The writings and philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche were one of countless victims of Adolf Hitler’s rise to power and implementation of his ill-informed fascist ideology. That Nietzsche seems to be at least semi-permanently associated with those who bastardized and corrupted the ideas found in his writing is not his fault and the negative connotations associated with philosophy by those who either misunderstood or intentionally misconstrued it to suit their own purposes will only be undone with time. Fortunately, time is proving to be on Nietzsche’s side as his influence is being felt more and more through appropriation by pop culture. A certain poetic justice can be found in the fact that TV shows and pop singers are the one vested with taking Nietzsche out of the steel grip of those Nazi corpses who poisoned his writings for generations.
One of the foundations of philosophy to be found in the writings of Nietzsche is his concept of the Will to Power. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy compares the meaning of Will to Power to "a pouring-out of expansive energy as if one were like a perpetually-shining sun that, quite naturally, can entail danger, pain, lies, deception and masks.” Many people have gotten their initial exposure to this idea which is an essential and elemental part of the philosopher’s writing through such recent pop culture icons as Walter White from Breaking Bad and Heath Ledger’s interpretation of the Joker. While both characters may rightly viewed as villains, that view is from the perspective of what Nietzsche terms “herd mentality.” Both Walter and the Joker exhibit a basic component of what Nietzsche means by the Will to Power: placing the greater good above petty morality associated with a lesser good. For Walter, making meth is a means to the greater end of taking care of his family after his imminently approaching death by cancer. The Joker wills himself to power through a series of violent crimes not for personal gain (he burns a mountain of money), but to reveal the profound level hypocrisy that society accepts.
So pervasive is Nietzschean Will to Power in pop culture that one of its most fully realized representations is in the character of Lots-O’-Huggin’ Bear in the animated movie Toy Story 3. This animated toy character actually takes the concept past the point at which it is acceptable and verges into Nazi territory, but only because he succumbs to hate and the desire for revenge. Up to that point, however, the Will to Power is amply demonstrated.
At the center of the philosophy to be found in Nietzsche’s writings and the destination which implementing the Will to Power leads to is his famous (or infamous) concept of the Uberman. The Superman whose drive past questionable impositions of morality takes him to higher plane than the herd below. Interestingly, even before the Nazis had completed their corruption of Nietzsche’s concept, Hollywood had already turned to the German philosopher for inspiration. Even more interesting is that the Uberman in this case is a young woman played by Barbara Stanwyck. Early in the 1933 film Baby Face, an older male mentor summons Nietzsche’s writings to inspire the put-upon young beauty to strive for something better by being strong and defiant and becoming a master instead of a slave. Although changed by the time the scene was filmed, the original screenplay had Stanwyck’s character being awakened to her untapped by potential in this way: “Nietzsche says, `All life, no matter how we idealize it, is nothing more nor less than exploitation’. That's what I'm telling you. Exploit yourself. Go to some big city where you will find opportunities. Use men! Be strong! Defiant! Use men to get the things you want!"
Nothing the Nazis ever wrote in their wildly misapprehended interpretation of the writings of Nietzsche and no interpretation yet found in pop culture’s reclaiming of its real meaning has ever quite so succinctly captured the basic underlying foundation of philosophy found throughout these texts.