April 22, 2008  ·  Lessig

Many of you have written about the REDSTATE blog entry, pointing to an excerpt of a talk I gave at Google in which I showed a video by Javier Prato in which Jesus is singing Gloria Gaynor’s “I will survive.” The YouTube video makes it seem as if this is all there was in my talk. And so my inbox has been filled with people outraged I would have made such a disrespectful video about Jesus, etc.

This will be obvious to everyone ordinarily here, but for the record:

(1) I did not make the “Jesus Christ: The Musical” video. Javier Prato did.

(2) I used the video in probably 5 or 6 out of 200 talks over the last three years, in the section of my talks in which I show examples of “remix” creativity.

(3) I show these videos not because I endorse the message, or even believe in the message. For example, here‘s a fantastically clever video about John Kerry I showed dozens of times during the 2004 election. It makes fun of Kerry — the man I supported for President. The point was not the substance of the message; it was to demonstrate the spread of the technique.

(4) The Jesus video was relevant to the story I was telling because the artist was threatened by the copyright holders because of the video.

(5) I decided to stop using the video when one Christian whom I knew told me he thought unhelpful to the purpose for which I was using it. That seemed right, so I dropped it.

It will be interesting (in a root canal kind of way) to see how far or deep PC-ism runs in this society.

  • Jaded

    So you question PC’ism yet voted for Kerry are you kidding me?…..the Democrat Party has made a world of identity politics where you can barely sneeze without being called a hater….spare me…when you have the balls to show Mohammed getting hit by a bus instead of taking the easy way out on Christianity than maybe you will be better respected.

  • http://afinerworld.blogspot.com B. Dewhirst

    Actually, this has nothing to do with “PC.”

    This is a majority, the religious, oppressing a minority, those who predicate claims on evidence.

  • http://amundsen.com/blog/ Mike Amundsen

    Hey, don’t let ‘em bug you. Besides, I thought what made America great was freedom of thought and speech. I’ve never been a fan of folks who get upset about stuff that is ‘religiously incorrect. ‘I thought that’s why we don’t like the Taleban, Al-Qeada, ‘Islam-o-facists’ or whatever they’re called this week. I sure hope no-one is thinking that a riotous protest against this distasteful portrayal of a religious icon is a good idea, right?

    I know what you’re sayin’ – and for all of us out there, please keep sayin’ it.

    Thanks

  • http://benstanfield.com/ Ben Stanfield

    A level-headed response, but seriously, you don’t need to take those guys seriously. It’s better to just laugh at them than try to reason with them.

    That post was practically a parody of a right wing attack. I felt like I was reading a direct mail piece from the 90s. And considering that’s where all the founders of RedState got their start (working for Richard Vigurie, the hailed from the right and reviled from the left pioneer of political hate mail), it’s no surprise.

    Even their own community made fun of them in the comments. I’m sure there are several sheep who will follow the silly right wing fundamentalists blindly and send emails tying you to all sorts of “horrible” things like communism, Google, Obama, and god-forbid net neutrality. (Jesus was a comcast installer, I hear). But those of us here in reality have your back, and we’ll be laughing right along with you.

    (Full disclosure: I actually like the RedState guys as individuals and consider at least two of them friends. I just disagree with them on pretty much everything they stand for. :) )

  • http://afinerworld.blogspot.com B. Dewhirst

    Actually, this has nothing to do with “PC.”

    Instead, it is a majority dictating how a minority may behave.

    (I had a timeout, apologies if I’ve now double-replied.)

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  • Andy Vance

    show Mohammed getting hit by a bus

    Strange, I don’t remember that being part of the Act of Contrition.

  • http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

    Don’t let it bother you. Those people are professional outrage-mongers. Their business is selling a persecution narrative to the masses, a subtext of “They DISRESPECT you, it’s an OUTRAGE, you’re being PERSECUTED!”. You can hear this stuff every day on talk-radio and on the right-wing blogs. Note it was also very visible in the Stanford hearing testimony from the Christian Coalition person (subtext of “Comcast CENSORED THE BIBLE! ZOMG!!!”).

    I think the important lesson is:

    1) How little the facts will matter to the mob. It doesn’t matter that you post it on a blog page, even though you’re a high-attention earner (and hence have orders of magnitude more audience than any smeared Z-lister). THEY WON’T CARE.

