What if the Third Reich made fried chicken? A bizarre restaurant in the northern Thai town of Ubon Ratchathani seems to have considered this question when conceiving its logo.
“Hitler” fried chicken has made international news with its offensive take on the KFC logo, which features Adolph Hitler in place of the iconic Colonel Sanders, bow tie, apron and all. KFC says it may sue the restaurant for the controversial trademark breach.
“We find it extremely distasteful and are considering legal action since it is an infringement of our brand trademark and has nothing to do with us,” a spokesperson from KFC’s parent company Yum! told The Huffington Post.
An image of the banner above the restaurant, shuttered in the photo, first made the rounds online via Twitter after Footprint Thailand Handbook author Andrew Spooner spotted the eatery in May. The now infamous shop sells fried chicken, chips, burgers and kebabs.
The Bangkok Post reported that the restaurant has since taken down the contentious sign and changed its name to “H-ler” to dodge further bad press.
Before the signage swap, Bangkok resident Alan Robertson sampled the restaurant’s fare. He said, “The place opened last month and nobody quite knows what to make of it.” He added that he “asked the guy behind the counter why it was called Hitler. He just shrugged his shoulders and said the owners had thought it was a good image.”
Robertson’s comment alludes to a deeper point: this restaurant does not exist in a cultural vacuum. Nor was it the first fast food chain to have its mascot swapped with the Nazi leader. Thailand is home to an incongruous “Hitler chic” trend, which shows up in the most unlikely places.
People can be seen walking the streets of Bangkok in brightly colored T-shirts emblazoned with swastikas, while souvenir stands on the backpacker stronghold of Khao San Road hawk Nazi-themed merchandize – flags, propaganda posters, Nazi eagle banners, reproduced SS helmets – alongside nonthreatening apparel featuring local touchstones like the Chang Beer logo. Ronald McDonald has also been converted into “McHitler” – a cartoonish figure of the dictator with voluminous red hair, with a mechanical left arm raising and lowering in a Nazi salute.
Seemingly oblivious to the evil acts perpetrated under Hitler, McHitler has been used as a donation box for flood relief where it sits outside Seven Stars, a clothing shop in Sukhumvit Road’s Terminal 21 shopping mall owned by an arts university graduate who goes by the nickname “Hut”.
As CNN notes, at Hut’s store Hitler’s face also appears on T-shirts featuring doe-eyed Teletubbies and cartoon pandas that have been melded with the Führer, alongside shirts bearing images of more benign icons like Michael Jackson and Che Guevara (and less benign ones like Kim Jong-Il). “It’s not that I like Hitler,” Hut told CNN. “But he looks funny and the shirts are very popular with young people.”
Former Israeli Ambassador to Thailand, Itzhak Shoham, spoke with Hut about the fact that the McHitler doll “hurts the feelings of every Jew and every civilized person.” He added, “You don’t want to see memories of the Nazi period trivialized in this manner.” After sharing his thoughts with Hut, the doll’s head was covered by a Mexican lucha libre wrestling mask.
Perhaps the most disturbing instance of Nazi chic transpired in September 2011 when a group of high school students in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai marched to their school sports day wearing full-blown Nazi garb with fake moustaches plastered to their faces. While locals cheered on the passing students, foreign tourists to the popular destination were dumbfounded.
A similarly massive outpouring of Nazi chic occurred in 2007 when hundreds of students held a Nazi fashion parade. The school later publicly apologized and the teacher responsible for the event was fired. Meanwhile, in 2009 a billboard featuring the Führer and the words “Hitler is not dead!” for a waxworks museum in Pattaya also drew the public’s ire.
While Thailand has received the most scrutiny over the Nazi chic phenomenon, it is in fact present in limited doses elsewhere in Asia, from Seoul’s Fifth Reich pub to Hong Kong fashion label IZZUE’s Nazi-inspired clothing line, which was harshly criticized by German and Israeli diplomats in 2003. It has even infiltrated Japan’s cosplay subculture. Not to mention the infamous “Hitler” clothing store in India that was quickly renamed following a flood of complaints from Ahmedabad’s Jewish community and Israeli diplomats.
So what gives? Where does this fascination with the morally repugnant leader come from? While it does not justify the tastelessness of coopting Hitler as a fashion statement, most agree that it is largely done in ignorance and a lack of education on the true horrors of the Holocaust.
“To some Thai kids, especially kids who aren’t terribly well-educated or well-off,” wrote Patrick Winn in the Global Post, swastikas are “sinister and tough in a comic book sort of way. Like Jolly Roger. Like Darth Vader’s helmet. Like the logo for the evil Transformers crew, the Decepticons. And that’s pretty much it.”
He added that dubbed copies of Indiana Jones flicks and Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds didn’t help much. These Hollywood villainous portrayals instead gave the Nazis a cool “bad guy” edge.
“It’s a lack of exposure to history,” said Harry Soicher, a Romanian who teaches at a Bangkok high school. “If you don’t live in Thailand, you may find it hard to believe they really mean no harm.”