Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Depicting the Prophet

There is some interesting quibbling in U.S. media over who will be the first to republish the Jyllands Posten Muhammad drawings, dithering over freedom of the press and speech vs. propriety. What are missing from this are not just the heaps of context that are lost as the predefined battle lines are drawn up, but the original setting/framing of the drawings. Not in the pansy-assed deconstructive manner of speaking, but in an actual picture of the drawings as they were put on the page. Wikipedia has it right away, because through all the controversy it serves as the touchstone that one could use to explain what is going on (or at least base your arguments off of.)

Here’s the original layout.

You might be immediately drawn to the bomb-in-the-turban which has been selected for wide-consumption, as it is offensive (Muhammad as violent) but not so much as to justify the rioting.

If you look at the other drawings, however, you find that there are far more offensive cartoons on the page. Muhammad as dagger-wielding enslaver of women? There’s even the classic Muhammad as the devil (his crescent-halo is positioned a bit awkwardly).

There are also drawings which are funny in that meta-South Park sort of racism that, sorry, I think is funny. I belong to the big tent bigots, we think everyone’s up for roasting. One has a bearded gentleman calling off the guards (he’s not explicitly the Prophet in this case) because the drawing is just from some Dane in Jutland. Two refer to the entire “contest” as a publicity stunt for the erstwhile Danish author of the Muhammad biography or Jyllands Posten as a bunch of “reactionary provocateurs.”

I suppose the editor might have thought that including these entries balances out the worse ones, but there are deeper troubles here. The Iranian call for cartoons lampooning the Holocaust is tasteless, but shows a grasp beyond the usual idiotic Jew-bashing (though that, of course, is there). You would not draw and publish something showing Anne Frank in bed with Hitler unless you really, really hated Jewish people. You would not draw and publish something showing the founder of a major world religion as a hook-nosed, dagger wielding, Satanic enslaver of women unless you really, really hated Muslims.

The Iranian youth in one of the cartoons, which calls the newspaper “reactionary provocateurs” wears a soccer jersey of a team that plays in an immigrant-heavy part of Copenhagen. There are still people alive in the countries these cartoons were reprinted in who remember the last time millions of people were killed for religious differences. The “Holocaust Industry” that the Iranian president rails against exists to indelibly mark the world with, “This must never happen again.” Questions of freedom of speech aside, the aforementioned Anne Frank cartoon will never be printed in Germany, because it is against the law no matter how many Western principles of free expression it occludes. This is part atonement for past sins and part prevention, but apparently not extensible to other parts of Europe and other minorities. Our rights extend just far enough to make these measures only apply retroactively to genocide.

To clarify, I believe in free speech because I believe that it is revelatory of all things in society, no matter how ugly. I want racist speech protected, because it reveals the racist. What the Danish cartoons have revealed is that there is a very real racism in modern Europe, that only the most die-hard idiots publicly hate Jews, but Muslim baiting is printable even if only a publicity stunt.

Ann Coulter spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference last Friday, where she is reported to have said in relation to 9/11, “Raghead talks tough, raghead faces consequences.” The blog report I’ve read says that there was a boisterous ovation following this, but I’ll de-bias that down to polite applause. Change that particular ethnic slur to one that gets you angry and ask yourself why she gets away with this. I don’t want a law against what she said, because then I couldn’t call her an uncle-fucking hatesop without breaking the law. I just want to know where the wall of shame that should be falling over on her is. Why isn’t she stuck lecturing at one-room bible colleges to skinhead conventions just to make enough for one more bottle of Elmer’s to snort?

The situation in Europe is partly divorced from the riots in the Muslim world; you have an entire region of dreams deferred and organizations that are looking to take the heat off their own authoritarian sponsors. You can’t find a dozen Danish flags in Pakistan to burn without some planning ahead of time and forethought it not generally in the domain of the angry mob. There is also some confusion as to the difference of state-owned media and a Jutland daily. On the other hand, what if the Muslim world sees these drawings as a symptom? What if, instead of asking, “Why do they hate us?” as we did after 9/11, we ask now, “Is the feeling mutual?” Why hasn’t this argument shifted from, “They hate our free speech!” in the same way that, “They hate our freedom!” passed into inanity?

Monday, February 06, 2006

Puppy Bowl II

I’m prepared to never watch the Super Bowl again.

It’s not that the game was boring or didn’t have a good underdog back story. I really enjoy having people over and eating lots of badness and drinking worse. I enjoy the commercials when they’re good.

However, the entirety of Super Bowl experience pales in comparison to the Puppy Bowl that was running for 12 hours on Animal Planet. Some brilliant staffers at Animal Planet decided they had nothing to lose other than dead air and took a bundle of puppies, some of fine lineage, some of adorable muttness, and dropped them into a large box done up like a football field.

Animal Planet then filmed a bundle of puppies running around in a box full of toys and other puppies. The end result is hypnotic. They go nuts, then get sleepy, then go nuts again. They move in herds towards the camera whenever it moves, snuffle it, lick it thoroughly, and go get a drink before some other fluffnugget of cuteness piles on top of them.

Last night we made fried calamari, homemade corn dogs, beer-battered onion rings, and homemade potato chips and washed it down with some donated homebrew with an alcohol content that skewed far north of Canadian Nunavut hooch, made it through the “people” game without getting too sucked in…

… and then we flipped over to Puppy Bowl II and I couldn’t move. The sink flooded from the myriad greasy implements soaking in it onto the floor and into the apartment downstairs and I didn’t care. If you’ve seen the movie Serenity, you understand what this level of calm is. It was the Pax.

Then the Kitty Halftime Show came on and the puppies were replaced with a handful of strung-out kittens that could smell dog on everything but were far too entranced with the tinsel stage dressing to care. I can’t describe it. It would take a poet.