    2) What this says about “Change Congress”‘s prospects, and the effect of “Web 2.0″ emotional manipulators involved.

  • http://www.redstate.com Leon H Wolf

    That’s great. Except that Erickson never claimed that you made the video, so this explanation is really not relevant to anything, except that you truly are oblivious to the sensibilities of Christians.

    Not that I suspect you care.

  • http://xmlhacker.com/ M. David Peterson

    Being a Christian myself, I found the remix (shown in your TED talk) to be absolutely brilliant. To me, anyway, it provided a,

    “Just because we may not like what people have to say, that doesn’t mean free speech is any less important and/or significant. The same is true with remix.”

    … reality check. As citizens of the United States and other countries in which free speech is at the foundation of our rights, we have to come to the realization that we can’t make attempt to redefine what freedom of speech means just because we may be offended by what someone might say, whether with their voice, their written word, or in artistic impression such as remix.

    As far as I understand the Bill of Rights, and in particular the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States correctly,

    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

    … doesn’t allow us the ability to treat Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Religion as if they were two separate, and therefore debatable, issues. In other words, you can’t have one without the other and in other *other* words, if we as Christians believe it’s okay to make attempt at keeping others from expressing views we make not like, we are arguing against our own freedom to believe and worship however we might feel appropriate without concern for persecution and/or legal ramifications.

    It sounds like your friend who suggested the video was unhelpful to the purpose for which you were using it has a well balanced head on his or her shoulders. Unfortunately, similar to those in this — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pwGLNbiw1gk — video, it’s impossible to reason with those in whom believe that anyone who disagrees with their opinions is going to Hell, which is funny when you consider that the foundation of Christ’s teachings are love, forgiveness, mercy, humility, patience, long-suffering, and so forth.

  • Karl T.

    Fair enough, but I agree with your Christian acquaintance. I hope Mr. Javier paid for the rights to use that music.

  • http://xmlhacker.com/ M. David Peterson

    @Karl,

    >> I hope Mr. Javier paid for the rights to use that music.

    If not mistaken, a good portion — if not all — of the content used in the remix qualified for fair use given that only snippets of the original content were used. That said, IAMAL. ;-)

  • http://www.negativesoundinstitute.com gurdonark

    I am glad we have freedom of speech and freedom of religion, and I don’t see any problem with you (or your critics) exercising the right to express a point of view–and indeed, to express someone else’s humorous point of view.

    I think your friend was right–the more pertinent analysis is whether the use of the video advances your point or not–whether it was helpful to the purpose for which you were using it. My own view is that it could not be helpful as a persuasive device in this way.

  • http://www.benstanfield.com/ Ben Stanfield

    In fairness to my friend Mike, I need to correct a mistake I made in my comment above:

    Only 1 RedState co-founder worked for Richard Vigurie, Mike Krempasky.

    I should also point out that while he’s a co-founder, he’s assured me (via Twitter) that he personally had no part in the Lessig hit piece.

  • Wes

    I’m at a point in my life where I take the view that if one is going to “believe in” or worship or revere or even just respect Jesus then one should be taking some time out to think about what Jesus actually is. I could imagine that conscientious Christians might even get together in study groups to watch videos like the one in question. They could try to figure out whether or not Jesus would think the video was funny and whether Jesus would be flattered by portrayals that implied a certain talent for performance. It’s far from clear to me what Jesus’ opinion on such matters would be. Then again, I’m still trying to figure out whether Jesus can make a rock that is so heavy that even Jesus can’t lift it. Believing without thinking is like running fast with closed eyes.

  • http://gnuosphere.wordpress.com Peter Rock
  • rrrrob

    Larry, don’t tell us you didn’t like the whole Jesus RedState flap. You love controversy. Eat it up. For you, it’s like the smell of napalm in the morning.

    The only problem is, that’s what driving you. I don’t want to be overly cynical, but controversy for the sake of controversy is pretty much what you’re all about.

    Or to put it another way, there’s not much there there.

  • Frank

    Translation:

    I’ve just shown myself to be an intellectual snob of the worst kind. But because I know one of the little dirty people I’ve just made fun of, I’m going to patronize you even more by acquiescing.

    @Seth: “Their business is selling a persecution narrative”

    Go tell it, brother. Larry’s the expert in selling persecution narratives. I think he tried to sell one to the Supreme Court, but they wouldn’t buy it. Too many people were downloading free stuff from Napster, Limewire and KaZaa to buy the line.

    rrrob’s right: there’s no there, there.

