This is one of the more amusing stories about modern media you’ll ever read.
Today was supposed to be “Everybody Draw Muhammad” Day on the internet, where those with a creative bent were to draw the prophet in caricature or representationaly, ostensibly to stand in solidarity with the creators of South Park who were threatened by Islamic bullies for dressing Muhammad up in a teddy bear outfit on their cartoon show.
But the two individuals responsible for thinking up the idea and promoting it are having second thoughts about their role in starting this phenomenon. The idea went viral with a bullet and the results scared the daylights out of the two:
In declaring May 20th to be “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day,” Seattle artist Molly Norris created a poster-like cartoon showing many objects — from a cup of coffee to a box of pasta to a tomato — all claiming to be the likeness of Muhammad.
Such depictions are radioactive as many Muslims believe that Islamic teachings forbid showing images of Muhammad.
“I am Mohammed and I taste good,” says the pasta box in the cartoon. On top of the cartoon images (but no longer on her website) was an announcement explaining the rationale behind the event.
“In light of the recent veiled (ha!) threats aimed at the creators of the…television show South Park (for depicting Mohammed in a bear suit) by bloggers on Revolution Muslim’s website, we hereby deemed May 20, 2010 as the first annual “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day,” the original artwork reads.
On Friday, Norris told a radio talk show host in Seattle that she came up with the idea because “as a cartoonist, I just felt so much passion about what had happened…” noting that “it’s a cartoonist’s job to be non-PC.”
That passion, it appears, has lessened. And fast.
Her stark website today reads: “”I am NOT involved in “Everybody Draw Mohammd [sic] Day!”
“I made a cartoon that went viral and I am not going with it. Many other folks have used my cartoon to start sites, etc. Please go to them as I am a private person who draws stuff,” she writes.
A rather fundamental question would be if you didn’t want it going viral, why submit it to the media in the first place? Honestly enough, Norris answered “Because I’m an idiot.” But really, who can say what will strike a nerve and become a hot item? Those who come down on her for this have the benefit of 20-20 hindsight. Even the criticism that posits the notion that if Norris doesn’t know the internet by now, she really is a dummy doesn’t hold water. If people could figure out ahead of time what would go viral, they would be in great demand among advertising agencies and corporations. But nobody knows what combination of time and circumstance leads to gold.
Then there’s the Facebook page of Jon Wellington:
While he was still associated with his own event he said: “To me, this is all about freedom of expression and tolerance of other viewpoints, so I hope you’ll help make this a sandbox that anyone can play in, if they want. I don’t think it’d be right under the circumstances for me (or anyone) to censor inflammatory posts *ahem*, but let’s be welcoming and inclusive, mmkay?”
Apparently the posts weren’t “welcoming” enough, as on Sunday morning he announced his departure from the cause. “I am aghast that so many people are posting deeply offensive pictures of the Prophet,” he writes. “Y’all go ahead if that’s your bag, but count me out.”
Did he think people were going to post flattering images?
That’s what Facebook user Douglas Armstrong wondered too. “You created an event inviting people to submit pictures of Mohammed,” Armstrong wrote. “And apparently you’re so new to the Internet that you didn’t foresee what would happen?”
Although Wellington had abandoned his cause, he apparently was sticking around to answer questions. To Armstrong’s question, Wellington responded: “I guess I had more faith in human nature than was warranted.”
Mr. Wellington is in a little different position. If he didn’t realize that there are thousands of bigots trolling websites who could potentially post vile representations of the prophet, then he truly is ignorant of the internet.
Obviously, his faith in human nature is misplaced.
It would be easy to point to a lesson in this – treat everything you write as if millions will see it – but if you wrote with that in mind all the time, you would be pretty vanilla. No, stuff like this goes viral because no one expects anyone else to see it. That’s its charm. And it will be that way as long as the internet plays the kind of role it does in our media landscape.
The copyrighted cartoon by Mike Lester, The Rome News-Tribune, is licensed to run on TMV. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited. All rights reserved.