Poor History, Visibility and Elan: a response to Doogs’ Models

Poor History, Visibility and Elan: a response to Doogs’ Models

Why do people build so many WWII German subjects?  Many possibilities have been raised, and here are three reasons I think we are missing: poor history, subject visibility, and perceived elan.

Matt at Doogs’ Models recently published a follow-up to his classic piece, “fetishising the enemy.”  The original asked why scale modellers build so many WWII German subjects given that they were, you know, the baddies.  The follow up doesn’t really add much to the original thesis, but brings it into the perspective of a far more troubled world.

One thing to clear up before we go any further: this isn’t an “I disagree with you and can’t do so privately” post.  It is intended as a “yes, and…” where the “yes” means “I agree that your points and evidence are valid,” and the “and” means “here are more points or a way to take the logic further.”  Matt is one of the main voices in scale modelling that I listen to, and together with Jim, was a major factor in my learning to build better models.

Matt’s original post on this topic really got me thinking.  Why did I want to build the subjects I was keen on?  It also made me start noticing what other people did, and how they talked about their choices.

So you don’t have to flick back and forth, here are the key points from the original post:

    • There are more German WWII kits than for other nations, especially in armour,
    • Manufacturers build them because people buy them,
    • …But people may buy them because they’re available,
    • There are many rationalisations for building them, which don’t really stack up

Now, Matt makes a distinction between people who build the odd German subject and those who build them predominantly.  I think that’s a good idea, but where Matt’s concern is (rightly!) with the latter, I would like to raise the perspective of the former.  Let’s go through these issues quickly, then I’ll raise what I think is missing.

Capitalism

Why do people buy German kits?  Because there are so many to choose from.

Why do manufacturers create German kits?  Because people will buy them.

Sure enough, this is a great example of where introducing the human element really messes with the invisible hand of the markets.  Economic theory posits that due to supply and demand, markets will reach an equilibrium point.  However, in this case there are two factors which combine to create a market which will at the very least be heavily pro-cyclical (if you’re not into economics, that means that once you have a certain behaviour, you will get more and more of it.  Like if you buy high and sell low because you think the market will continue its current trajectory.)

The first of these is that investors want to be sure a kit will sell, so they fund more of the same.  The second is a bit more complex.  We tend to gravitate to the “best” kit of a given subject, and the more choice there is, the “better” we assume that best one to be.  So Tamiya’s Zero for example may not be seen as great because it’s the only 1/32 kit, whereas when it comes to Bf-109s in 1/32 there’s Trumpeter, Revell, Eduard, Dragon, and probably a few others.  People then obsess over which one is best.  Amusingly, this behaviour is even seen when comparing different DML boxings of the exact same sprues.

So yes.  I agree that part of the reason is that the kits are available, and that this is self-reinforcing.

Rationalisations

“I bought this kit because economic imperatives and nudges told me to,” said no one ever.  Of course we rationalise our builds.  At this point Matt loses me a little, but perhaps that’s because he’s talking about the people who only build these subjects rather than occasionally.  Back in the original article, Matt raises three rationalisations that he’s heard most often, none of which he finds very convincing:

    • Interest in the history
    • Engineering greatness
    • They look cool.

Matt dismisses these as unconvincing.  It’s an interest in specifically German history.  The engineering wasn’t that great.  Okay, they might look cool but that’s shallow*.  “There must be something deeper,” he says.

Exactly.  This is where we get to my “yes, and.”

What I think is going on

My proposed addition to the thesis is that modellers are interested in German subjects because they are more visible, and they are associated with a perceived elan.  What do I mean by that?

Visibility is simple: for the average person with a passing interest in military history, WWII German subjects are what they will see and believe were great.  This is simply because of the vast majority of “history” documentaries which are poorly researched, take the notoriously unreliable memoirs of German officers at face value, and basically just fellate the Wehrmacht, the skills of their troops, the quality of their equipment, and their fighting spirit as those snappily-dressed chaps were unjustly crushed under the mass-produced dross of T-34s and Shermans, with their poorly-trained armies.  Sound familiar?

The truth is very different, and yet the fiction is being drummed into a population that wants entertainment more than serious history.

This also ties into elan.  Elan is a combination of spirit, skill, and intuition, the ability to make audacious moves and make them work.   I posit that elan directly translates into the subconscious as “coolness”.  It’s that romanticism of “knights of the air” or “tank knights” which the way German troops are portrayed makes them fit rather neatly.  Consider the endless gushing over Wittmann: it’s because he is seen as this lone wolf warrior, the sort of Hollywood hero figure.  Whereas the Allied armies are portrayed as weak, scared, moving carefully in groups because it would take dozens of Shermans to withstand one daring Tiger.  I think it’s the same in the air war: the RAF with their tightly choreographed and inflexible tactics against the innovative Germans with their two-ship formations.  Bomber crews stolidly waiting to die while on bomb runs in massive groups where the target was an entire city: no skill needed there, right?  Same at sea.  Those lone warrior or “wolf pack” U-boat commanders are portrayed against bumbling convoy escorts and the big fat targets they were guarding.