  • Pseudonym

    By the way, Jesus the Musical is essentially a copy of one of the first Internet viral videos, Alien Song. As an amusing piece of trivia, its creator, Victor Navone, is now an animator at Pixar, largely on the strength of this.

  • rossisen

    I am happy that you have stopped using the Jesus video. I saw it as part of your TED talk on Read/Write Culture, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I thought you made a compelling point and understood why you used the video, but I still thought it over the top. If it had been Mohammed, your security costs would be through the roof!

  • Wes

    “If it had been Mohammed, your security costs would be through the roof!”

    As much as I respect Lawrence Lessig, I doubt he’s sufficiently well known in Islamic fundamentalist cirlces to get noticed.

    The more relevent concern, though, is that an American making fun of Muslims at this particular point in history would be like a southerner making fun of black people at the height of slavery or a German making fun of Jews at the height of the Nazi holocaust. When you’re part of a group of people that is persecuting and exploiting another group of people then is becomes much less acceptable to make fun of those people.

  • Feeling Snarky

    Frank, I guess everything looks like snobbery if you have a room-temperature IQ.

  • http://www.movieguide.org Dr. Ted Baehr

    The video is EXTREMELY funny.

    And remember : “blasphemy” is a victimless ‘crime’.

  • Elliot

    The only thing truly offensive about this video to Christians, myself included, is the fact that so-called “smart” people affiliated with it actual try to sell us on the fact that they really aren’t Christian/God haters.

    Seriously, actions speak much louder than words. The truth is that seemingly innocent actions such as these just reveal a persons rejection towards the Christian God of the bible. This video was obviously shown to a community (Google?) that was assumed would share in this same anti-Christian mentality.

    Things happen for a reason. I hope the associated people will reflect why on why they have such a desire to attack and promote mockery/hatred of the Christian God of the bible, and not lets say other religions such as Islam or Buddhism?

    Be honest with yourself people, and cease with the “it wasn’t meant to offend” mentality. We can all read between the lines. You may be able to fool some people some of the time, but you will not fool God ever. It’s not by coincidence that out of all the worlds religions, God-haters feel the need to mock Jesus Christ any chance they get, including by breaking the third commandment and taking his name in vain in almost every other sentence. Repent now. The TRUTH will set your free!

  • had kerritinggian

    if there is a god, i pray he reserves a special place in hell for those who mock his redemptive effort.

  • TopAssistant

    Just another member of the Communist, Socialist, Progressive, Liberal, RINO and Democrat Party

  • Gerard

    Out of context, there is nothing I find wrong about a) someone making fun of Jesus, and b) someone using the video for a point in a way unrelated to the original creators intent.

    However induction does occasionally prove a point, especially given enough samples. If the original author has anti-worshipped videos of all stripes, it might mean one thing about him. If he has only religious figures, it might mean another. And if all of his videos only use Christian symbols…

    In context, people get a free pass more often than not for anti-christian sentiment that they would be attacked for if it were anti-anythingelse. One should not be surprised that this is resented by at least parts of that population, even if it is a smaller and less violent population than the one that would react to an anti-islam production.

    To avoid making a statement, one needs to make sure one spreads out the samples, so that the inductive proof leads away from the negative conclusion.

    In the case where there are not enough samples, (for example there are no anti-islam videos with copyright issues), then you should choose a different sample. At least while your choice seems to be joining a chorus, adding to the inductive samples of anti-christian bigotry.

    Perhaps that is why you’ve stopped using the sample?

    Ger.

  • Hammer of the dogs

    Make a video of Mohammed sashaying down the road and getting hit by a Boxcar loaded with Pigs going to market…..then, I’ll respect you.

  • opageneflyguy

    I can smell your smoke in the Hell fire, to treat the creator God as you have. You will….pay in Hell.
    The half/breed Osama/Obama will also……………Burn Brightly in Hell

  • Jess Born

    @ Elliot and his ilk – Did you all gloss over the part where the same first amendment that protects your right to worship protects the right of each individual to say what they want about religion?

    Certain people reject religion because religion treads on certain people. See how many Gays are willing to
    “REPENT NOW and have the TRUTH set them free” when the “truth” means that they’re sinners for being gay, and will go to hell if they don’t pull a big 180 and start liking boobies, but only when married, and never for fun, just for procreation.

