The People’s Court of the Internet is now in session, the Honorable Judge 770 presiding! You may be seated… Bailiff, read the charges.
The Turkish Cultural Community of Austria accuses the toymaker Lego of perpetuating racism and prejudice against Muslims among children by making its Jabba’s Palace set look like a mosque.
People sent me several copies of this story last year but I put off writing about it because I momentarily expected Snopes.com to announce the complaint was a hoax, and the organization possibly nonexistent. Unexpectedly, a Snopes.com message board identified a genuine-looking website for the Türkische Kulturgemeinde Österreich (Turkish Cultural Community of Austria), adorned by recent clippings of its director’s quotes from Spiegel Online Panorama (rendered in English by Google Translate) —
General Secretary Melissa Gunes: “We want to first of all have peace in our own home. This peace is endangered by war toys such as LEGOs ‘Jabba’s Palace.’ Peace at home, peace in the country, peace in the world. This is our motto! I hope that LEGO is helping to make this world.
“Lego means in Danish ‘Good game.’ Stars Wars in English means ‘Star Wars,’ and the culture-racist toy ‘Jabba’s Palace’ is molded in plastic clichés and prejudices that give us no feeling of ‘play good,’ but rather of ‘evil.’”
The internet’s let’s-you-and-him-fight media loved this story because it made both sides look bad and when there are two losing sides the cognoscenti can enjoy themselves twice as much.
Lego looks bad because there is an undeniable grain of truth in the complaint. Star Wars’ Jabba the Hutt looks like Casablanca’s Signor Ferrari (Sidney Greenstreet) reincarnated as a mutant sea slug. Both characters control crime syndicates in desert cities. But Ferrari’s Casablanca existed only on a sound stage while the exteriors for Star Wars’ Mos Eisley were actually shot on location in Tunisia, imagery Lego extrapolated into a grandiose headquarters for a villain that arguably resembles the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. Are we supposed to pretend that it doesn’t?
On the other hand, the protestors’ complaint has a kind of easy-to-criticize, past-sale-date quality. Jabba’s palace was shown in The Return of the Jedi in 1983 without any known fuss. Starting one now?
The story intrigued me because I’ve been inside the Hagia Sophia. I was fortunate to travel to Turkey and see some of its greatest historical and archeological sites in 2004 — although that was not the most auspicious time for an American to be traveling there, just three weeks after the Abu Gharib photos were published. No, indeed. Our Turkish tour guide felt the urge to take the microphone a couple of times and air his opinion of the Bush administration. Otherwise, things went pretty smoothly. Well, except the afternoon I was ripped-off by an Istanbul cabbie who realized I was ignorant of the exchange rate and bilked me out of US$75 in Turkish currency for a six block ride. A more serene individual would have been thrilled by this authentic connection to tourist traditions reaching back to the founding of Constantinople. Not me.