Who are the Crypto-Nazis and what in the world do they have to do with copywriting?
It started with a conversation some years ago with a marketing colleague who proclaimed: “my customers are crypto-Nazis.”
“They watch Fox news, read Newsmax, and are influenced by the loudest voices with lightest intellects.”
Intrigued with this topic, I said, “tell me more.”
Though I’m a political and economic centrist and reluctant to cast myself as a member of a group, marketing-wise, I’m fascinated with the behavior of extremes and extremists.
- Why do people choose and maintain their allegiance to certain groups?
- What are their core beliefs?
- How are they influenced… and who are the influencers?
- Which products do they fawn over… and are prepared to pay almost anything to get?
Get someone like this going for ten minutes and you can pick up a lifetime’s worth of education to ply in a relevant market.
Back in my New York days, my next door neighbor was a French communist film director who could rail for hours about his pet causes. I remember him most for his habit of rolling a bowling ball down the long hallway of his railroad apartment after a few glasses of his beloved bordeaux.
Needless to say, the neighbors beneath him weren’t thrilled and called the local precinct. Angry and exhausted beat cops would often pound on my door after huffing up six flights of stairs. I’d look ’em in the eye, then glance left and say, “bowling for dollars is next door.”
Flash forward to present day, one of my Arizona neighbors, here for half the year, can stand on his soapbox with the best of them.
And quite the antithesis to Jacques — he’s an “arch-conservative and gun nut” by his own account.
In the most recent conversation with him, he told me his plans for building a device to facilitate the entry of burglars at his front door, so he could “greet them” from his armchair… 12-gauge shotgun in hand.
Yes, you can learn a lot from the extremists — just let them talk.
Pick up an issue of Newsmax — a copywriter’s playground — and you’ll glean plenty about the American condition. Rickety joints, clogged colons and clouded memories. There’s a pill or a product promising relief from them all. And plenty of ads pitching gold.
But Newsmax… a magazine of the crypto-Nazis, as my colleague labeled? The origin of the term and it’s impact on discourse, I’ll get to in a moment.
Actually, I’m no longer surprised when I hear some marketers express disdain for their customers. Maybe it has something to do with familiarity breeding contempt. These marketers are on one end of the continuum.
On the other are those like Axel Andersson, who was endlessly fascinated and curious about his customers — always wanting to be proximate to them. He was once asked why he stayed at the Hilton instead of the Ritz-Carlton, and replied, “why would I want to stay there, I’ll never meet any of my customers.”
He’d surely find the crypto-Nazi comment revolting… and just plain bad business.
But the term is useful for several reasons, including how perceptions and stigmas of certain groups develop — this, of course, can segue into marketing.
28 years before Fox News…
There was a moment that would have made its producers proud.
It happened during the 1968 Democratic Convention. As part of its convention coverage, ABC News hired conservative William F. Buckley and liberal Gore Vidal to comment on the proceedings. At the 1968 Republican Convention—held first that year— the two had engaged in heated debates that often had become personal, but nothing matched their last exchange during the Democratic Convention, when the two began arguing about the attitudes and actions of the Chicago police and the demonstrators.
Said Vidal to Buckley, “As far as I’m concerned, the only crypto-Nazi I can think of is yourself.” Buckley’s retort: “Now listen, you queer. Stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or I’ll sock you in your goddamn face and you’ll stay plastered.” Moderator Howard K. Smith stepped in: “Gentlemen! Gentlemen! Let’s not call names.” Buckley: “Let ‘Myra Breckenridge’ [an allusion to a book Vidal had written about a person who undergoes a male-to-female sex change] go back to his pornography and stop making allusions to Nazism. . . . I was in the infantry, in the last war.” Smith finally ended the proceedings.
As someone on YouTube commented, Buckley’s bravado was like being threatened by Thurston Howell from Gilligan’s Island. And the “stay plastered” comment must be a Yale thing or something.
The two were later locked in a years-long libel suit which may have been the inspiration for Vidal’s quote: “Litigation takes the place of sex at middle age.” Vidal later admitted that he intended to call Buckley a crypto-fascist, but in the heat of the moment, “crypo-Nazi” came out.
The first instance of the term “crypto-Nazi” I can find appeared in June of 1937 in an article entitled “Danger on the Danube” in the London Political and Literary Quarterly. After the Buckley-Vidal episode, the term exploded on the American scene and has been an ad hominem slur of choice for many since.
Here’s the scene which made the list of TV’s 15 Most Memorable Moments.
Oh, if only pay-per-view had been around when this took place.
Marc (aka doceye) says
Buckley and Vidal; I’d forgotten that match made in heaven. And to think I viewed our national sport of deep loathing and seething hatred of anyone different than us as a much more recent phenomena.
Great stuff again, Lawrence.
Bowling for dollars, hah! Got to be a geriatric to use that one!
Jason Hart says
Eugene Schwartz once cautioned us would be copywriters to focus on and read what our customers read. Watch the movies they watch. Listen to the music they listen to. Become immersed in their culture so that you can speak to them in their voice. Well, he didn’t exactly say all that, but that is the jest of his message. “In your spare time stay connected with the culture of the people.” By the way, I love Newsmax it is great fodder for a swipe file enthusiast.
Keep up the great and original post Lawrence!