I’m sorry to inform you that Fox News did not add the word “never” to the screen cap above. They did select this particular frame for their story about Nicki Minaj apologizing for Nazi imagery in her “Only” video, but “never” is part of the surtitled lyrics that appear throughout.1 It’s pleasing that Fox News chose this particular frame, but it’s not as fun as if they had written “never!” across the image of a fascist society united behind a black woman with a big butt. Nicki Minaj will never apologize for her butt. She would like to say sorry, though, for making a video that is pretty cool but also hilariously ill-advised.
This story gets funnier at every turn. The video itself is already kind of hilarious, particularly in its scenes of black-clad stormtroopers gathering in formation to appreciate Minaj’s ass. But the whole production maintains an atmosphere of humor, partly because you can’t be sure whether it’s supposed to be funny or what. The “Only” video is pretty cool. It’s also stunningly miscalculated in a way that suggests Minaj literally does not know any Jewish people. Fortunately, her Twitter apology corrects that impression:
Oh, sure—a producer and videographer just happen to be Jewish. Also, a black woman should know that “one of my best friends is [ethnicity]” does not a sterling apology make. Minaj went on to add that the video was not inspired by Nazi imagery, but rather by a show on Cartoon Network.
Here is where Stubble and I get extremely excited. As all good-hearted people remember, season two of Frisky Dingo—in which Killface runs for President with the rapper Ta’quil as his veep—finds Ta’quil embroiled in controversy over this album cover:
Look at the architecture of that basketball hoop and tell me this image was not a labor of love. The good people at 70/30 Productions thought of this storyline seven years ago, and it eerily prefigures the Nazi Minaj affair. Somehow, though, Frisky Dingo is not the Adult Swim show to which “Only” refers. Instead, Minaj claims that the animator was inspired by an episode of Metalocalypse.
All that is academic, because both the Ballocaust and whatever Metalocalypse episode her animator saw clearly refer to the Third Reich. Saying “Only” has nothing to do with Hitler because it refers to another referent to Nazism is like saying you got the idea to carve a swastika into your head from Charles Manson. Your own blinkered cultural understanding does not change what the iconography means.
That’s what makes this story so funny, in my opinion. Every step of the way, Minaj has expressed an improbable ignorance of the imagery she is evoking. You get the feeling she really does associate red armbands and stormtrooper rallies with a cartoon she saw once.
It’s kind of wonderful that an obviously smart person who has attained this level of success appears to know so little about one of the most significant events in modern history. Even better, no one around her tapped the brakes. At some point in the last year, Minaj was sitting around with her friends and business partners and said, “we should do a video with stormtroopers where I’m a dictator, like in Metalocalypse,” and everyone agreed.
The Greeks called that hubris, and apparently it’s as vital to comedy as it is to tragedy. I don’t think Minaj appropriating Nazi imagery is a big deal. It’s dumb, but it does not portend disaster for our culture, and probably it won’t hurt anybody. My grandfather risked his life to liberate France, but he wouldn’t like “Only” anyway. Fascism is still a real and dangerous thing, but I don’t think ass-worshipping cartoon Nazis will fuel its ascent.
Nazi Minaj is therefore the perfect story: a famous person did something spectacularly dumb that didn’t really hurt anybody, and now she’s botching her apology. Best of all, the occasion for this fiasco was a video about how hot and in charge she is. Overarching arrogance is a constraint of the form, but it’s great that this particular rap video focuses so directly on Minaj as an object of adoration. It makes her mistakes that much funnier.