THERE is something strange yet mystifying about Adolf Hitler. Maybe it’s the paintbrush moustache and the slapped-down fringe, or the dark realisation that the face of evil can make us smile. I am a sucker for Hitler parodies and relish the daft art of online wit, when crude photo-shop turns a football manager or an attention-seeking politician into Adolf.

The delicate insertion of a black mouser above the top lip has magical satirical powers.

Hitler has a rich comedic history. Sinclair Lewis’s semi-satirical novel It Can’t Happen Here (1935) was written in the early days of his rise to power, the novel in turn influenced Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator (1940). The Producers, starring Mel Brooks and Zero Mostel, begat the hilariously successful Springtime for Hitler (1967) and, much closer to home, Blakey, the dictatorial ticket-inspector in the creaky sitcom ‘On The Buses’ (1969) brought images of everyday fascism to prime time television.

Even in Germany, where deeper anxieties still fester, humorous versions of Hitler periodically surface, among them Timor Vermes’s great satirical novel, Look Who’s Back (2015).

Comedy seems to engulf Hitler. It would be a brave contrarian that admitted they really like Adolf Hitler. Nothing excuses the mountainous war crimes he conducted but only a precious few can say they have never smiled at his bizarre autocracy.

The lawless internet has given Adolf Hitler another lease of comic life. Online, he is the unrivalled superstar of parody memes. Entire channels known as HRPs – Hitler Parody Rants – are dedicated to his frenzied commentary on everything from Love Island to Reporting Scotland.

He is all-seeing, perpetually enraged and wonderfully anachronistic. They say he died in a Berlin bunker before the war ended but that did not silence his catatonic fury during the World Cup, when Germany’s early exit, undermined their reputation for triumphant efficiency.

One of the biggest HRP Channels on YouTube has a 175,000 subscribers and most individual rants reach audiences television bosses envy. Although the parody memes are not colossal by internet standards, Hitler has levels of online viewership levels of that would be welcomed by most mainstream media outlets in Scotland. Cease desist orders from copyright owners and You Tube’s determination to block the parodies have not worked and their real popularity is probably impossible to fully assess.

It might even be argued that Adolf is a public service broadcaster – among his most popular rants are insightful consumer journalism, criticising EasyJet, Starbucks and Ryan Air. Another service he plays in support of early years education is correcting the punctuation of hapless clowns that cross his path, this a double entendre on the internet’s use of the term grammar Nazi.

By far the most popular HRP is the Downfall meme, an internet sensation based on a single scene from OIiver Hirschbiegel’s 2014 feature film Downfall, in which a beleaguered Hitler faces near certain defeat, as allied forces circle Berlin.

Hitler is in a claustrophobic bunker, detached from the outside world, surveying a map of Europe and grasping for some semblance of hope. He is teetering on the edge of full-blown mental illness and his grasp of reality has deserted him.

It is this detachment from reality that make the scene perfect for online disruption. Imagine Hitler as Donald Trump in the Oval Office when Stormy Daniels’ name is mentioned or Hitler when he is informed that Shirley Temple has died. In Scotland, the stakes are inevitably raised. Imagine Gordon Brown fashioning the final details of ‘The Vow’ as the polls confirm a surge in support for independence or Sir David Murray sliding into denial as he surveys the financial carnage of Rangers in 2012.

ALMOST every major moment in Scotland’s recent history has been put through the ringer of Hitler parodies and the joke works best when the focus falls on the big divisive and binary issues of our day – Trump’s Presidency, Brexit, Scottish self-governance, and Football rivalry. Divided opinion means that Hitler parodies regularly dominate our timelines.

The key scene in Downfall is brilliantly acted by Bruno Ganz and features a troubling close-up of Hitler’s hand shaking as he tries to remove his glasses. The internet has torn this virtuoso moment to shreds, using it to mock everything from the breakup of Oasis to Manchester United’s woeful form.

HRPs perfectly illustrate how new media differentiates itself from conventional film and television; it is interactive, participatory and porous. People can retaliate, answer back and disrupt. Audiences are not there to be talked down to.

With each passing parody hundreds of caption generators have sprung up on line. They are very simple technological shacks that allow the DIY comic to write their own scripts and render the movie anew. This is the kind of everyday participation that Creative Scotland dreams of: the wider society making dramatic narrative at home.

The Downfall parody is a success not simply because of technology but because it exposes that little bit of Hitler in all of us. To be clear -– especially to active anti-fascists out there – I do not mean that everyone is prone to genocidal mania or anti-Semitic hatred. I am talking about recognisable traits, that most of us are prone to – a feeling of having lost control, borderline obsessions, anger that well-laid plans have gone wrong, and most of all a feeling of despair when we are dealt setbacks in life.

In his book The Hitlers of History published in 1998 the Hungarian intellectual John Lukacs argued that there are many versions for Hitler.

He put the countless biographies of Hitler ‘on trial’, showing in forensic detail the different characterisations of Hitler that are out there. What he discovered was that Hitler is not set in historic stone and has changed radically over time and is variously a follower of the occult, bipolar and a vegan. His personality may never settle.

Curiously, the HRP parody memes rose in parallel with a very different internet adage: Godwin’s law.

In 1990, the American attorney Mike Godwin, proposed a restraint to Hitler analogies online. Godwin’s law originated on Usenet’s Group Forums where it was believed that the longer an argument continued, there was an increased likelihood that someone would make a comparison with Hitler. Godwin’s proposal was that the argument had then been lost and the thread should close.

A recent example I witnessed was about Primary 1 assessment in Scotland. One angry zealot accused education secretary John Swinney of acting like Hitler. It would be difficult to find a less appropriate analogy. Swinney is known for being supremely mild-mannered, very approachable and, even in the white-heat of political debate, proposing that a teacher should quietly assess if a kid can draw a triangle is hardly the invasion of Poland.

The internet has brought about a curious paradox. Hitler is ideal material for comedy but no longer suited to complex debate or to serious political discourse. Therein lies one of the great enigmas of social media: it has given Hitler a new lease of life and his own dedicated channel and the parodies have partially re-humanised the once dehumanised fuehrer.

Rather than learn from the past we have found instant amusement in it.

Stuart Cosgrove is a writer and broadcaster. The latest instalment of his award-winning Soul Trilogy - ‘Harlem 69: The Future of Soul’ will be published by Polygon in October.