It sounds surreal to say it but Nazi themed drinking games seem to have been getting a lot of press coverage of late. First there was the news of how members of the Oxford students Conservative Association had sung Nazi themed songs during a drinking session and then came the pictures of MP Aidan Burley attending a Stag party in which members had dressed as Nazis.
Now come the reports that LSE students on a University skiing holiday took part in a Nazi themed drinking game that involved arranging cards in a swastika shape while participants would heil Hitler. A Jewish student objected to the game and the dispute eventually led to brawl in which the same Jewish student had his nose broken by one of the players. How do we make sense of this sudden upsurge in rather debauched and seemingly inexplicable glorifications of Nazism?
Firstly, let it be said that there is no escaping just how sickening it is to see the grandchildren of a generation that sacrificed so much to defeat Nazism now revelling in its macabre customs.
However, once we have overcome our sense of disgust and despondency that such things are happening how do we come to understand how all this has come about? Has there been a sudden upsurge in adherence to hitlerian race theory? Are young Britons really eagerly embracing the tenets of the volksgemeinschaft? Almost certainly the answer must be a no.
Indeed, if anything it would seem a shocking lack of understanding of Nazism and illiteracy in Britain's history have played some part in this. Yet this lack of education alone cannot fully explain what is going on here.
It might be said that in a society in which almost anything goes, in which it seems we are all cynically unshockable, the Nazis remain the last taboo. If you want to be seen to be indulging in the risqué then your options are now rather scant but there is still some dim awareness that dressing up as Nazis and saluting Hitler just isn't the done thing, in which case you better get out there and do it, and be seen to be doing it by as many people as possible. But that only begs a further question, why is it that pushing boundaries and breaking taboos has become such a celebrated pursuit, something that can even win you the respect of your peers.
If you show a 1940s film such as Brief Encounter to people today they may be touched by its sentiments but it seems they often can't help but scoff at its stuffy innocence, its naivety? It's immaturity even? During the sixties television began to 'explore' a whole range of formerly controversial issues such as abortion and extramarital affairs while at the same time Penguin books got around the censorship laws and published Britain's first edition of Lady Chatterley's Lover. It was not long before television programmes were seeing how far they could push the law on broadcasting images of nudity. Nor does it seem so long ago that our national soap operas claimed to breaking new ground in bringing to the family living rooms of viewers nightly storylines featuring seedy drug abuse and tortured homosexual relationships. The message to the public was clear; what you can consider 'normal' is changing.
And all of this was done with some reference to the greater good. This was going to free us we were being told. We were being liberated from the old oppressive constraints that Judeo-Christian values had imposed upon us. Now with propriety gone everyone would be free to be their real self, the fullest version of them self, able to explore and experiment with everything and anything, all in the name of self expression and creativity. And accordingly those forward thinking individuals that brought the drab masonry of our social taboos crashing down around us were to be hailed as our cultural heroes.
Yet it didn't seem to take long for people to forget the reason for why taboo breaking was considered such a supposedly admirable undertaking in the first place. The very act of shocking society took on a chic of its very own and everyone from artists to pop-stars have been trying to find new ways to do it ever since. Now stand-up comedians reel off gags about paedophilia and we do little more than roll our eyes and tut. You can leave a Tracey Emin exhibition feeling a little queasy perhaps, but certainly not scandalised. Indeed, only the other evening I was in a London restaurant when a film playing on the television screen over the bar began depicting a violent rape scene, which barely seemed to provoke so much as a nod of acknowledgement from most of the diners.
This then, is where we find ourselves today. Anyone who wants to be considered hip must be seen to be turning heads and inciting gasps of astonishment by saying the unsayable and doing the undoable, showing that their outlandish behaviour can know no restraints and that if that means disregarding the inconvenient trivial details of our history, well then so be it.
Having disposed as obsolete and stifling the values of Judeo-Christianity perhaps we shouldn't be so surprised when people start donning the costumes and trappings of an ideology that so despised Judeo-Christianity in its own time. As Hitler once said: "Yes we are barbarians. We want to be barbarians", well I think we can all agree that that would make for a pretty good description of those taking part in the recent Nazi themed drinking games that the press is outraged by today but will no doubt consider harmless fun in a few tomorrows time. Unless of course, we decide we want a sea change in the direction that our popular culture is and indeed has (for more than half a century) been moving in.