Philosophy-type things

Anger-induced aneurysms in my life

Please note: this is a translation repost of an entry from my Swedish blog. If the feel of the text seems somewhat off, it’s because I didn’t originally write it in English. Oh, and it’s from back in August, when the ad was just released.)

I wrote about racism against the roma a few weeks ago. About deportations, about molotov cocktails used against three-year-olds, about prejudice accepted by society. Today there’s more material in Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter, but I don’t have the energy to read it, don’t have the strength to cry while at work.

But I hadn’t thought of ONE thing the roma are good enough for in Western society: exotification, preferably with hypersexual characteristics. “Gyspy” comes to mean passionate, alien, wild, beautiful… basically your standard Wednesday afternoon orientalism. Sweeping skirts, dark hair and firelight are used as signifiers of Otherness and Availability (which in itself a part of the same phenomenon that narrates African-American women in a sexualized manner, an extension of their previous position as sexual pray within the legalizing context of slavery.) You get it. You’d think we’ve got further than that in 2010, but culture fucks you right back in your place. The makeup brand Illamasqua released their fall collection The Art of Darkness in September, and one of the looks is called “Queen of the Gypsies.”



WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK. This is what the official image looks like, if you don’t have the energy or inclination, I can inform you that is  a somewhat dark-skinned woman with long black hair and silver highlights. She is wearing a red bikiniesque top and a semitransparent red and blue skirt. She’s also wearing golden earrings, many golden necklaces and at least one anklet. Her upper arm is sporting either a tattoo or a tight bracelet. The only light in the picture seems to come from a candelabra behind her. The look is marketed with the following text: “No one can resist the Queen of the Gypsyies. This alluring temptress, famed for her seductive veiled dancing, knows how to use her art to get what she wants…”

I can’t, a the moment of writing, think of any way I could be more disgusted by this. Exotification is gross enough on its own, any woman of color could tell you that, but imagine  the above text being about a nationality, say, Japanese women. It wouldn’t be any better, but there had been a number of organizations, Japanese and non-Japanese, who has put their foot down, but some pressure on Illamasqua, made sure this was talked about. Right now, there’s just silence. The particular exposed situation of the roma population makes this campaign a little bit more cowardly, a little stupider, a little bit more disgusting.

(on a sidenote, the werewolf-styled ad also trivializes rape. Nice one, Illamasqua. I’m on a lifetime boycot, btw.)

Freedom of stupidity, not of speech

I doubt anyone has missed the commotion in Europe right now. The topic is a few caricature drawings of the prophet Mohammed, which originally appeared in Danish newspaper (Jyllands-Posten) in September. A few days ago, Moslem groups voiced protests, and the drawings where then republicized, and later appeared in newspapers in a number of other countries, most notably France, with conflicts, flag burnings and export stops as consequences.

What I find interesting is that the focus is on freedom of speech; no Arab countries have the right to react, because journalists have the right to print whatever they want. And yes, they have that right. But to compare this to Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses is just… cheap. In the latter case, it is a conscious provocation, but one made from within a culture. It is also a book, and according to some a rather good one. In the former case, it is a small number cartoon-sized caricature drawings, made by Danish artists and publicized in a large, Danish magazine. There is a world of difference.

The main difference regards perspective; the drawings weren’t made to show disdain for Iran, Palestine or Saudi-Arabia. It was a big, fat fuck-you to all moslems living in Denmark. The last few years, xenophobia and racism has been growing in Denmark, both in culture and in politics (immigrations laws prevents non-European naturalized citizens from marrying non-Europeans and residing in Denmark, the xenophobic Dansk Folkeparti (The Danish People’s Party), the leader of which, Pia Kjärsgaard, has made several racist statements, is winning ground.) The publication of these pictures is really just a logical consequence of that development. While the editor in chief semi-apologized by saying that they “never intended to offend anyone,”
it is quite obvious that that was the original intent; “we will not only make fun of your prophet, we will further humiliate you by doing this in a manner forbidden by your religion; visual depiction of a holy person. Oh, and in the process, we’ll depict Islam as inherently terrorist.”

And France, that has the one of the longest histories of moslem citizens in Europe, and that already have a conflict with this population after the outlawing of head scarves in public schools, followed suit. What I am trying to understand is what the hell these idiots, sorry, editors, are thinking with. I am not saying it is right to burn Danish flags in Palestine, or to threaten Danish citizens. I am saying that it was incredibly insensitive and straight out dumb for anyone to public these pictures to begin with. This is not a matter of freedom of speech, it’s a matter of freedom of idiocy.

Swedish Newspaper Sydsvenskan‘s editor-in-chief Peter Melin defends his paper’s choice of not printing the drawings in this article: . He gives the following reasons:

1. I don’t see the publication -or not- as a matter of freedom of speech. Nothing prevents Sydsvenskan from displaying the depictions of Mohammed if we find reason to do so. This has happened and yesterday we printed the cover of the children’s book that is the cause of the last days’ commotion.

2. The caricatures are primarily a provocation. This is rarely a good starting point for good journalism. We don’t print anti-semitic drawings for the sake of provocations either.

3. The drawings can be seen as political persecution of an already vulnerable group.

4. There is a moral dimension. I find some of the images repulsive. They remind me of anti-semitic caricatures from the 1930s.

5. The images can be understood as sacrilege.

6. The drawings are in some cases so blunt that there is a risk that printing them is against Swedish law. They are dangerously close to a verbal hate crime (the law in questions is the law against hateful agitation against a specific ethnic or social group.)

I really couldn’t have said it better myself. I stay with my old position: people are dumb.



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