Greek soccer star Giorgos Katidis apologized for giving the Nazi salute on the field, allegedly without knowing what the symbol meant, and actor David Hasselhoff defends the last bricks in the Berlin Wall from demolition so that future generations may both honor the dead and learn from a nation’s history. In both cases, it’s a furor over the German "fatherland" that reminds us to think globally; parent locally.
It also takes us to understanding the difference between parenting lessons to be found in objects versus in the everyday actions of people. An inanimate object, such as a remaining fragment of the Berlin Wall or the beams left standing after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center that resemble a cross, serve as memorials and lessons.
However, actions speak louder than bricks and steel. Seeing the Nazi salute on television and YouTube is an ongoing action insinuating itself into our kid’s lexicon of everyday gestures, with disastrous result.
The story of AEK Athens midfielder Mr. Katidis, 20, is a cautionary one. According to Reuters, Katidis gave the traditional stiff-arm Nazi salute after he scored his team’s winning goal. AEK's German coach Ewald Lienen told Reuters, "He is a young kid who does not have any political ideas. He most likely saw such a salute on the Internet or somewhere else and did it without knowing what it means."
That’s not entirely impossible to believe as the mother of four boys who I have occasionally caught saying something socially offensive that they were just parroting from a YouTube video. That’s what that PG rating is all about in film and TV, parental guidance is required for much of what our kids are absorbing.
My maiden name is Goldenthal, my father’s side of the family is German and Russian Jewish, and seeing the news today has a very personal effect on me because of what my father taught me about history and our heritage. However, I realize that my sons, all raised Roman Catholic like me, with a name that does not immediately garner attacks from the anti-semitic, may not understand the deeply troubling nature of the neo-Nazi salute.
As a parent, it’s my job to educate them and call this to their attention so they can understand the gravity of what may seem like a funny or popular “new” gesture. I believe we need to pick our battles about what to address as silly, rude, and mildly inappropriate versus gestures, symbols, and sayings that our kids may use innocently and find themselves branded as something they’re not.
The upshot for Katidis: he was given a lifetime ban from all national teams by the Greek football federation and lambasted by the media and fans alike. He apologized and asked to be dropped from AEK's first team saying, "I would like to confess that I am totally unacceptable and I feel terrible for those I upset with the stupidity of my act," according to The Associated Press. Katidis reiterated numerous times that he was not a fascist or racist. He simple took his social cues from someone who was both of those things, and Katadis has paid with his career.
Anything viral on the Internet is de facto cool and imitated verbatim without research by kids. It’s yet another great reason to know what young kids and teens are searching online. While I realize this should be something learned in a history class, it is our job to attach the social and moral context to history lessons.
On the up side, I am seeing some great social parenting courtesy of someone my kids know from the Spongebob movie and I remember from Baywatch, Knight Rider — actor David “The Hoff” Hasselhoff.
Mr. Hasselhoff, father of two girls, is trying to stop developers from chipping away at a very important and tangible reminder of society gone awry. He's advocating the protection of a section of the Berlin Wall set for demolition by developers. The developers want to demolish a part of the defunct cold war symbol, which divided east and west Berlin for 28 years, according to the AP. At least 136 people died trying to cross the wall between 1961 and 1989. The wall officially came down in November 1989, however two sections were left standing, a three-quarter-mile stretch was decorated with murals and dubbed the East Side Gallery.
According to AP, Hasselhoff opposes the destruction saying, "It's about people and it's about hearts that were broken, hearts that were torn apart, and lives that were lost. That's what we're talking about today, not a piece of real estate.”
There’s an even more important piece of “real estate” the Hoffs are fighting for and that’s the one between our kids’ ears. That place should not be for sale, or rent, to developers of intolerance, hate, prejudice, and fear.