Therefore, I think these two fit together.  The sheer weight of distortion and outright lies glorifying the Wehrmacht while denigrating the Allies make people subconsciously think those guys are just cooler and while you don’t want to admit glorifying what they stood for, hey, you can separate the heroic soldier from the evil regime, right?  Personally, I don’t think you can, or should.  Further, as we finally, belatedly look past taking the German officers’ memoirs at face value, we see that almost all the perceptions I put forth above are incorrect, or at least misleading, and that the cosy myth of the “clean Wehrmacht” is an utter fabrication.

Remember, they were the baddies.

 

*This one has bugged me ever since reading the blog.  Surely I build things because they look cool.  Doesn’t everyone?  Has anyone ever got a kit out and said, “yup, this one is nice and dull.  Let’s build that, but this time, I’m going to make it extra dull.”  Looking at the kits that I own and the builds I have done, they come in two flavours:

  • Stuff I think looks cool
  • Stuff I think looks interesting.

Unlike many scale modellers, I have no personal connection with any of this.  I build these things because I think the real thing looks cool, and having miniature ones on my shelf looks cool.  It’s the same reason I’ve had since childhood, but at least my skills have improved.

6 Replies to “Poor History, Visibility and Elan: a response to Doogs’ Models”

  1. Excellent “yes, and”!

    I think the point that my post focuses on those who only or predominantly build WWII German stuff is critical. And it’s a point that many people seem to read right past.

    I have an odd fascination with why people make the choices they make, and in the modeling world that narrows to why we build the subjects we build, and what draws our interest to them in the first place.

    WWII German militaria is a particularly interesting case because it’s the only rabbit hole of its kind I ever see. It’s never wall-to-wall Soviet armor or strictly American aircraft. And when it gets to that point, when it seems like obsession, yeah, I’m curious why.

    Looking cool is fine (if still a bit shallow) when we’re talking subject hoppers. I built a Swiss 109 because I thought the neutrality stripes were cool. I built an abandoned Me 262 because I found the reference photo super-evocative. But I do the same with French P-47s and Danish F-104s and so on. But when *only* 109s and 190s and Stukas look cool? When *only* Tigers and Panthers look cool? When *only* SS figures look cool? WHY?

    Your point on elan and a certain fawning, gauzy history is interesting. The only other military I can think of that has the same situation about it is also wrapped up in white supremacy – the Confederacy.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to post on my humble site! You’re right, I had not really got the significance of your point that the “looks cool” argument referred to such a narrow thing. Interesting point about the Confederacy too, that is one we find very odd here in Europe.

  2. I think, to a certain extent, you have made this far too complicated. I’m quite familiar with the Second World War and the role that Germany played, and their atrocities, and the “final solution”, etc. And I still build quite a bit of German subjects.

    Mostly it is because I find the visually interesting. It boils down to that. I know Doogs, and you, try to reject the “it looks cool” answer, but hey, there it is. That is why I build what I build.

    At the same time, I think you are making this too complicated. There is a natural tendency to glamorize the losers. The Confederacy, the Germans in World War II. George Armstrong Custer. Hell, look at Darth Vader. He was a legit madman and yet, the Galactic Empire is trending. So, I think for many people there is just a fascination with the bad guys.

  3. just checked scalemats and the numbers dont support your general assumption. there are ~the same amount of german kits listed as there are american. thats american only. if you look at revell, a german producer thats generally viewed as favoring german units its even more so the case of less german kits then usa alone. So while you might have observed a genereally high interest in german stuff its not supported by the kits avaible. furthermore neither the perception nor the scalemate numbers should be used to conclude anything about the decision making of companys. oh and btw. top kit listed are all ally/american kits 😉 109 is 4th? 5th?

    A fair amount of the general assumptions about “lovers” of german armour/kits is based on the assumption that they arent aware of being subject to ww2 propaganda when they proclaim superiority in any kind of way. looking at well liked youtube channels like the chieftain and the likes, i think this is changing. put differently: if you encounter a defender of german superiority its more a case of some one with a very shallow insight into the actual units he put on that pedestal. the same happens for example in games like wot or war thunder were developer bias my shift balance towards units of their origin country.

    A thing i personally noticed while shopping for cheap tanks/land units in 1:72 for wargaming with the “chain of command” ruleset is that it “seems” easier to get cheap german units thanks to psc and italeri kits…. but then there is armourfast kits which cover pretty much all the variants of the sherman except e8 stuff. So fair game in terms of kits avaible. The “problem” i encountered was kits of light armoured stuff like m8/m20, transports, antitank weapons and the like for american units. nobody seems to be selling those at the moment. so looking at general aesthetic variaty british, german or russion stuff is much more appealing than american. having every version of the sherm still leaves you with only shermans. buyng german/british stuff can get you interesting and vastly different models from 1939 to 1945 which is a hughe plus in direct comperasion. subject fatigue is a thing and early war isnt exaclty an american thing.

    kinda all over the place but another thing i would like to point at, as someone with more interest in tabletop rather then the pure vitrine scale stuff. ppl regularly claim fictional or “authentic” models for their current political agenda. Happens with the different persecption of nudity, religion, patriotisim or plain old history. Don’t care, won’t care. My wallet speaks and therefor i dont fear the subjects im intersted in will go away as fast as these ppl sometimes wish they would cause i will keep buying the stuff that is fun to build, looks cool on the shelf. yes thats german armour… and star wars, half naked elfs, majestic robots, crazy amounts of tiny soldiers of all nations.

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