perjantai, 5. lokakuu 2012
There’s something rotten in the country of Sweden.
This week was Read Banned Books week, declared by American Library Association. Our dear righteous kingdom of Sweden celebrated this occasion in the way that was very suitable for the country who created Nobel literature prize: by trying to censor books. The work in question: Tintin in Congo, first published in 1931 by Hérge. In a flash the news did spread around the globe: Sweden bans Tintin!
Man behind the move is self-acclaimed “multitalented Swedish artist” Behrgang Miri, “Joyspreader of year 2008” for his hard work in youth movement, as he tells on his website. His latest youth move as a artistic director of Stockholm Kulturhuset was to spread joy by giving an order to remove Tintin books from shelves. While joyfully shooting himself to leg, he multitalentedly stated that these works had “flying carpets” and other prejudiced trivia that actually doesn’t appear in Tintin at all. Description reminds more of Iznougud, a satirical Franco-Belgian comic.
This slight error hardly matters, as it appeared soon that the book in question is not in Kulturhuset library collections anyway, so they are censoring a book they don’t own. Furthermore, it was hastily explained (rather unbelievably, I must say) that the censorship move in question was to put the books (excluding Tintin in Congo, including Tintin in Tibet) to side in a cart 7 metres away. Nevertheless, the chief director of Kulturhuset, Eric Sjöström, officially cancelled the decision and appeared in a news photo where he was putting the books back.
This joyful, multitalented violation of human rights and openly hostile aggression against culture by a person who was supposed to defend and advance it, had immediately an enormous symbolic importance that raised people on their toes. I saw storming amount of thousands of responses in Swedish newspaper websites and social media. People usually simply don’t like that their life is being tampered with. This is big news to nobody, except politicians.
In the following debate African-Swedish artist Makoto Linde noted that “what matters in the year 2012 is not how black people were depicted in the past, but how they are not depicted today”. Right on.
If you dislike Tintin in Congo, how about offering something better to your taste? How about creating a parody where the roles are turned upside down? How about offering African comics made by African artists to African audience? Of course that would require that artistic director would lift up his ass he is probably using for thinking, go out, seek and bring those works into library or exhibition. To roleplay an Iranian Religious Inquisition is oh so much easier and more effortless. Other means would require brains. How boring must it be for a joyful multitalented club star.
American Library Association states that the purpose of Banned Books Week is to spread information and raise awareness so we understand we are not living in so progressive environment that we have imagined.
This is refreshing, taking into account that censorship, ideological direction, and need to control the people are nowadays far too often camouflaged in the dress of progressive ideas. World is full of paradoxes indeed. The people who most vocally call themselves “value liberals” end up revealing time after time that they are the most reactionary conservatives and adopt the similar strategies, like they were too high to follow their own principles. Another paradox is that only those of us who are ready to feel insulted in all its glory, can be insulted. How to help this, I don’t really know. I only know the reasons and solutions both are beyond the power of any fictitious work or piece of art.
During the clashes caused by the recent Mohammed movie, I was constantly wondering, how come no one seemed to realize that the film, or its trailer, was a work of art. Even more work of art, if there was only a trailer and the actual movie never existed, as we heard. Now I have lost the definition of fiction somewhere on my messy desk, but a trailer movie of a nonexistent film is a prime example of what we call fiction – humbug, hogwash.
In clearer and simplier times it was popular to think that this kind of fictitious works of art can be censored and their creators can be jailed, if state wishes so. Works can be pulled out from distribution and burn in a fire. Similar suggestions are still expressed. There just are two problems: Internet doesn’t work this way (and even before that we had unstoppable samizdat in any case). Secondly, is there really somebody, who believes that this kind of final solution would offer a solution? A hollow response “But something must be done!” will not do. It expresses outrage, not reason.
Lars Vilks, the founder of artistic project called the micro country of Ladonia, is among those, who suggest a solution that art is an autonomic sphere, and artist is responsible only to the world of art. I am not going to guess to what length Vilks would be ready to go himself to follow this idea. You can read it yourself in his blog, if you can read Swedish. However, the idea of autonomous art would solve many problems indeed. It would be finally a clear and practical idea to define the limits of art. In the same time it is an idea the world doesn’t allow.
Instead, world prefers to allow politics. Politics has to offer many wonderful things to culture: restrictions, censorship, jail, killings, fire and brimstone.
Many criticial questions can be asked about the idea of autonomous art, and one of them will definetely be how autonomous art would answer to the people of society who feel insulted or hurt because of fictitious works.
It provides no answer, I hope. If it would, it wasn’t autonomous.
We should begin to understand that feeling insulted – or even worse, giving weight to fear that someone might in some circumstances hypothetically feel insulted - provides no ground to anything. We can't prove, nor disprove, whether the annoyance is real or not. You can fake it for political reasons, show, or money, and it has happened many times already.
Exactly because all estimations are arbitrary, I for one really don’t support bringing arbitrariness into courtroom, that is the place where these things will be judged. Courtroom is definetely not the right place to discuss art. Some of the most clever heads of history have been wondering for 2500 years the questions of art and taste. Are we supposed to believe that lawyers and politicians now suddenly enter and succesfully solve all these problems that have made the great philosophers of past feel themselves helpless?
Naturally, this is not a reason to disregard good manners. By all means, let’s condemn Mohammad movie or Tintin in Congo for bad manners if you so dearly wish – and that really is the extent of criminality of those works. Allow one step further, and you know in which camp you will find yourself concentrated.