Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Please be absolutely, completely clear in expressing yourself, and make sure that the people who are listening to you understand exactly what you mean, so there's no confusion whatsoever and then no one will get hurt okay?

On September 29, The Onion newspaper tweeted that there was a hostage situation in the Capitol.
The tweet, which read "BREAKING: Witnesses reporting screams and gunfire heard inside Capitol building," went out to more than 3 million followers, and gave no indication that it was a joke. Some quickly suggested that the account had been hacked; an Onion spokesman said that was not the case, and the joke became obvious in a follow up Tweet: "BREAKING: Capitol building being evacuated. 12 children held hostage by group of armed congressmen. #CongressHostage."
The "held hostage by congressmen" joke springs from the overheated rhetoric around the debt ceiling debate.

At least that's how I interpreted it. I don't know what exactly was The Onion's intent, but it's clear that the tweets, along with the story they eventually linked to (the first tweets didn't link to the story), were supposed to be funny.
Brandishing shotguns and semiautomatic pistols, members of the 112th U.S. Congress took a class of visiting schoolchildren hostage today, barricading themselves inside the Capitol rotunda and demanding $12 trillion dollars in cash.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), who has emerged as spokesman for the bipartisan group, informed FBI negotiators this morning that the ransom was to be placed in stainless-steel suitcases and left on the Capitol steps by 4 p.m. sharp. If their demands are not met in full, the 11-term representative announced, "all the kids will die."
Obviously, this is humor. I happen to think it's fairly amusing, although I've seen much funnier things on the Onion website. But, apparently, police in the capitol took the time to actually investigate the tweets.
“It has come to our attention that recent twitter feeds are reporting false information concerning current conditions at the U.S. Capitol,” Capitol Police spokeswoman Sgt. Kimberly Schneider said in a statement.

She said conditions at the Capitol, now largely empty because lawmakers are on vacation, were normal. “There is no credibility to these stories or the twitter feeds. The U.S. Capitol Police are currently investigating the reporting.”
Emphasis added because "the reporting" was coming from The Onion, which is a humor web site, dedicated to parodying news organizations, and satirizing politics and world events.

The police were investigating "reporting" from the Onion.

All of the police who investigated this reporting, and the people who ordered them to investigate the reporting, should be fired. This is an embarrassment. If you can't figure out that the Onion is a humor site, and it sends out humor tweets, then you are a moron who doesn't deserve to draw a salary.

But, Did the Onion Go Too Far With Its Congressional Hostage Tweets? That nonsensical question is the title of a post at ThinkProgress in which the author answers with a resounding "MAYBE!"
...I think they should have included a link to the actual story. If you’re playing by a slightly tweaked set of rules from everyone else, it doesn’t hurt to reaffirm that, especially when touching on sensitive ground in a medium that encourages misinterpretation and often loses context in the process.
An artist has absolutely no obligation whatsoever to hold the hand of his audience, and explain exactly what was his intent in creating a piece of art. The BREAKING tweets parody the nature of Twitter itself. That it "encourages misinterpretation and often loses context in the process" is part of the joke. If you don't like the "rules" by which the Onion is playing, you need not follow them, or visit their website. But they are in no way responsible for any misinterpretation of their intentions.

The capitol police are to be congratulated in one respect, however: They didn't go completely batsh*t crazy over it the way those moronic police in Boston did back in 2007, when a couple of artists put some Lite Brite-looking things around to promote the Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie.
Authorities have arrested two men in connection with electronic light boards depicting a middle-finger-waving moon man that triggered repeated bomb scares around Boston on Wednesday and prompted the closure of bridges and a stretch of the Charles River.

Meanwhile, police and prosecutors vented their anger at Turner Broadcasting System Inc., the parent company of CNN, which said the battery-operated light boards were aimed at promoting the late-night Adult Swim cartoon "Aqua Teen Hunger Force."

Boston officials condemned Turner for not taking proper steps to end the bomb scares earlier and for not issuing an adequate apology to the city.
The police in Boston overreacted after misunderstanding something, and then became angry because the people whose work they misinterpreted didn't apologize for their misunderstanding.

This makes no sense. Even more than that, it's dangerous. If artists are going to be held criminally responsible for a misunderstanding of their work, then the net result is to silence people. This would be a handy tool for politicians and people in the government to shut up their political enemies.

And now the filmmaker Lars von Trier has announced that he is going to stop giving interviews because his past remarks have been misinterpreted. Criminally so.
"Today at 2 p.m. I was questioned by the Police of North Zealand in connection with charges made by the prosecution of Grasse in France from August 2011 regarding a possible violation of prohibition in French law against justification of war crimes," von Trier's statement reads. "The investigation covers comments made during the press conference in Cannes in May 2011."

Von Trier admitted in the statement that the questioning had given him cold feet when it comes to speaking out in public, and he will no longer do so.

"Due to these serious accusations I have realized that I do not possess the skills to express myself unequivocally and I have therefore decided from this day forth to refrain from all public statements and interviews."
Here, taken wholly out of context, is one line uttered by Mr. Trier during that Cannes press conference:
I understand Hitler…I sympathize with him a bit.
That does sound bad. Apparently, calling yourself "a Nazi" and claiming to "sympathize with Hitler" (but only a bit!), is against the law in France.

But. The context clearly shows that Mr. Trier was joking. You can watch the entire press conference here, during which time Mr. Trier makes a number of tongue in cheek jokes about, for instance, actor Udo Kier's sexuality, and the actress Kirsten Dunst's alleged desire to do a hardcore pornographic film. He also jokes about the often punishing feeling one gets from watching his films.

He was being self deprecating. In fact, this press conference showed a fairly witty and charming man. His jokes were aimed at himself, and his reputation, and came at the end of a press conference during which the actors who had appeared in his film called him dictatorial and inscrutable.

For that, he was questioned by police.

Should Steven Spielberg be held responsible for kids laughing at "Schindler's List"? Should Robert Crumb be held responsible when his comics are favorably referenced by white supremacists? Does Brian De Palma have to sit down with all of the "Scarface" fans who "don't get" that movie?

Some people, apparently, want artists to commit authorial trespass, and not merely create art, but explain how it is to be consumed as well. These people are trivial. Unfortunately, many of them have a great deal of power.


A.Jaye said...

Freedom of speech/expression was fine when the powers that be only had the printing press to deal with. While I think von Trier is a fraud who deserves the evil meted out to him I see an atmosphere of dogmatic censorship (here in the UK). We've all been warned.

The French are funny about Hitler. I suspect most of it is embarrassment regarding their collaboration in the holocaust. Shame on them they're not so embarrasse about paedophiles.

Ricky Sprague said...

I am totally baffled by the popularity-- among critics-- of Mr. Trier. His movies are bleak and pretentious, which I guess critics like, but they are also unrelentingly misogynistic.

His press conference was, I thought, pretty amusing. He should stick to those, and quit making movies.

Good point about the French.