July 2007

Sense of humour failure

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is almost upon us again and, this year, controversy comes early with a call to ban Jihad: The Musical - an all-singing, all-dancing madcap gallop through the world of Islamic terrorism.

The idea of a light-hearted entertainment about a hapless Afghan peasant who falls into the hands of would-be jihadi terrorists has upset a group of protesters who are calling on the Prime Minister to condemn the tasteless portrayal of terrorism and its victims. They go on to claim that making fun of Muslim extremism is extremely offensive. Presumably the protesters would prefer that we all hid under our beds instead.

In response to calls for the show to be closed down before its opening night on Wednesday, James Lawler, the shows producer, has said: We have no intention of causing offence or insult with this show. It is simply a comedy musical, following the British tradition of high-kicking, high-spirited, musical theatre, about a fictional Afghan poppy farmer who falls in love with the wrong person and finds himself caught in a dilemma.

He goes on to argue that like all good comedy, the show touches, very lightly, on a current-day topic that people can relate to, connects it with humour and, like the proverb, makes the best of a bad situation.

The plot sees its hero, Sayid al-Boom, lured by a veiled, poppy-exporting femme fatale into the lair of a band of jihadis. He is then manipulated by a sinister reporter and so caught, emblematically speaking, between the terrorists and bloodthirsty global media. Help apparently finally turns up in the form of a surrender-prone Frenchman and his sister. The posters for the show bear the tag-line The West shall not be won (again) so long as we have a high-kicking chorus line.

Great care has been taken to ensure that the utmost respect is provided to the faiths and cultures it incorporates, said Lawler in a statement defending the show. This has been achieved through some very skilful and tactful writing. Clearly the petitioners have not seen the show as their knowledge of the content would appear to be incorrect, rendering their petition inflammatory and highly unnecessary.

A preview of sorts has, inevitably, turned up online in the form of the song I Wanna Be Like Osama - click here to see it for yourself.

Confused nationalism

The Malaysia Sun (via) is reporting that Awarapan, a film starring Bollywood actor Emran Hashmi, has triggered a fierce court row in Pakistan where film producer, Younas Malik, is trying to have the film banned.

The Pakistan government has three categories for certification of an Indian film or films with Indian artists:

  • Films produced in India are banned in Pakistan since 1965.
  • Films produced in Pakistan containing Indian artists were also not allowed under Martial Law order 57.
  • Films produced in foreign countries except India, even though having Indian artists, could be shown in Pakistan in view of the amendment carried out in Rule 10 of Censorship of Films Rules of 1980.

According to both the ministry of culture and the Censor Board, Awarapan can be screened because it was produced in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and not India. The film is currently playing in Lahore to packed houses and has won popular acclaim.

A right royal fuss

A Spanish cartoonist is facing a possible jail sentence for publishing a cartoon (via).

Spain’s National Court ordered police to seize all 400,000 copies of the weekly satirical magazine El Jueves from newspaper kiosks, as well as the “printing plates”. Judge Juan del Olmo also ordered the magazine to identify the cartoonist responsible for its latest cover, which was met with disbelief in a nation where even the smallest criticism of the Royal Family is deemed off-limits.

It depicted the heir to the throne, Prince Felipe of Asturias, having sex with his wife, Princess Letizia, and saying: “Do you realise that if you get pregnant . . . It will be the closest thing to work I’ve done in my life?”

The drawing referred to a recent decision by the Government to award mothers €2,500 (£1,680) for each child they bear. Insulting royalty or “damaging the prestige of the Crown” is a crime in Spain, punishable by up to two years in prison.

According to the public prosecutor, the cartoon is “clearly denigrating and objectively libellous”. The court is also hoping to stop websites or other media from reproducing the cartoon.

Borders pulls Tintin

After coming under pressure from the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) over Tintin in the Congo, Borders have removed the book from their shelves.

Egmont, the books publishers, said the book comes with a warning that it features bourgeois, paternalistic stereotypes of the period - an interpretation some readers may find offensive.

The chains UK stores originally moved the book to the adult section and took the view that its customers could make their own decision whether to read it or not. This, however, was not enough for the CRE who appear to believe that the best way to deal with dated and paternalistic stereotypes is to pretend they never existed.

Emmanuelle and the Christian nutters

Christian groups in South Africa have decided to be outraged over the presence of late-night porn on public television and held a protest (via) outside the studios of E-TV on Saturday.

Members of Africa Christian Action, Christians for Truth and several other mission organizations and churches demanded the network remove pornography from its programming, pointing to clinics which link child sex abuse cases to pornography.