    Jesus was an amazing man, but you bible-thumpers just want a western version of Sharia.

  • Rusty

    Wonder what these mind-numbed types would do if you’d shown a video of Obama in white sheets running through the streets eating fried chicken and getting run over by a watermelon truck? Wonder if you’d still make your flimsy excuses and all these comments would still focus on free speech, etc?

    The truth is you needlessly utilized a clip that was created for one reason and one reason alone – to insult a certain group of people. And in your defense many of the persons commenting above are doing the same thing. The point you were trying to make could’ve been made using many, many other materials, yet you intentionally chose something you knew was conceived in hatred.

    This site demonstrates, once again, who the real mean-spirited, bigoted, selfish, and cold-hearted people are in this society. You consider yourselves intellectual, yet all I see is immaturity, selfishness, and a complete inability to use good judgment.

  • Rusty

    Wonder what these mind-numbed types would do if you’d shown a video of Obama in white sheets running through the streets eating fried chicken and getting run over by a watermelon truck? Wonder if you’d still make your flimsy excuses and all these comments would still focus on free speech, etc?

    The truth is you needlessly utilized a clip that was created for one reason and one reason alone – to insult a certain group of people. And in your defense many of the persons commenting above are doing the same thing. The point you were trying to make could’ve been made using many, many other materials, yet you intentionally chose something you knew was conceived in hatred.

    This site demonstrates, once again, who the real mean-spirited, bigoted, selfish, and cold-hearted people are in this society. You consider yourselves intellectual, yet all I see is immaturity, selfishness, and a complete inability to use good judgment.

  • Rusty

    Wonder what these mind-numbed types would do if you’d shown a video of Obama in white sheets running through the streets eating fried chicken and getting run over by a watermelon truck? Wonder if you’d still make your flimsy excuses and all these comments would still focus on free speech, etc?

    The truth is you needlessly utilized a clip that was created for one reason and one reason alone – to insult a certain group of people. And in your defense many of the persons commenting above are doing the same thing. The point you were trying to make could’ve been made using many, many other materials, yet you intentionally chose something you knew was conceived in hatred.

    This site demonstrates, once again, who the real mean-spirited, bigoted, selfish, and cold-hearted people are in this society. You consider yourselves intellectual, yet all I see is immaturity, selfishness, and a complete inability to use good judgment.

  • http://www.toad.com/gnu/ John Gilmore

    There’s nothing funnier than a religion that can’t stand to be laughed at. Keep telling your truth, Larry. If small-minded bigots aren’t complaining, you’re probably doing something wrong.

    Abbie Hoffman once described his “all-time favorite hate letter.” It read, “Wait until Jesus gets his hands on you, you little bastard.” Stated Hoffman: “I thought it was really ‘in the spirit.’”

  • A.C. McCloud

    What’s wrong with just saying something is not in good taste and moving on? Americans are becoming quite ignorant and devoid of the common sense most of our forefathers had in previous generations. Showing Christ getting run over by a bus is tasteless. Showing Muhammad or Mother Theresa or Ghandi in the same way–same thing.

    Cripes. This isn’t rocket science.

  • http://Celia celia

    The only reason Jesus was used for this video instead of Budda, Muhammad, Krishna or any other is- He is the only Man of true power. Why do people use His name in vain instead of the others? They have no power…try it use another’s name as a curse. Doesn’t work….it is lacking, dosen’t give you the same umph of doing something truly wrong. The one who blead and died for us who also forgave us as we spat on Him. Mock Him, spit on Him, kill Him oh how funny that is…..we haven’t changed in 2000 years.

  • http://whereswalden.com/ Jeff Walden

    Thanks in the end for making the right decision in (5), although I wish you’d recognized it from the start — the subject matter was going to far overshadow any point you intended to make. (I sort of want to say “been smart enough to recognize…”, but that’s likely to be interpreted as more argumentative than I would intend it — if you can read that wording and understand it isn’t intended as trolling, please do so. It just seems like the problems of using that video would have been obvious given a little thought, that’s all.)

    I don’t know how much time or energy you want to invest in this (probably less than you have already), but if you have it feel free to take a skim over the actual thread to which you link. The commentary’s not nearly as one-sided as your email might make it to be; there’s a solid portion of comments (a quarter, third, half? I grew tired of reading the discussion fairly quickly) which agree with you and/or thought Erick’s post was inaccurate and misguided. So in the end, remember, of course, that Erick doesn’t speak for everybody at Redstate and that many there actively disagree with him on this subject.

