(Note to readers for whom it matters: this post contains Nazi imagery. It’s used in a … historical? … context but if you don’t like that stuff or are worried about your employer or whatever, I thought I should warn you.)
A while back, reader Ian asked me to write about the whole “sexy Nazi” thing. He probably thought I forgot! I wish I had.
In any event: if you are at all familiar with any sort of modern pulp literature or games surrounding WWII, particularly “Weird War 2” type stuff, you will have been exposed to the “sexy Nazi vixen” archetype. It is … weird.
First, let me establish what I mean here. I’m not talking about a glamorous femme fatale who happens to be a Nazi, like this lady:
Or Dr Elsa Schneider in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade:
Those two are perfectly ordinary examples of the pulp femme fatale archetype and could be subbed in for any old bad guy (although I guess Schneider looks all icily Nordic, so there’s that).
No, I’m talking about stuff like this:
Or these miniatures for the game Projekt X (bonus points for having both the bondage-gear and inexplicable-decolletage-SS-uniform variants).
So: what the hell?
Now, the first thing that occurred to me was that this is a feature of pulp art, and could it in fact be a legacy of the pulp era? The answer seeeems to be that it isn’t. I haven’t conducted a thorough search, but I don’t see a lot of sexualised German uniforms, sexualised Nazi regalia, anything like that, in contemporary pulps or comics. The closest thing that popped out at me (hurr) is Valkyrie, seen above with unconscious Airboy. Now, while that’s a modern illustration (by the late Dave Stevens), it’s a pretty accurate rendition of Valkyrie’s 40s-era costume. However, you’ll note that there’s not actually anything particularly German about her uniform — even Airboy is in bright American red and blue, but she’s just in generic sexy villainess garb. (And if Airboy and Valkyrie remind you of Jetlad and Skywitch from Top 10: yup.)
But it isn’t until after the war that we get the traditional Nazi sex vixen. I think that in order to be a proper pop-culture Nazi vixen, you need some or all of the following:
- An absurdly tight German uniform OR bondage gear festooned with Nazi insignia
- A great big officer’s hat OR a jaunty little cap (almost never a stahlhelm)
- High-heeled bitch boots OR jackboots
- A riding crop
- A gun: usually a Luger, an MP40 or something ludicrous like an MG34. Not a 98K.
Now, the archetypal example of this character is:
The jaunty-capped ice maiden types in the background just round out the definition.
Apparently, this kind of quasi-porn started almost immediately after the war, I guess because it gave the usual low-budget slimeballs the kind of “educational” pretext they needed to wrap their movies in a veneer of social responsibility (especially important for the US, where most of them failed to pass anyway but whatever).
But from there somehow it seems to have crept into popular culture in a way that lots of similar stuff didn’t. Here’s an example from Return to Castle Wolfenstein, which is pretty mainstream:
I guess, in the end, the answer to “is it just a bondage thing?” is “yes.” It’s notable that there isn’t any comparable super-sexification of the other combatants — oh sure, there’s lots of bomber nose art and glamour art and pinups, but they don’t have the same cultural oomph as the Nazi Vixen.
What’s extra weird to me is that of course this is about as un-Nazi as you can get. I mean, sure, obviously the Nazis were into horrific torture and oppression, but their attitude toward women was not quite so decadent. Nazism rejected the idea of the modern “liberated” woman, and the party tried (with very little success) to force women out of the workforce and back into the home, where they would be smiley (or sometimes stern) and blonde and look after smiley or stern blonde children.
I mean, in a way it’s just indicative of how far WWII gamers have replaced the specific beliefs of the German government with a sort of expression of generic evil (evil overlords require sexy evil female sidekicks), but still.
As you probably know, the USSR had quite a lot of women fighting. Female snipers are famous, of course, but there were female pilots, female tank commanders, female military police, the whole bit. And yet those are seldom (sometimes, but not as often) as ridiculously sexualised as German women. Is it because Soviet women actually fought? Is it because Nazis have that whole “torture camp” thing going on? I honestly have no idea.
So, to summarise: the roots of the “Nazi sex vixen” thing? Porno, as far as I can tell. Its modern incarnation: maybe goofy and harmless, maybe weird and creepy.
As an aside: Valkyrie eventually switched sides and became a good guy; Secrets of the Third Reich has a female American super-soldier in a tank top and implausibly short shorts.