Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Obama Burned in Effigy - Prank or Legitimate Method of Protest?

Is this a legitimate expression of opinion, or does it cross the line of symbolic advocating harm or violence to a real, living person who is a public figure?  I don't know how much this translates as simple expression of dissatisfaction, versus other interpretations of the action.

I don't know what the answer is, but I'd be open to hear their explanation before getting too upset.  I'd also be curious to know what the effigy itself looked like, and if it was a reasonable representational likeness, or something more along the lines of some of the racist images on tea party signs and emails that have come from the right here in the U.S.

But mostly, I remember all of the UK anti-Bush images, particularly the ones that morphed him into looking like a chimpanzee.  I'm inclined to put this in the category of bad taste and unpleasantness, but short of hate speech, without a more clear explanation being expressed by those who did the burning. Given our shameful history of lynching blacks in this country in the 19th and 20th centuries, I would be much more concerned and offended had Obama been hanged in effigy.

updated 1 hour 56 minutes ago
An effigy of Barack Obama was burned by members of a Conservative party college student association in Scotland, according to reports Wednesday. BBC News reported that the incident took place on a beach in St. Andrews on Friday evening.
Matthew Marshall, president of the St. Andrews Conservative Association, told the station that he was sorry that the incident had happened. It is unclear exactly who was responsible.
"President Obama is an important ally to the British government. It was a stupid thing to do and we apologize for any offence caused," he told the BBC.
James Mills, former chairman of the university's Labour party student society, told the station that the burning was "disgraceful."
Mills' effigy has been burned in the past along with those of former South African President Nelson Mandela and former U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
"I can't imagine any other student activists of a major political party would behave in this manner," Mills told the BBC.
'Obscene act' "It's disgusting and I hope the Conservative Party and the prime minister completely come out and condemn this obscene act," he added. "The last thing a truly modern party should be doing is burning an effigy of anyone let alone the first black president of the USA, one of our closest allies."
The BBC quoted an unnamed person who was present at the burning who said that members of the associated were "surprised" that the Obama effigy had been put on the bonfire.
St. Andrews University, which was founded in 1413 and says it is the third oldest in the English-speaking world, told the BBC that university officials had asked to speak to Marshall about the "very understandable concerns."
John Park, a Scottish Labour party lawmaker, whose constituency includes the university, told the U.K.'s Press Association that the burning was "gravely offensive and way beyond a student prank."
"Thousands of young people yearn for the chance to study at such a prestigious institution, and they will be amazed to see that those who have been given that opportunity behave like this," he added.
"Burning an effigy of anyone is offensive, let alone the first black President of the United States. The overtones are deeply unpleasant," he said.


  1. It's in the U.K. and I'm sure that the U.K. authorities will follow the law in dealing with it.

    In the U.S. it would be considered offensive (by some) but it would also be protected by the 1st Amendment, in most situations. The FBI and the Secret Service might crawl up somebody's ass for a year or two, but unless the act was an incitement, under law, there's not much the feds or anyone else can do about it--and that's that.

  2. The Tories at St. Andrews are burning Obama in effigy?

    This reminds me of the spoof from Private Eye where they are running down the headlines regarding Princess Diana which went something like:

    The Mirror: Diana in Sex Scandal
    The Sun: Diana Sex Shocker
    The Times: Princess Diana Indescretion
    The Telegraph:Royal Sex Shame
    The Independent: 100 Dead in Nogorno-Karabakh

    Since I tend to read the Guardian and Independent, this passed by me. Although, the BBC did cover it.

    The Times had it in a small corner next to a story "Child sex grooming
    From pony riding to the clutches of a gang: a middle class story." The story disappeared once the page refreshed.

    For the most part, this is big in the Daily Mail and Telegraph--Two decidedly conservative papers.

    I'm not sure what to say since there were enough Protestant Martyrs burnt in St. Andrews who are commemorated around the city.

    Also, IMHO St. Andrews has the little brother complex to Oxbridge.

    SO, lots of bother about a minor story.

    But it does get Scotland in the News.

  3. I knew about burning in effigy to celebrate Guy Fawkes, but that was earlier this month.

    Laci - Do the Scots traditionally celebrate Guy Fawkes with a bonfire?

    I did. But it happened that was good weather to get some brush taken care of in our fire pit. But it did make it even more fun.

    Wikipedia has this on the topic of burning in effigies:

    An effigy can also be a doll burned in order to dispel undesired spirits or to advocate against a person. The burning is meant as a sign of the participants' shared intent to banish the represented element from their lives. The best known British example is the burning of an effigy made of straw and/or old clothing depicting the 17th century Catholic conspirator, Guy Fawkes. In the past, criminals sentenced to death in absentia might be officially executed "in effigy" as a symbolic act.[1]

    Political effigies serve a broadly similar purpose on political demonstrations or annual community rituals such as that held in Lewes, on the south coast of England. In Lewes, models of important or unpopular figures in current affairs are burned on Bonfire Night, formerly alongside an effigy of the Pope.

    So - politics? Prank? Or......LOL, exorcism?

  4. A question: Does any part of the U.K. have a tradition of lynching? What would be disturbing, but still legal, here in America may not have the same connotations in Scotland.

  5. No, the UK doesn't have our history of lynching, specifically as it relates to race:

    "Lynching during the 19th century in the United States, Britain and colonies, coincided with a period of violence which denied people participation in white-dominated society on the basis of race or gender after the Emancipation Act of 1833.[2]"

  6. Jesus, leave it to Greg to make a dim comment.

    Scotland does celebrate bonfire night since James I was James Vi of Scotland--and he was the person that the gunpowder plot was against.

    Although, the celtic Halloween (Samhain) is also pretty popular here.

  7. Dim comment, Dawg?

    I was observing that burning in effigy may have different implications in the two different areas. In the American south, there would likely be racial overtones, while the same doesn't have to be true in a country that never had the same history of slavery.

    Remember, remember, the fifth of November. . .

  8. I really like the description Dog Gone made in the post about the difference between burning someone's image and morphing someone's face into a monkey.

    There've been plenty of tasteless images of Obama and his wife, but burning him in effigy is going too far.

  9. A pity they burned the effigy. It had more backbone than the real thing.