Triumph of the Will is a brilliant work of propaganda demonstrating how cultural hegemony can be used by those with power to suppress dissent and obscure material realities with artificial, idealized perceptions. If one were to watch this with the understandings and biases of your typical German citizen in that period, one would feel compelled to lend some level of credence to what is presented, not out of rational understandings of the world but out of an emotionalism. Triumph of the Will is a “feel good” propaganda film. It does its best to compel the viewer to feel pride, joy, wonder and affection for the fascist political order and its Nazi vanguard. The film highlights and fetishizes three central themes: military, tradition and nation.
The militarism of the film is nothing short of astounding. The German soldier is shown in two ways. The first is as a proud, polished, disciplined warrior for their fatherland. His imposing helmet, his pressed uniform, his rigid stance – all of these things signify reliability and strength. It is appropriate that in his salutes to the soldiers, Hitler (depicted as something of a demi-god) is seen as more firm and obliging. The masses of average Germans receive a limp, over-the-shoulder acknowledge of their salute, yet the military receives a more phallic gesture. To a militarist, imperialist power, the soldier is a force for beauty as well as being a treasured commodity. Yet, the soldier is also viewed as a child of the beloved fatherland, a son for the German citizenry to feel proud of. The film takes great pains to have the person under the uniform be perceived as idealized; the laughing child frequently cut back to during the military recreation seeks to personify the “purity” of the German soldier. The overbearing “support the troops” message of Triumph acts as a means of providing justification for German imperialist violence on an emotional level, simply because the German soldier is “perfect” and therefore must be supported no matter what acts they undertake. Tradition is another element that the Nazi film emphasizes in order to incorporate and subjugate existing culture to the needs of the Reich. This theme is heavily emphasized in the march of the German farmers in traditional garb. Germany had, during the fascist period, seen a revival of old German culture through the revival of old German literature and folk culture. Grimm’s tales, traditional dress and other things peculiar to the German people and their common history were lauded to the high heavens. This was a means of “connecting” what a typical German citizen grew up knowing with the larger political culture being peddled from the Reichstag. Just as contemporary crypto-fascist reactionaries in the Tea Party try to incorporate American revolutionary slogans and themes into their reactionary political proclamations, the National Socialists did the same with the traditional culture and historical identity of the German citizenry. The final theme that is emphasized is nation. Just as the name of their party seeks to emphasize nationalism over all other idyllic expressions, their propaganda emphasizes the greatness of their German fatherland. “Ein Reich, ein Volk, ein Deutschland!” Hitler proclamed. They were one empire, one people, one Germany. There was no room for understandings of class, of relative status , of material inequalities. Love of country trumped all of these understandings. The many flags emblazoned with the swastika, waved by one and all, serve as a sight compelling patriotic sentiment and pride in an abstract entity. Germany, her third great empire, was the purpose for all activity and feeling. In the words of JFK‚ “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” Here we see Durkheim’s “Secular Religion” of nationalism become the ultimate force for social cohesion, for class collaborationism, for unity by way of xenophobia and national chauvinism. This is a brilliant propaganda film, and serves as a valuable lesson about the power of bourgeois ideology in subduing the masses to the ends of the nation-state and its benefactors.