- A UK university’s debating society apologized after one of its speakers impersonated Hitler.
- Speaker Andrew Graham-Dixon’s impression was part of a debate about the existence of good taste.
- He later said he was attempting to show Hitler’s “utterly evil nature.”
A debating society at the University of Cambridge, UK, apologized for poor moderation after one of its speakers did a lengthy impersonation of Adolf Hitler that included a racial slur.
The debate, at the university’s Cambridge Union on Thursday, invited art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon to debate the proposition that: “This House believes there’s no such thing as good taste,” according to student newspaper The Tab.
Graham-Dixon argued against this position by saying that fascists bolstered their “culture struggle through taste,” before launching into a German accent.
Impersonating Hitler, he railed against “this horrible modern art that was promoted by the Jews.”
“And the modern art, it was Cubist, it was inspired by the art of the ne***,” he said, still as “Hitler,” and going on to make a “eurgh” sound at the mention of “tribal art.”
In a later statement sent to Insider, he said: “My point was that evil ideas in the sphere of art can have untold and even atrocious consequences in the rest of life.”
Another student newspaper, Varsity, uploaded a clip of the performance:
The Cambridge Union says it is the world’s oldest debating society, and has hosted Winston Churchill, Theodore Roosevelt, and the current Dalai Lama in its debates.
Many students were upset by the impression Thursday, The Tab reported.
Union President Keir Bradwell reacted to Graham-Dixon’s performance by thanking him for “perhaps the longest Hitler impression this chamber has ever received,” The Tab reported.
However, on Saturday Bradwell posted to Facebook apologizing for not intervening sooner in Graham-Dixon’s speech.
Bradwell called the impression “crass and deeply insensitive.” Saying he believes strongly in free speech, he nonetheless wrote that he “got the balance wrong” between his roles as moderator and as a representative of the club’s members.
Graham-Dixon’s impression was intended to show “that there is such a thing as bad taste, and therefore there must be such a thing as good taste,” Bradwell continued.
Later in the statement, he wrote: “I only wish that we could have foreseen the remarks that he made and chosen someone else.”
Graham-Dixon, who is the author of multiple books on art history, apologized to those he had offended and explained his intentions in a statement sent to Insider.
“The intention of my speech was to underline the utterly evil nature of Hitler and his regime,” he said. His speech was in part a reference to the exhibition of “degenerate art” organized by the Nazi Party in 1937, he said.
This exhibition used a racialized sensibility to purge museums of works that they deemed incompatible with Nazi values.
He said he “paraphrased” these “crass and insensitive” ideas in his caricature of Hitler.
“I apologise sincerely to anyone who found my debating tactics and use of Hitler’s own language distressing,” he wrote. “On reflection, I can see that some of the words I used, even in quotation, are inherently offensive.”