Hogan’s Heroes – a perfect satire

Hogan’s Heroes is a satirical masterpiece, down to the musical theme – a military drum march, throwing to a soldier’s whistling march (Bridge on the River Kwai) and then reminiscent of a German folk polka lilt.

The music, the language and imagery of Hogan’s Heroes is packed full of cultural gags and references to texts that would have been obvious to the post-war, mainstream audience living at the height of the Cold War (1965-1970s).  The Top 10, Emmy Award-winning show ran for seven years. Consider the context. The WWII had ended in 1945 – so a period of two decades elapsed. Students can consider whether it would have been a hit if Hollywood had made the sitcom in 1950 – just five years after the war ended.

hogan and klink
Hogan Heroes have leave passes from the POW camp, listening devices in the commandant’s office, smuggler’s tunnels and are in complete control of the operation of the camp by exploiting Klink’s feeble mind.

In 1962, Hollywood instead made the earnest drama series Combat, in a realistic style, portraying the courage and integrity of men in conflict against the enemy (depicted generally as an amorphous evil); in conflict against themselves (maintaining personal integrity); and against the natural elements and environment of war. Combat gave audiences an armchair view of the theatre of war. Combat was a kind of dramatic social commentary on the personal cost of war.

Well after all the peace treaties were signed, the histories were written, Hogan’s Heroes dusted off the cultural stereotypes and war myths, twisted them and made them tap dance for laughs – would this have been possible while people were burying their dead? So studying the context, the audience, the purpose of Hogan’s Heroes covers many ACARA requirements in significant depth.

The Australian Curriculum requires that students “analyse and evaluate how responses to texts, including students’ own responses, are influenced by:

  • purpose purpose, taking into account that a text’s purpose is often open to debate (ACEEN008);

  • personal, social and cultural context (ACEEN009);

  • the use of imaginative, persuasive and interpretive techniques (ACEEN010).

Why is Klink depicted as a bumbling fool with no spine who is vulnerable to every suggestion Hogan makes? How do the writers position the audience to suspend disbelief and accept that a key Allies spy facility could operate from a POW camp? Or, that a POW could parade in front of German officers as Adolf Hitler and get away with it?

The dialog is full of references to famous wartime quotes, so students are able to study the purpose of inter-textual referencing or allusion to popular culture. One recurring motif is Winston Churchill’s, “never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few”, a remark about the courageous pilots fighting in The Blitz of London and raining bombs on Germany. Churchill made the “So Few” comment in his “Finest Hour” speech after one year of the war. So while considering the contexts the texts were made in, students may listen to the audio as well as read the speech to analyse the purpose of using it in Hogan’s Heroes while studying the use of rhetorical devices:

“night after night, month after month …” (repetition)

“inflict shattering blows” (emotional language)

Schultz’s signature saying, “I know nothing, I saw nothing”, harks back to the Nuremberg defense – only following the orders of a superior officer. Why is it funny when Schultz says it but not in the context of Nuremberg? Context. Perspective. Audience.

While this all develops cultural literacy, it is important for students to ask questions, explore ideas and engage with the set task.

Students must “competently, independently, consistently” show higher order thinking skills – describing and analysing – according to the Australian Curriculum. And the indicators of quality are considered to be the degree of “sophistication, difficulty, complexity” of student responses —— however, I think that we really need to be careful with this need for complexity because the most simple, the most discerning and elegant ideas are not necessarily the most complex, rather they are clear and simple and insightful.

Persuasion is “the engineering of consent” – the purpose is to move your audience to action using textual features, such as inclusive language, evaluative words, emotional words and various appeals. And student responses (spoken, written, visual) need to express an understanding of “how language choices are made for different purposes and in different contexts using appropriate metalanguage; for example, personification, voice-over, flashback, salience (ACEEN002).

Hogan’s Heroes presents a range of learning opportunities using various texts (images, audio, music, speeches, dialog, video) to explore the requirements.

consent, assent, conventions, effective versus discerning, 
appeal, rational, rationalisation, viewpoint, refute, position, 
proposition, response, appraise, respond, provoke, challenge, 
sway, influence
Hogan's Heroes
Visual literacy – composition, tone. Who is the central character? Interpret facial expressions.
The victor's perspective  Ask students to comment 
on the composition of the 
hero image - two caps. 
Whose on top? 
Relate to the saying that 
history is always told from 
the victor's perspective.
Representation of  central concept



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