January 29, 2007 Swing Kids

Here's another one of those films that slipped by me when it came out. I am sad it surfaced recently! i didn't like it one bit. Especiallyhenhad tolok tifromahumandevelopment perspective!

The most obvious application of developmental theory is the hurdle that I see evidenced- Erikson's idea of identity establishment. Peter, Thomas, and to a lesser extent Arvid experience various levels of Marcia's identity statuses. Thomas moves between identity diffusion and foreclosure; he has no evidence of charting his future and believes he can have the best of both worlds- Hitler Youth (HJ) by day and Swing Kid by night. He ends up exhibiting his lack of developed identity and positive parental influences by betraying his friends and family for the attention he is given by the propagandists. Arvid has a more settled identity and thinks deeply about the ramifications of his choices, perhaps as a result of identification based rooted in his own suffering caused by his deformity. Arvid does not look the other way. He continues to pursue his music even when his hand is crushed by reprogrammed former hep-cat Emile who has "wised up" (makes one wonder if this is an allusion to Rousseau's perfectly educated student, but again, I am probably reading too much into this.) Arvid eventually commits suicide when faced with the obliteration of the things he holds as most precious. In the absence of hope, he self-consciously determines to declare his autonomy in a drastic way.

Peter is committed to an identity as a Swing Kid and future engineer, but experiences a crisis or moratorium state when faced with the spiraling moral dilemma he faces as the Nazi regime moves forward. He is plagued by conflicted questions about the character of his father, whose actions he cannot rationalize in his mind. A turning point in his development is evidenced when he is asked to spy on his employer and determines not to reveal what he has found out. In the end he comes to see his father's greatness. Another turning point is his move from a Kohlbergian level 2 conventional morality ("If they were expelled they must have done something wrong") to a more principled morality by the time of his encounter with the wife of one of his father's students.

Peter makes a personal commitment after soul-searching in the light of his personal circumstances. The viewer is left wondering at the wisdom of his choice to go down in flames, so to speak, in a final act of defiance rather than learning from his father's example by which he served others and became a martyr.Peter also has a role model in his employer Herr Schumler-(hmm, an allusion to Oskar Schindler?) who risks everything to help the helpless. Or was it for a price? To this viewer, Peter abdicated his responsibilities as the man of his household in a foolish display of protest. Mindless quote" It doesn't matter- it's OK Willie!" The adolescent need for belonging is played out whether it is in the Swing Kids cohort or in the HJ. The backdrop of the Holocaust is very secondary. Kenneth Branaugh does bring an air of evil to his role, addressing Hitler's appeal to a lost generation by "serving the Fatherland."

It is easy to read too much into this rather naïve story. For the most part, a bloodless Holocaust, gangs of ruffians, and escapism by night into the relics of other cultures as depicted do not paint a clear picture of the incredible evil that German society was experiencing-which of itself was a metacrisis of identity. The movie implies that the summum bonum was the freedom to dance and only addresses the evils perpetrated against Jews in an offhanded way through Arvid's suffering and Peter's stint as the messenger of Death. The final credits tell a lot. The Swing Kids were not dedicated to the overthrow of Nazism, they were dedicated to the pleasure principle and were opposed to the Nazis because they didn't swing. You get the feeling that if Hitler had appropriated Swing as part of his propaganda machine, all things being equal, the Jews could fend for themselves. Swing Heil? So what?

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From the personal weblog of Anthony Foster @http://anthonyfoster.com/blog/