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  • Richard Scott

    Just more juvenile bully on the playground stuff masquerading as “artistic expression” among the high brow cult of self-adulation. Sad fellow. Christians should pray for him knowing that he will “give account for every idle word.”

  • twice

    Sorry man…but that video is tacky – it gives new meaning to the word “wince”.

  • Tim

    It seems to me that in a society that works to protect people’s sense of dignity by not attacking their race, color, religious persuasion, gender and now sexual orientation– that to choose a video defaming Jesus Christ, the Saviour of mankind to make an inane point, shows a lack of wisdom and sensibility. You have the freedom to do it–do you have the humanity and sense to NOT do it is the issue. Freedom of speech can only work when we can self-censor and choose our platforms and timing. To equate John Kerry as a subject against a defamation Jesus Christ to show problems of free speech in our society is ludicrous. I’m sure one would avoid any defamation of certain races, one’s wife, people with gay proclivity, one’s University president. (your self shwoing one is quite politically correct, albeit on your own terms) yet you can platform a mockery of the greatest historical figure ever who is the Christ of Faith held sacred by billions? You have the right to do so in a free society–but, again, do you have the love and tolerance to NOT do so? Thankfully, and to your credit; you pulled it based on a friend challenging your reason. I mean I have to give you credit for that.
    Christianity, fortunately, THANK GOD! has no sword except the one that smites conscience. It you had chosen another religious icon to mock; you might have cause to really worry. Thank God, Jesus is the God of grace and reserves judgement for these things til the Final Day giving us NOW to change our views and receive His love and forgiveness. That’s tolerance! or in the old English form: forbearance.

  • John

    Forget Mohammed, would you have been willing to show a video of a character in black face eating fried chicken and watermelons to prove a point or would that have been too insensitive and hurtful to African Americans?

  • Tammy

    Let’s see if the liberal views will continue if you show mohammed strolling down a street as a flamer and being mowed over by a bus. I’ll bet you’ll see the muslim feathers fly for sure!

  • brenda little

    Backtrack just like Obama on Wright. You are sicko.

  • Brian

    Tammy,

    He’ll never show anything that puts Islam in a bad light. He may be a glam loving liberal, but he surely doesn’t want to end up like Theo Van Gogh.

  • Ahmed

    Brian and Tammy

    What you say is true. Welcome to my world. I am from saudi arabia. If lessig had a video with muhammed (pbuh) walking around like that and then getting hit etc, lessigs head would not be attached to his shoulders today. this is fact. i find most amusing that in his speech to the google people he said “This is a little bit touchy to some people. I don’t get it, so just chill. The underlying message here is that Jesus does survive.”

    If you had said that to a group of my conservative countrymen to just “chill” about mocking muhammed (pbuh) you would not leave the room alive. Your crazy people like lessigs are allowed to do and say all sorts of nonesense because the christians which are majority allow them. If I were lessig I would kiss the first christian I meet and thank him for allowing me to say what i want and live!

    lessig is a marxist type who supports obama but obama is currently seperating himself from lessig now.
    Hilary is the best candidate and I am amazed how the democrats and others have betrayed her and are turning away from her. Truly you are a strange people.

    Mr Lessig the only reason you can show the video is not because there is a revolution of copyright laws being created by the net but because Christians let you do it. You should thank Allah you were not sitting in a meeting room with a group of muslims showing a muhammed (pbuh) video. In my humble opinion you are truly a disturbed individual.

    Because the democrats and media have turned away from Hilary you will get the president you deserve–McCain. good luck with that.

    PS I will not viist here again to read any comments in response to this note because I do not believe into getthing ‘thread arguments’.

    PPS also If this note appears on this blog then at least Mr Lessig is not a complete coward and has some basic respect for the socalled us freedoms of speech. I doubt Mr Lessig will allow my note to appear however.

  • Ahmed

    PPPS I was originally from saudi arabia but live in the west now. wanted to add: when I visited there last month all my family supported hilary and wondered why obama is claiming so many democrats over a person such as herself who is obviously better experienced. The answer according to my grandfather: american people are gamblers. I feel sad so many do not see the sad truth about all this.

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