Freedom of Speech Octopus Trolls the World at Large
octo-4This post started with me just marveling in the majesty that is this art installation. And then, I started thinking about the larger story here about political correctness, trolling and a random cartoon figure named Pe Pe. (We’ll get to him soon enough.) But that leaves me with a difficult story to write… So be patient with me for a minute. Let’s start with the what.

There is a new art installation in New York harbor that is fantastic. It is a “memorial” for a fake ferry disaster and tribute to those that lost their lives in the great ferry disaster of 1963. Check out all the photos to get the full context of this thing.

And then, here, read the inscription on the monument for yourself:

“Dedicated in loving memory to the passengers and crew of the Cornelius G Kloff who lost their lives on November 22, 1963 In one of the most mysterious and tragic maritime disasters in American history erected by the Staten Island Ferry Memorial Foundation and Chemical Bank”

octo-shirtThis is priceless. Adore adore adore this piece. And these poor people scratching their heads and wondering what they missed in history class in 9th grade. No? Yeah, didn’t think you’d dig it. But what is this piece even saying? Well, if you dig through the website that the team that created this built (which is decidedly garish and gaudy like any awful museum website would be) you can learn a lot pretty quickly. First thing you can learn is that the site is selling t-shirts, which I can totally get behind. That tells you something.

It also tells us that this is what happened on the fateful day: “The Staten Island Ferry Disaster Story. . .

“It was close to 4am on the quiet morning of November 22, 1963 when the Steam Ferry Cornelius G. Kolff vanished without a trace. On its way with nearly 400 hundred people, mostly on their way to work, the disappearance of the Cornelius G. Kolff remains both one of New York’s most horrific maritime tragedies and perhaps its most intriguing mystery. Eye witness accounts describe “large tentacles” which “pulled” the ferry beneath the surface only a short distance from its destination at Whitehall Terminal in Lower Manhattan. Nobody on board survived and only small pieces of wreckage have been found…strangely with large “suction cup-shaped” marks on them. The only logical conclusion scientists and officials could point to was that the boat had been attacked by a massive octopus, roughly half the size of the ship. Adding to the tragedy, is that this disaster went almost completely unnoticed by the public as later that day another, more “newsworthy” tragedy would befall the nation when beloved President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated.  The Staten Island Ferry Disaster Museum hopes to correct this oversight by preserving the memory of those lost in this tragedy and educating the public about the truth behind the only known giant octopus-ferry attack in the tri-state area.”
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I mean, right? It is sad that this event actually went completely unnoticed. Tragic! Why why why would anyone spend their hard earned money to trick and fool the unsuspecting public? Well, maybe it says something about the state of the world at large that this is even a thing. There are a few things working together to actually even make this a real possibility in our world today. First, trolling. Trolling is an enormous internet thing. But what is it really? I would say that Trolling is the attempt to totally FREAK someone out by picking the opposite (and completely irrational) argument on a topic, and posting that position for everyone to read. The fur will fly… and the troller is now the winner of that particular debate as soon as it begins. Right? Trolling.

But trolling is really only a thing because of current sensitivities. No fly zones. Trigger warnings. All of it. We have decided as a culture that there are certain things that are not sane, or permissible. For example. Kittens. Everyone must love kittens. Another one? LGBT rights. Woah, it’s getting legit up in here real fast. Ok, what is another good example? Bullying. And while I am fine supporting the rights of kittens, LGBT rights, and putting a stop to bullying – these are highly trollable topics.

We have decided as a culture that there are certain topics that are not on the table as negotiable, debatable, or even sane to talk about. And that is why people are trolling about these topics. Now, most people trolling aren’t as clear witted or concise on this point. But that is what is happening.

Which totally reminds me of a recent Replyall podcast that talked about Pe Pe the frog, and the intense love of trolling all things Politically Correct in an effort to question this PC-ness. If you are interested in hearing the podcast in full you can listen to it below (Side note, Reply All really is a fantastic broadcast that is always worth your time)

octo-2Personally, I don’t like the double standards we put up with as a society. It’s OK to mock religion. OK? haha… It’s encouraged. You guys are pretty cool to me about it here. But, this is my house, and so I think you take it fairly easy on me. But I’ve been on sites that castigated Christians at will without really thinking anything of it. But Kittens? No. We don’t joke about kittens, like at all. Ever. Or like this episode of Reply All brings to our attention, it is important to push back against these false walls and more

But what is all this really about? Can we not joke with an unsuspecting tourist? Or is that verbotten? Can we not laugh at ourselves about Pe Pe and his complex and totally inappropriate responses to everything under the sun? And what happens when someone unironically embraces the apparently racist Pe Pe, who wasn’t (initially) racist at all?

Or more appropriately… what if someone were to create the Society for the Protection and Care for the Octopus of 1963? Or what happens when someone coopts this monument for a real animal cause? Or even worse (better?) what happens if we create a real leviathan hunting party? Hahaha. You get what I’m trying to get at here? In the Reply All conversation, white supremecists actually obsconded with the Pe Pe photos in order to use them as their own. When the goal was to keep the photos separate and apart? Does that make sense?

I worry that we have become so worried about honest and open debate that we can’t debate at all anymore. No, I don’t want to protect a pro-Nazi bigot, but if it protects me, and allows me to openly debate my belief in God, then I am for it. Free speech means free speech. Including stupid monuments to fake leviathan attacks. Protecting free speech includes protecting trolls. And if we are too sensitive for free speech, then maybe we should reconsider what it is that we are trying to do in this Democratic Experiment.

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