By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. Dec. 9, 2015
In Turkey, insulting, mocking, or showing any dissension to the president is against the law. This case was proven when Bilgin Çiftçi, a Turkish doctor, created a meme of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s face side by side, matching expressions with Gollum, the despicable character from The Lord of the Rings.
Çiftçi has since been fired from his job, but now the courts are determining the next order of action. Since the chief judge—apparently too busy—has never seen any of The Lord of the Ring films, he and the court is turning to some experts of Tolkien’s epic tale in order to determine whether or not the comparison is indeed an insult. The argument in defence of Çiftçi is that Gollum is a hero of the story and therefore the meme was not an insult, but rather a compliment.
Now, I’m going to break this whole situation into two parts.
First off, Gollum, although he redeems himself (in a sense) at the end of the saga, is not a hero of the trilogy. He is a vile creature that succumbed to greed. Gollum is a victim, for sure, but at no point was he a hero. He killed his best friend, Déagol. Gollum is the epitome of a self-destructive addict.
I know what you are thinking: he ended up destroying the One Ring, doesn’t that make him a good guy? No! Because he bit off Frodo’s finger in an outburst of voracity and fell off the edge of Mt. Doom. He had no intention of destroying the ring. While it was the ring that corrupted poor Smeagol and morphed him into Gollum, we cannot honestly say that Gollum is a hero.
The second part of the situation that must be addressed is how stupid the law is. This proves that freedom of speech, no matter how benign it is, is still a luxury in many parts of the world. Moreover, the inability of some to show any sense of humour is even more disturbing than the law itself. The fact that Tayyip didn’t just brush it off and accept the little ball busting is kind of funny, too. You’d think a man with power could poke fun at the fact that his looks are comparable to, say, Orlando Bloom.
Let’s be honest, Çiftçi was not trying to plot Erdoğan’s downfall. Even if he disliked the President, the mere comparison to Gollum did very little harm to the President’s persona. All it did was call attention to the fact that Erdoğan shared similar features to a fictional character—which he totally does! Perhaps Peter Jackson didn’t need to utilize CGI or Andy Serkis. He could have just cast Erdoğan.
I’m sure many in Turkey found the comparison uncanny, too. But when a country has a law that makes it incapable of processing a joke, then it is that country that becomes the joke. Imagine a Canada where we weren’t allowed to satirize our leaders. That wouldn’t be the free country we know and love. Turkey is a beautiful place, one I wish to visit one day, but with a law like that it sounds more like Mordor than Rivendell.