This morning, I watched a few of the Sunday morning news shows, and part of the discussion is about the various riots across the Muslim world that came about from this movie (or a part of this movie), Innocence of Muslims. A couple of comments/typing aloud sort of observations.
- This is a very veeerrryyyy weird movie. Time had an interview with one of the actors who said that none of the experience made a lot of sense to anyone on the set, but basically a job is a job. All the anti-Islamic stuff is clearly dubbed in and the 14 minute clip I link to here lends some credibility to this. In places, it has the same obviously dubbed in jerkiness of Barack Obama singing “Call Me Maybe.” In other words, beyond being anti-Islamic and racist and hateful and all of that, it’s just horrifically bad, so bad that I wonder if it would be better to think of it not so much as the cause but the opportunity of the events that continue to unfold.
- I think it’s more complicated than a “video that went viral” on YouTube. Not to rely too much on Time for this, but the article “The Agents of Outrage” points out that the movie (perhaps the whole thing?) was “screened in Hollywood early this year but made no waves whatsoever.” It went up on YouTube and got in the hands of anti-Muslim Coptic Christians and infamous Koran burning Pastor Terry Jones in the hate blogosphere. But it really didn’t escalate in Egypt and then Libya until someone named Sheik Khaled Abdaallah talked about it on his TV show in Egypt. Abdaallah is described in this Time article as “every bit as inflammatory and opportunistic as Jones” (only he’s a Muslim highly critical of the Copts), so what we have here in a way is one extremist hate group versus another extremist hate group. The point is I don’t think the video on YouTube itself spread virally before it was spread in comparably older mediums.
- In any event, now there are protests all over the place, and I am willing to wager that the vast majority of the folks protesting at American (and apparently European) embassies around the world have not seen any of the movie that may (or may not) have been the exigency for these protests in the first place. I would even go so far as to say that if at least some of these protesters did see the clips of the video being circulated, they too would be confused. I think most of the protesters now are protesting in reaction to the other protests and not the movie itself. In that sense, it’s the other protests (and the coverage of them in the media) that have gone viral and not the original movie.
- In the fourth chapter of my dissertation, I write about how easy it is in rhetorical situations mediated through technologies like the internet for the boundaries between the rhetor, the audience, and even the message itself to break down. I specifically wrote about a “Mac vs. DOS” question to a mailing list and how that discussion moved far away from the original point of the question, and I argue that this is one of the inherent conditions of “immediate” rhetorical situations. But it is also simpler than that. For example, there have been a couple of riots at MSU following basketball team losses, riots where the exigency was initially related to a game but which changed as the riots progressed. And obviously, not everyone who participated in the riot as a result of the MSU loss; rather, some rioters took it merely as an opportunity to loot and cause damage. I suspect there’s some of this going on with these riots.
- Apparently there is some dispute as to whether or not Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens was killed as a result of the protests getting way out of hand or if it was premeditated, thus making the protests a sort of “cover story” for a previously planned killing. And what isn’t really being talked about much is the extent to which this was all connected to the anniversary of 9/11 and the extent to which the killing was undertaken by al-Qaeda related groups. Of course, this too is still emerging.
- And what you also see here is just good-ol-fashioned culture clash. Folks in these countries where there are strict rules on what can and cannot be said about Islam or what-have-you wonder why there aren’t laws against this sort of blasphemy in the U.S. Americans (and I suspect many others in “the west”) uphold the value of free speech even when it is hateful speech, and we (well, at least I do) wonder why such a shoddily done and ridiculous video that should perhaps best be simply ignored has gotten this much attention. Add to that a technology– YouTube et al– that make it pretty much impossible to keep this particular video out of the hands of people who want to see it (even though YouTube has blocked it in some countries like Egypt) combined with the fact that the protests themselves are being broadcast online and you have a feedback loop here: protest leads to protest.