“We have had e-nough! Porn on free-to-air national TV is outrageous,” said Taryn Hodgson, international coordinator of the Christian Action Network, in a statement.

“There are many parentless homes in South Africa and many homes where children are not supervised as to what TV they are watching. R18 restrictions are not enough to prevent children from watching these films.”

Christian Action Network – a conservative umbrella organization mobilizing Christians to protest against pornography, abortion, and same-sex union in the country – demonstrated and prayed outside the e-TV studios in Cape Town Saturday morning. They claim - untruthfully - that there is a link between porn and sexual abuse.

Not surprisingly, E-TV has pointed out that there is no evidence that these films contribute to sexual crimes and that they were broadcasting the films in the appropriate time slot.

Christian groups are planning to hold protests outside the E-TV studios in Durban and Bloemfontein this month.

Smash the school!

Turkish punk band, Deli is facing up to 18 months in jail over a song which complains about an exam (via).

The song is called ÖSYM - the name of the countrys examination board that decides which students go to university, based on a three-hour exam every June - and includes the line ÖSYM, kiss my arse.

An Ankara prosecutor decided that insulting state employees should be a crime and started legal proceedings against the five piece band May 2nd.

Few had heard of the Bursa-based punk band Deli until June 2007 when a teenage fan of the band, identified in media reports and on YouTube only by his first name, Hako, uploaded a video clip on the website YouTube.com where he lip-synchs his way through Delis song.

Delis 24-year-old lead singer and lyricist Cengiz Sari has called the court case ridiculous. Nevertheless, when band releases its début album this month, they have decided not to include the song ÖSYM in order to avoid further controversy.

Miss Kitty pulled by Catholics

A Catholic pressure group has protested about a sculpture of the Pope Benedict XVI in drag, causing it to be pulled (via) from a gay exhibition in Milan.

Curator Eugenio Viola told Associated Press: It was made clear to us that it would be better to remove the piece.

The Catholic Anti-Defamation League complained that the sculpture - entitled Miss Kitty and created by Paolo Schmidlin - was defamation of the Pope and threatened to press charges.

According to Milans culture counsellor, Vittorio Sgarbi:

This exhibition represents gay Pride. It gives space to artists who show homosexual aesthetics in a flashy, proud way with a few irrepressible provocations.

And, on the subject of the sculpture:

Ill keep it with me so that I can give the Pope back the decorum he deserves.

Thatll be none at all, I assume.

Malaysian Muslims offended by comedy

Evan Almighty poster Evan Almighty, a sequel to Bruce Almighty, stars Steve Carell as an American congressman to whom God hands the task of building an ark ready for the next big flood.

No, it didnt strike me as being a very funny idea either, but offensive? Apparently so.

Malaysia’s influential Muslim Consumers Association (PPIM) has decided that the film is insulting to Islam and is demanding that the film be banned.

They also object to the fact that Morgan Freeman plays God in the film. I agree. Brian Blessed should play god.

Americans saved from scary picture

A US publisher has decided not to publish a a series by childrens book author Rotraut Susanne Berner because some of the illustrations were a bit too explicit for sensitive American sensibilities.

First off, smokers had to be removed from the illustrations. But that wasnt all. One image shows a scene from an art gallery and for realisms sake, there is a cartoonish nude hanging on the wall along with a tiny, seven-millimeter-tall statue of a naked man on a pedestal.

American kiddies, obviously, could never be expected to handle such a depiction of the human body. The US publisher, somewhat awkwardly, asked if they could be removed.

The author, not surprisingly, considers the request to be absurd. The statues mini-willy, the author points out, is hardly even a half-millimeter long. And the naked woman hanging on the wall? Hardly a realistic depiction of the female anatomy. The US publisher, says Berner, was embarrassed to ask for the changes, but they were even more afraid of how American mommies and daddies might react if junior were exposed to such pornography.

The author was not willing to start censoring herself. She may have been willing to put black bars in front of the problem spots, but invisible censorship was out. If youre going to censor something, then the reader should be aware of it, she said.

Of course, black bars would call attention to the deletions - something the publisher was unsurprisingly reluctant to admit to - so Berner remains unpublished in the US and American children are safe from shocking German sensibilities.

Old book not politically correct shock

The Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) is demanding that Borders and Waterstones remove Tintin in the Congo (first published in 1931) from their shelves on the grounds that it expresses 70 year old prejudices.

A spokeswoman said the book contained words of hideous racial prejudice, where the savage natives look like monkeys and talk like imbeciles.

Complaints have already led to both stores moving the book to their adult section.