Thursday, September 07, 2006

Did Scheisse Video Kill the Scheisse Radio Star?

Scanning through the news, I noticed an interesting article that appeared last week in the Cologne Wurmer Zaftig. Helmut Wursthund, the author, was discussing Germany's increasing restrictions on Scheisse videos. In the article, Wursthund began by discussing the history of scheisse media, which, I was surprised to learn, predated the VCR. Apparently, the scheisse, or scheisse essende, genre got its start in the postwar era, initially as comedic radio programs, but gained tremendous popularity as daily romance serials, in the vein of
Days of Our Lives. According to Wursthund, these radio plays, in their heyday, drew every third German to the radio daily, and were even popular in East Germany, where bootleg tapes were passed hand-to-hand through a vast, underground fan network. Wursthund neglected to mention which product sponsored the programs, although I'd guess that it was Ovaltine.

At any rate, scheisse radio continued its grip on the airwaves well into the eighties. While the scheisse genre had minimal impact on TV, it experienced an explosion in popularity with the advent of video. By the mid-1980's, scheisse tapes had completely eclipsed the radio programs, were a fixture in every video store, and could even be found on the shelves of most gas stations. However, this massive growth was nothing compared with the amazing popularity of scheisse video clips on the internet. To put this in context, between 1985 and 1997, the number of scheisse videos produced in Germany rose from roughly 70 per annum to over 250. By 2005, that number exceeded 2000. While a significant part of this number is in the "amateur home video" market, this still represents an amazing rate of growth.

The rising popularity of scheisse video came with a steep price, as Heinrich Schwartzweiner, a former sheisse radio performer, discovered when his program, Mannlicher Nachten was cancelled. Unable to find work in the radio industry, and unwilling to perform in scheisse videos, he drifted through a series of menial jobs and into schnappes addiction. Now a documentarian and semi-professional balloon sculptor, he recalls the days of scheisse radio: "The beauty of scheisse radio was that it left so much to the imagination. While the adults listened to the story, the children would laugh at the funny sounds." When asked about scheisse video, he smiled sadly, "those videos, they are not good for the family. They leave nothing to the imagination. Radio kept the family together. Video tore it apart."

Although initially produced for domestic consumption, within a few years, Germany was sending scheisse all over the world. However, dark days lay ahead for scheisse video. With the growing availability of the clips on the internet, Germany's public image was increasingly tainted by the fetish films. For many Germans, the watershed moment came with the 1999 release of South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut, in which Stan, Kyle, Cartman, and Kenny stumble across a scheisse video on the internet, prompting Stan to remark that "Germans suck!" While the increasing visibility of scheisse video was a boon to the German film industry, many people were upset at its effect on Germany's worldwide identity. In fact, as Wursthund remarks, "It was as if Germany was transformed overnight from the sophisticated birthplace of Scorpionz to a nation of backward poo-eaters." (Personally, I'm not sure that those two poles are as far apart as Wursthund would like to think.)

In truth, Wursthund notes, it's hard to overestimate the impact of the South Park movie. Compared to scheisse video, other fetish genres stagnated. Latex, or Gummi videos, for example, have only had modest growth since the 1980's. For better or worse, by the early years of the twenty-first century, Germany had become identified in the public imagination with excreta. Today, however, Germany's leaders hope to turn this image around. To begin with, they've begun levying heavy taxes on the sheisse industry, prompting it to move to Thailand, whose government, Wursthund notes, is "far more accepting of sheisse." This follows the 2005 move of most online scheisse sites to the Netherlands, which doesn't place restrictions upon web content and which, Wursthund writes, has been "importing German scheisse for years."

As Wursthund states at the end of his article, Germany is caught in the grip of a national identity crisis: "On the one hand, we are the nation of Heidi Klum, Hasselhof, and half of Gisele Bundchen. On the other hand, we have scheisse. The question is, of course, which hand we will extend to the rest of the world."


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