Website Banned for Bush Parody

Michael Dickinson has fashioned a website photomontage house of horrors he calls the Carnival of Chaos. Since 2002, with scissors, glue, and pictures torn from popular magazines, the artist has been creating vitriolic though humorous works of collage that lambaste the world’s powerful - and George W. Bush in particular. The artist’s latest cut and paste statement was a send up parody of what The Sun and New York Post had done by publishing photos of Saddam Hussein in his underwear… and by doing so Dickinson has become the most recent victim of censorship.

You’ve all heard it by now. Members of the US military took photographs of their prisoner, Saddam Hussein, and then leaked them to the news media. One of those photos show Saddam in his underwear, and no doubt the soldiers responsible thought the snapshot would further humiliate the former dictator. But taking such photos and distributing them are clear violations of the Geneva Convention, to which the US is a signatory. On Friday May 20th, 2005, the British tabloid The Sun, as well as the New York Post (both owned by Fox News media mogul, Rupert Murdoch) published the photo of Saddam in his underwear on their covers. The Sun ran the photo under the headline, The Tyrant’s In His Pants, and the NY Post headline read, Butcher of Sagdad. The Pentagon is feigning outrage and promises an investigation into who released the photos. For its part, The Sun claims that “military sources said they handed over the photos in the hope of dealing a body blow to the resistance in Iraq”, and the paper refuses to name those sources. The Sun told the Associated Press that “a small sum” was paid for the photos, suggesting the price was around $1,000. It’s not exactly comforting to know that US soldiers are ready to violate the Geneva Convention for a fistful of dollars. I also find it disturbing that the photos of Saddam now published around the world are considered a violation of the Geneva Convention -while US soldiers torturing their Afghan prisoners to death barely registers a blip in the US media.

However, these contradictions do not escape everyone, and the sheer folly of it all has been the focus of Michael Dickinson’s art. Responding to the photos of Saddam in his underwear, Dickinson depicted a nude George W. Bush with his back towards the viewer - a missile flying from out of his rear end and his buttocks displaying a small swastika tattoo. Many, especially supporters of Bush, may find such an image distasteful and more than a little disrespectful. I personally object to the trend of hanging the swastika on anyone you disagree with as this reduces the intelligence level of debate and diminishes the actual horrors committed by fascists in Nazi Germany. That being said however, I’m surprised that anyone would think censorship a proper response to Dickinson’s contentious collage.

Dickinson has created photomontage artworks for CounterPunch books that appeared as covers for titles Serpents in the Garden and Dime’s Worth of Difference. He’s also created a book cover for Grand Theft Pentagon, out soon from Common Courage Press. Associated with the Stuckists, the re-modernist school of artists dedicated to knocking conceptual art from its throne and bringing painting back to prominence, Dickinson is in fact the founder of The Istanbul Collage Stuckists in Turkey where he now resides. He’s written several stories for CounterPunch, like for example Turkey’s War on Political Cartoonists, a chronicle revealing the state of political cartooning under the Turkish government’s authoritarian rule. In the article, Dickinson tells how the current Prime Minister of Turkey, Tayyip Erdogan, was once thrown in jail for reciting a poem thought by the authorities to be “subversive”. As soon as he was released from prison and firmly ensconced in power, Erdogan had a change of heart when it came to censorship. He went after the press, successfully suing one newspaper for publishing an editorial cartoon that portrayed him as a horse.

I’m sure it was a shock to Dickinson when he attempted to access his Carnival of Chaos website on Sunday, May 22nd, 2005. His website was offline, and his server, tripod.com (part of the Lycos Network that includes lycos.com, angelfire.com, wired.com, webmonkey.com, and other highly trafficked websites) left the following notice, “The page you are attempting to access has been removed because it violated Tripod’s Terms of Service.” Tripod had apparently not issued any kind of warning to Dickinson, nor made a request that the offending Bush collage be removed. Instead, Tripod unceremoniously terminated Dickinson’s entire website, taking it down and denying the artist access to the server and all of his artworks. Not only is Dickinson’s site on Tripod now a blank page, it has even disappeared on cached Google archives. My associate Charles Thomson, a founding member of the original London stuckist movement, alerted me to the banning of Dickinson’s website. He informed me that a copy of Dickinson’s collage is available for download off the London stuckist website… at least until someone pulls the plug. I guess we all live in Turkey now.

[ Update: On May 23, 2005, Michael Dickinson wrote an article in his defense, which CounterPunch posted on their website ]

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