitler's generals nervously updating the Führer on military progress and then builds to the big reveal as, sweating, they inform Hitler of the Nazis' inevitable defeat. There is a lengthy pause as Hitler takes off his glasses with a shaking hand and then sends almost everyone out of the room before launching into one of the most prolonged and melodramatic rants ever committed to film.

There have been thousands of parody videos - countless, in fact, as many of the early attempts were removed by Downfall's production company, Constantin Film, which was unamused by the fad. But the videos kept emerging, and even Downfall's director, Oliver Hirschbiegel, recognises the amateur remakes as a tribute of sorts. "I've seen about 145! . . . Many times the lines are so funny, I laugh out loud and I'm laughing about the scene that I staged myself! You couldn't get a better compliment as a director," he told New York magazine in 2010.

Third Rant

The first known video, according to, was made in 2006 and shows Hitler fulminating over the lack of new features in the demo trial of Microsoft's Flight Simulator X. By 2009, there were so many that a YouTube channel, Hitler Rants Parodies, was created. And now, in the strange way in which the virtual world intrudes on the real world, and a joke can get you sacked, the Downfall parody has waded into public life. On 16 January Tom Harris MP was forced to resign from his post as Labour's new media adviser for posting his own parody with Alex Salmond in the leading role ("It's nobody else's business - it's my referendum - mine! MINE!").

Nowadays you're no one if you haven't had a Downfall spoof made about you, so the stern reaction seemed a little over the top. Nonetheless, Harris was sent on his way. As consolation of sorts, his own fate is the subject of a batch of new videos. The best casts Ed Miliband in the role of Hitler, who is updated on the party's woeful situation ("Following your sixth relaunch, our only remaining stronghold is Coventry") and Harris's resignation. To which Miliband/Hitler responds: "Anyone who thinks we can't win the next election, please leave the room." And everyone, bar the three nervy loyalists, does so.

Sophie Elmhirst is features editor of the New Statesman

This article first appeared in the 23 January 2012 issue of the New Statesman, Has the Arab Spring been hijacked?