Censorship Can be Fun!

Everybody's talking about the weird life-imitates-Internet-imitates-TV moment that was captured by a photographer who took a very weird picture of an Osama bin Laden supporter in Bangladesh. In the photo, someone is carrying a sign with a picture of bin Laden. The bizarro part is that the Sesame Street character Bert (of Bert and Ernie fame) is shown looking over bin Laden's shoulder.

Consensus has it that the protester's sign is not some kind of strange, pop culture psy-op intended to undermine America's faith in a beloved children's icon. In fact, it was probably downloaded from a humor Web site called Bert Is Evil, where photo-editing maniacs post doctored images of the almost hair-raisingly innocuous muppet standing next to people like Hitler and Al Capone -- and, in one memorable image, bin Laden. Some Bangladeshi political activist unwittingly swiped this joke photo off the Net and used it for his protest sign.

Dino Ignacio, who ran the Bert Is Evil site, was so freaked out by all of this that he took down his site (www.fractalcow.com/bert/bert.htm) down. And one of the mirror sites for Bert Is Evil (plaza.powersurfr.com/bert/) was taken down after its owner was harassed by the Canadian media -- or so the site's owner claims.

Nuking a Web site just because it contained images that a protester (not even a terrorist!) used is sheer surrealistic overkill. People feel helpless in the face of terrorism, so they want to do something: for Ignacio, that something was self-censorship. After all, it's what the big media outlets are doing. So maybe the little guys can pitch in to help with small acts of censorship -- kind of like buying war bonds or whatever. Do your part and squelch your own free speech and social satire for the sake of the war effort!

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the world of media-meets-politics, I found myself rereading Richard "The Hot Zone" Preston's 1997 novel The Cobra Event, a hypergory and exhaustively researched murder mystery about a maverick bioterrorist who unleashes a homemade "brain pox" powder on Manhattanites because he wants to "clean up" the human race. One sniff of his powder, and you're doomed to suffer a brain-melting viral infection that will eventually cause you to eat parts of your body and die a hideous, spasmodic death. If you're reading this novel right now too, don't carry it on a plane. Surely you will be labeled a potential terrorist and detained. Better keep your reading habits to yourself.

Instead of reading books that are about naughty topics or going to Web sites whose images might have been seen by the dirty eyes of political protesters, you should consider spending your time reading good, clean things whose contents will arouse no suspicion at all. Adam Barr has just self-published a book through iUniverse called -- I shit you not -- Proudly Serving my Corporate Masters: What I Learned in Ten Years as a Microsoft Programmer. The feds will never nab you for carrying this book in your knapsack.

If you're having a technology craving, be sure to avoid going to Web sites that provide actual information. Instead, read Mark Macy's just-released Miracles in the Storm, a book about "instrumental transcommunication," a method by which spirits from beyond contact people through e-mail and files on your hard drive and such. If you believe angels can contact you via ICQ, then I'm certain you'll learn a lot from this book. Everyone else can go to my favorite new sensationalist science site, ZZZ (www.zzz.com.ru), which features stories about singing condoms, robotic toilet scrubbers, and pictures of cute kitties. Of course it's Russian, so you may want to avoid it -- visiting Russian Web sites is suspicious behavior.

I really need to stop obsessing about the war, the antiterrorism act, and digital politics. Believe it or not, there are things happening in the world of technology that have nothing to do with terrorism or surveillance. I've just found it hard to focus on the latest book from O'Reilly or what Network Associates did last week when it seems like the beautiful cacophony known as the Internet is being purged of dissent.

Last week, however, I did manage to do one thing to take my mind off the madness. I went to my very first prom dance -- a queer prom held at one of San Francisco's tranny-friendly dyke clubs, called Rebel Girl. Dressed in a black tux with tails, I danced the night away with a blindingly gorgeous array of girls, boys, girlboys, boygirls, and various other genderfucked beauties. Some pleasures truly are pure and innocent.

Annalee Newitz (promking@techsploitation.com) is a surly media nerd who needs to be distracted. Her column also appears in Metro, Silicon Valley's weekly newspaper.

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