Hairy Politician Sues Fearless Satirists

The day job is distracting me from the important things in life, but I thought I would write a short entry to express my "unlimited solidarity" with the good people of Titanic magazine in their time of need. They are being sued by humorless politicians, and need our help.

Brief background: a few weeks ago, middle Europe was obsessed by a bear called Bruno. Bruno was the first bear spotted on German soil for almost 150 years (or something like that). Trouble is, Bruno was a "problem bear," as the forestry officials put it. He ran around smashing things, eating lambs, and scaring people. Long story short — after many attempts to catch Bruno peacefully, Bavaria allowed a team of hunters to shoot Bruno down.

The next day, tabloids featured a hand-drawn reconstruction of poor Bruno’s last moments. The beast grimaced in agony, as a dinner-plate-sized blood-spatter rosette spurted from his shoulder. Maria, the Croatian woman who sells me my morning whisky mineral water, confessed that she had cried upon hearing of the "massacre" of poor old Bruno.

Ruthlessly_murdered_bearAdorable_social_democrat_mascot The lads over at Titanic noticed resemblances between the leader of the German Social Democratic party, Kurt Beck, and Bruno. Both are big, both are hairy, and both scare campers, kill small mammals, and propose complex healthcare  reforms. They put a smiling Kurt on the front cover of their latest issue, and with the subtitle: "Problem Bear Out of Control!"  In large letters underneath, the satirical request: "Shoot the Beast Down!"

Beck was not amused. He consulted with the "media council" of the Social Democratic Party, who advised him to sue to protect his "personality rights." Already a judge has ordered copies of Titanic with the offending cover pulled from newsstands, and Beck is suing for 250,000 Euro in Ordnungsgeld, a kind of fine.

Yes, it’s true — you can get sued for pots of money in Germany for making rude jokes about politicians. (I find these laws archaic, liable to abuse, and plagued by chilling-effect problems, but I’ll leave that for another post).

Titanic, to their credit, has never let these laws stand in the way of a good joke. They’re taking the whole thing with typical élan. Their defense is multi-pronged. First, they note, they made merciless fun of the conservative Christian Democrat leader Helmut Kohl for 16 laugh-packed years, and never got sued (My favorite cover: a glassy-eyed, confused-looking Helmut Kohl above the headline: "German Re-unification Invalid! Kohl was doped!"). Oh sure, it’s not nice to joke about killing politicians, even obliquely. (eee "Clinton Vaguely Disappointed by Lack of Assassination Attempts"). But who ever heard of nice satire?

The Social Democrats, says (G) Titanic Editor-in-Chief Thomas Gsella, have shown themselves "pettier dumber, and more narrow-minded" than the conservatives. Further, Gsella points out, the cover was meant to teach us an important lesson: "We wanted to highlight the terrible cruelty of the Bavarian authorities by showing an extremely lively little growler, positively beaming with joie de vivre." Even an expensive lawsuit, Gsella finds, can contribute to human understanding. Gsella reports an "almost hearty" friendship between himself and Kurt Beck’s lawyers which"gets better with every new registered letter, and with every new fine-threat."

I will shortly be deploying my crappy German to politely request the Social Democrats to drop the lawsuit before it gets in the way of the next issue of Titanic. Of course, the only Social Democrats I’m allowed to vote for serve on the presumably toothless "Foreigner’s Advisory Council," but still, it’s a gesture.

Perhaps you can show your solidarity with Titanic — who, after all, brought the World Cup to Germany — by subscribing (G).

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