Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Is Gollum good? Turkish judge consults 'TV expert' to find out

Image from, with caption: Left: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attends the opening session of the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21) at Le Bourget, near Paris, France, Nov. 30, 2015. Right: Gollum in "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey."

Is "Gollum" a villain or a victim? This burning question currently occupies the minds of analysts and justices on a much politicized case in Turkey. The answer will determine whether Dr. Bilgin Ciftci, who has already been expelled from the Public Health Institution of Turkey, will end up going to jail for offending Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. It will also set a precedent for other cases of dissent and political satire.
Gollum is a fictional character from J.R.R. Tolkien’s legendary fantasy novels "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings." Who among the books' fans and movie viewers can ever forget the line “my precious” uttered by the “slimy, dark creature” called Gollum? The fictional character goes back and forth between good and evil, light and darkness, victim and villain, often talking to himself. Born a hobbit named Smeagol, he is corrupted by the titular ring. He says, “You are liar, a thief … murderer” and replies to himself, “I am not listening.” Whether one thinks of Gollum as primarily a victim or a villain, this petty creature sure oscillates between them. He refers to himself as “we” and forms memorable if grammatically disastrous phrases such as “we needs it, we hates it forever.” ...So what does all this early 20th century fiction have to do with Erdogan? It all started on Aug. 23, 2014, when Ciftci shared a meme of three exaggerated facial expressions by Erdogan and Gollum side by side, displaying states of surprise and amazement and eating, on his Facebook page. There was a complaint, and an investigation was opened immediately. Subsequently, Ciftci lost his job in October. ... 
Article 299 of the Turkish penal code says that anyone who insults the president can face up to four years in prison, and the prison term goes up if the crime is committed publicly. If found guilty, Ciftci may be imprisoned for his Facebook post. ...
If the prosecutors’ goal was to deter people from following Ciftci’s example of sharing satirical posts about Erdogan over social media, their efforts have backfired. If we only compare the number of viewers in August 2014 of Ciftci’s Facebook post to the current interest in the Erdogan vs. Gollum traffic, we can see that the court case has connected Gollum’s image with that of Erdogan in the minds of hundreds of thousands all around the world. This could not have been a pleasing situation for Turkey’s public diplomacy. As shown previously, the Justice and Development Party has utterly failed to control political satire, and it cannot seem to learn to let it go.

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