Monday, December 7, 2015

The Perils of Resembling Gollum

So, here's one of those weird cases when Tolkien and things related to Tolkien have a major effect on the real world.

Some time ago, a Turkish doctor named Bilgin Ciftci posted pictures of Andy Serkis's Gollum, as he appeared in Peter Jackson's LotR films and the first HOBBIT movie, alongside similar pictures of the Turkish president, Mr. Erdogan, poking fun at the president by drawing attention to the similarities between the way Erdogan and Gollum look.

Trouble is, turns out it's illegal in Turkey to criticize the president, or even to make fun of him. Thus not only has Dr. Ciftci lost his job but he now faces a jail sentence of up to two years.

Dr. Ciftci's defense is to deny that Gollum is an evil character or indeed a bad person, so that comparing him to Erdogan wouldn't be an insult. The judge, being no expert in JRRT's works (nor indeed it seems of film), has decided to appoint a panel consisting of "two academics, two behavioural scientists or psychologists and an expert on cinema and television productions" to consider the matter and report back to him with their literary judgment. With Dr. Ciftci's freedom hanging in the balance depending on what they conclude, their interpretation of the character. Here's a link to how the story was reported in the Turkish press:

Sir Peter has weighed in with the well-intentioned claim that what Ciftci posted are not pictures of Gollum but instead of Smeagol. This is a fascinating argument in itself, since it hinges on being able to tell, from visual clues, which half of a split personality is foremost at a particular given moment. I don't think there's any precedent for this, where a person's freedom hinged on such an intricate piece of literary/filmic interpretation.

In any case, it makes my mind boggle is that Tolkien has now become so mainstream that interpretations of his characters are now the subject of legal cases, with the stakes over the outcome including jailtime.

Here's a link to one version among many of the story, this one highlighting Jackson's efforts on Ciftci's behalf:

--John R.

P.S.: By the way, it looks as if Dr. Ciftci lives in Aydin, a place with a lot of history (like most of Turkey) -- in Biblical (New Testament) times it was called Antioch; further back it was a Lydian city, home to the river Meander (which figures in Homer).

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