Residence: Los Angeles
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/1/2019
Primary Language: English
Subject: USC has like, a Nazi Germany flag in the basement somewhere. Of like, Mudd Hall or somewhere, st…stashed away. Cuz’ like…it was hanging up during World War II or whatever? In this very building…I guess?
The interview was conducted in the Von KleinSmid Center library basement, which is the “very building” referred to by the subject in the interview. The subject is a fourth-year anthropology student at the University of Southern California. During the year of this interview, they heard this legend from an acquaintance, who heard it through word of mouth.
The subject has spread the legend “once or twice […] within the same group circle” in the context of “shitting on USC.” Given the university’s recent admissions scandals, they consider sharing the legend timely, as yet another example of “all the shit that USC has been doing, and that people have been frustrated about.” They have even experienced the urge to share this legend and other similar anti-USC rumors when campus tour groups are passing by, as an “exposé” of the university to otherwise blissfully ignorant potential and incoming students. The subject considers “shitting on USC” a personally significant activity in their life, because it annoys them that people laud USC for being a great school with great resources, when people ought to be more critical of the university’s blatantly unethical actions. They don’t want USC to “get away” with its corruption, and even though sharing the legend does little to bring tangible justice, it still challenges general perceptions of the school.
However, they mention they are “a little hesitant” to present it as a confirmed fact in their pursuit of encouraging others to “shit on USC.” They juxtapose the legend with other anti-USC legends that have had more factual verification, such as Traveler being a Confederate horse and Von KleinSmid being a eugenicist.
The Basement Nazi Flag legend is also not the first Nazi-related USC legend that the subject has heard. They draw parallels between this legend, and the legend of the Nazis having donated a tree to the university. They discuss how the Nazi Tree legend is similar to the Basement Nazi Flag legend, because the truth of both legends are difficult to confirm. On the other hand, they mention that the two legends are generally shared with different intentions: the Nazi Tree legend is sensational and often restyled as a tree that was donated by Hitler, whereas the Basement Nazi Flag is symbolic and meant to directly criticize the hidden corruption at USC.
Despite the questionable factuality of these legends, the subject argues that most people do take legends such as the Basement Nazi Flag seriously, given the political gravity of the subject matter. They mention that, even among those who share similarly critical opinions of USC, the reaction to hearing these legends is usually aghastness.
This legend is an example of folklore as counter-hegemony. Briefly, hegemony is defined as the total control over the terms of a narrative. In this case, USC maintains hegemony over its public image as a prestigious, top-tier university that is desirable to attend. The Basement Nazi Flag legend subverts this hegemony by presenting a visceral example of USC’s politically damnable history. What makes this legend such a powerful attack on USC’s character, is that it not only implies that USC is condemnable for having been affiliated with Nazis in the past, but that it ought to be doubly condemned for concealing that history from present company, essentially pretending like the affiliation never happened. The fact that there are several other similar, much more factually grounded legends such as the USC mascot Traveler being a Confederate horse, and former USC President Von KleinSmid being a eugenicist, suggests that even if the Basement Nazi Flag legend is not factually true, the anti-USC sentiments motivating its spread are rooted in historical reality.
For Further Reading
Two collections of the Nazi Tree legend reference by the subject appear in the Digital Folklore Archives. They are linked below here: