The Hypocrisy of the Internet's Sochi Rainbow Protest
Feb 10 2014
In 1939, in the German city of Kassel, members of the local Nazi Party marched into town and destroyed the Aschrott Fountain that stood in the square just outside City Hall. The fountain was a gift to Kassel from a successful local businessman, Sigmund Aschrott – a Jew – and so, obviously, the Nazis loathed it. They destroyed this monument not only to terrorise the Jewish population, but also to make it clear that all social or business relationships with Jewish people would be dangerous.
Soon after the fountain fell, the Jews of Kassel were rounded up and sent elsewhere to die. As time passed, the city began leaving flowers at the spot where the fountain once stood; it became known as "Aschrott's Grave".
Time moved on, the flowers died, and by the 1960s the fountain had been rebuilt and renamed. Aschrott's Grave was forgotten and so, of course, was Aschrott's Fountain. A new history began to grow as memories faded and those who even bothered to wonder why there was a new fountain in this old town simply assumed that the previous one had been destroyed by British air raids. The people of Kassel had moved on. Turns out the guilt of watching your neighbours being herded onto trains can be expunged with little more than a bouquet of fucking flowers. Amazingly, that stupid gesture was enough.
There has been no state-sanctioned Holocaust of LGBT people in Russia, but there have been many assaults and murders that seem implicitly sanctioned by Putin’s homophobic legislation. If you want to know more about this you should really watch our doc about it, Young and Gay in Putin’s Russia. It’s quite shocking and very upsetting, but then life as a member of the LGBT community in Russia is pretty hellish right now. It seems clear to me that they should be allowed to seek asylum in this country until Vladimir Putin overturns the anti-gay laws.
Right now, Russia’s gay community need all of our support, so I find it confusing when I get a weird feeling in my stomach looking at media brands plastering supportive rainbows over their logos. No one with any basic level of humanity would deny the validity of a support campaign for gay people in Russia. But this type of bland showmanship seems several steps behind even clicktivism in terms of practical action. It’s a very real humanitarian problem, boiled down to a symbol.
When Channel 4 started it, it seemed valid and inventive but now the internet is starting to look like the BBC in November, only instead of poppies, we’re drowning in rainbows. It began with media brands and it was followed by individuals who wish to be media brands themselves. I'm sure that, if you use the internet, you've come across companies or social media users who have joined in. But much like the flowers on Aschrott's Grave, I worry that these rainbow logos have become little more than self-serving monuments.
Ugh, picking a fight with this trend doesn't make me seem like a good person, does it? This whole thing reminds me of Kony 2012. When that film dropped, long before the guy who made it began jerking off in the street, it seemed like a well-intentioned piece of work from people disgusted at the plight of child soldiers in Uganda. And what could be unreasonable about that? Nothing, except the video was such a saccharine piece of propaganda that I was certain something had to be wrong with it. At least on some level, my suspicions were correct. There were questions about the campaign's financial transparency, the company's motive and what would really happen if Uganda were flooded with weapons. I feel the same way today. This is another good cause, but on some fundamental level it feels suspect to me because it is a gutless, tokenistic form of protest.
It all reminds me of 2003, when I got on a bus from Leeds with 100 anti-war protesters. We paused at a service station near Nottingham but as I was out buying fags and sandwiches my comrades forgot about me and sodded off down the M1. Eventually I found a car filled with demonstrators who agreed to give me a lift. We smoked weed on the way down and I ended up walking gaily through London with my million mates, holding a poster that read "Not In My Name".
What a dickhead. Replace "Not In My Name" with "Absolve Me" and you have the real meaning of my placard. Sure, I was protesting against a war I judged to be illegal and immoral, but I knew it wasn't going to work, I knew we were going to war, and so I wanted to make sure I wasn't going to get the blame. I kept my hands clean and went back to my life. If the million people present that day were protesting against something as vile and evil as the mass murder of Iraqis (as we often said we were), our attempts to stop that were unnervingly gentle. I mean, compare our march with say, the White Rose Movement, the youth group who were executed for standing up to Hitler. Blair's not Hitler, but you'd be forgiven for thinking otherwise if you'd been listening to the rhetoric of the protesters at the time. And yet all we did was march, go home and give up. To me it seems clear that "Not In My Name" was a placebo, or worse, an anaesthetic.
And now I worry that the rainbow represents something similar, so that anyone sane enough to abhor Russia's anti-gay laws can sit back and enjoy the snowboarding, safe in the knowledge that they've "done their bit".
When the people of Kassel realised that the crimes committed within their city were being forgotten, they hired a local artist called Horst Hoheisel to create a memorial. He rebuilt the Aschrott Fountain and buried it on the spot it once sat. This wasn't a memorial designed to show that the people of Kassel remembered the dead, it was designed to stop them forgetting. My worry is that the rainbow twibbon protest does the opposite.
More on Sochi:
WATCH – Young and Gay in Putin's Russia