Colin Delany April 28, 2008

Lawrence Lessig and an Online Singing Jesus Cause Scandal on RedState and Limbaugh


Wired’s Sarah Lai Stirland picked up on a revealing micro-scandal a couple of days ago: Obama supporter Lawrence Lessig has been getting beaten up on Redstate.com and Rush Limbaugh’s radio show over a video he’s used as a mashup example in presentations. The crime? The clip depicts a somewhat swishy Jesus singing “I Will Survive” before a dramatic run-in with a bus proves otherwise (note that the RedState author immediately jumps to the conclusion that this Jesus is gay — musical numbers are always a dead giveaway).

Of course, the video is only one of several that Lessig has used as examples in presentations, and of course he also didn’t create it himself (Lessig’s own videos are of the reasoned-and-boring variety — which makes them very effective on the right audience). But it’s a perfect example of the kind of cherry-picking that internet politics enables: look hard enough at just about anything online and you’ll find something scandalous at the edges. Sarah notes the obvious tie-in to previous attempts to tar left-wing blogs by portraying individual and distasteful reader comments as representative of the site as a whole. In this case, the RedState author and Limbaugh both try to link Lessig’s editorial choice directly to Obama, with the two Lefties clearly representing a great danger to all that is good and right in the world.

Besides the fact that most humor comes from some inappropriate pairing of themes (“A priest, a rabbi and a prostitute walk into a bar…”), it’s always ironic to me to see a group of right-wingers freaking out about some creative endeavor that doesn’t bother to take Christianity or some other part of Traditional America seriously, when they also freaked out about Muslims freaking out over cartoons about the Prophet. Here’s the trick about satire, parody and free speech — either everything’s fair game, or nothing’s fair game.

We’re going to see a lot of tactics like this in an already-drawn-out election year, no doubt from both sides (homework assignment: how many right-wing crazy quotes will it take to equal one Reverend Wright video clip?). Some people will fall for them, no doubt, though many will see through the select-the-extreme gotcha-game. But just as Obama has had to put resources into fighting the Muslim Manchurian Candidate Meme, other candidates will no doubt have to pour water on similar fires. The ‘net is certainly not going to run out of loonies and blowhards on all sides.

And since e.politics Is Not Afraid, below is the scandalous video in question. Verdict: B. The basic idea is clever and the execution solid, but there’s not enough there there for it to really stick. Essentially, it’s a one-joke gag with a classic surprise ending. On the plus side, it’s Mercifully short.

cpd

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