Social Question

oratio's avatar

Hate speech or just bad taste?

Asked by oratio (8870 points ) December 5th, 2012

I read today that a guy in a nearby town from where I live, is being prosecuted for hate speech for dressing up as Hitler during Halloween. It reminded me of prince Harry of Wales who similarly dressed up in a Nazi costume. He apologized and it was reduced to a matter of “bad taste”.

A number of countries have legislation making public display of such symbols and behavior illegal and a case for prosecution.

Halloween costumes are not seldom provocative being gory or sexual in expression. Should Halloween in particular be exempt? Is there a great difference to if one dresses up as Stalin, Pinochet or Ted Bundy?

There is an inherent conflict between matters of free speech and expression, and laws against hate speech, and sometimes it might be difficult to know where to draw the line.

I am not expressing an opinion in either way.

Do you think dressing up in this way should be a matter of prosecution or is it just bad taste?

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62 Answers

Shippy's avatar

I’d say it is just bad taste.

ucme's avatar

I think it’s just another form of satire, where nothing should be out of bounds.
It’s just making fun of historical hate figures, which can’t be a bad thing.

Symbeline's avatar

I suppose a lot of that would depend on the laws of a particular country. For example, someone correct me if I’m wrong, but I think that in Germany, if you dress up as Hitler just to piss people off, you can actually get arrested, while in Canada, you could get away with it.
Either way I think it’s just bad taste. Hate speech would have to be some kind of evident speech or symbolism that speaks out against someone or something. Like say if I start saying shit about how the Nazis were right and all Jews should die, and am giving reasons for it. No matter how unfounded and stupid the reasons are, I would be then perpetrating hate speech. It’s easy to get confused between that and just dressing as a Nazi, because the latter is pretty symbolic…I’d say then, that the line is to be drawn with the intention. If you dress as Hitler but make fun of him, it would be different, for example.

TheProfoundPorcupine's avatar

To me it is just bad taste that he did this but there is no way he should be prosecuted for it as it would be clear to most people that it was a bad attempt at a joke and poking fun at a figure that was hated.

Clearly it is different when people glorify Hitler or things like that, but then I can’t remember seeing documentaries about the modern day Nazi movement where they all dress up as Hitler anyway.

janbb's avatar

Nice to see you again @oratio ! I would call it just bad taste, although it could be very upsetting to survivors of the Holocaust.

glacial's avatar

I think it’s in bad taste. What country was this in?

livelaughlove21's avatar

I say neither. It was Halloween. Dressing up as Hitler doesn’t mean you like him, support his views, etc. People dress up as Jason or Freddy Kreuger, but no one worries that they’re going to go out and kill ditzy women when the night is over.

Who cares? How exactly is it hate speech? There must be more to the story, because this isn’t a crime in itself.

glacial's avatar

@livelaughlove21 “Who cares?” Seriously?

Sunny2's avatar

I wouldn’t think it was prosecutable, but governments of local communities may think it is for their community. San Francisco just decided, after months of tolerance, that no, it wasn’t okay to sit around in your neighborhood without any clothes on. Now there’s a law that says you can’t do that. Freedom of expression denied. The nudies shouldn’t have flaunted their ‘rights’ so blatantly and they might have gotten away with it longer. Ditto the Hitler costumes.

livelaughlove21's avatar

@glacial Yeah, pretty serious. Like I said, dressing up as someone on Halloween does not mean you support that person or their views. So, yeah, who the hell cares?

ucme's avatar

I wore a Jason mask for halloween one time & I don’t even like hockey.

zensky's avatar

Still too soon after WW2 and the Holocaust.

oratio's avatar

Hi @janbb! Thank you, that’s nice to hear :)
@glacial This is in Sweden.

Shippy's avatar

Wondering who would want to dress as an ugly little fat man in the fist place.

livelaughlove21's avatar

@Shippy Why would someone want to dress up as George W. Bush? I don’t know, but they do.

Shippy's avatar

@livelaughlove21 That is a question all on its own.

ucme's avatar

If a big jolly fat man dressed in red, wearing a white beard & a hearty grin climbed down my chimney, i’d fucking shit my pants.

flutherother's avatar

It shouldn’t be illegal and I think Hitler is now an acceptable figure of fun. Monty Python did a great job of it. It does depend on the circumstances however and I can see how upsetting it might be for some people.

livelaughlove21's avatar

I wonder if he would’ve been prosecuted if he just so happened to be Jewish.

JLeslie's avatar

I would say dressing up as KKK is similar to dressing up as Hitler and it is too close to the time of when both these groups were real and dangerous to dismiss it as just bad taste. I think what has to be remembered is how it makes the people who were the target of these groups feel. They aren’t just disgusted by people make fun of or glorifying them, they might be afraid. It isn’t funny. They have relatives or stories of people they identify with who are still alive who were brutalized by members of these groups.

When I was at school swastikas were drawn on some of the dorn rooms and a friend of mine asked, “what’s the big deal? It’s just a symbol.” My response was, that symbol means to me that person wants to kill me. The person who drew it might just be ignorant and thought it would be funny, and had no intention of harming Jews. But, it is so not funny to me, it’s scary.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I think the distinction is a myth. We rather arbitrarily decide each time, given the players, whether things are hate speech or in ‘bad taste’ and there are many agendas involved. Leaving it up to the legal world, supposedly, doesn’t ease my mind either – I know how shape-shifting that shit can be.

glacial's avatar

I agree with @zensky and @JLeslie. I do not understand how anyone can be blasé about it.

burntbonez's avatar

It’s offensive to many, of course. But hate speech? I guess symbols can be speech, although usually it’s the other way around: speech is symbols. What is this speech saying? Does wearing the uniform connote advocacy of the positions of Nazis? I suppose it could in the right context. But context is key, here, and we don’t know what the context is.

livelaughlove21's avatar

@burntbonez Sure we do. The context is Halloween. It’s amazing that people are free to hold up signs that say “god hates fags” or “pray for more dead soldiers” without getting arrested for speech hate, but choosing a certain Halloween costume is prosecutable.

If this guy went to synagogue dressed as Hitler and terrorized or threatened the Jewish people there, that’s a problem, but he wasn’t making a political or racial statement by simply wearing a costume on Halloween.

Even if it offended people, I can think of tons of offensive Halloween costumes. I once saw someone dressed up as Stephen Hawking. Yeah, plenty of people would take offense to that, but it’s not a crime, and neither is this.

And according to the first amendment, “speech” covers any expression of ideas or feelings, whether it be spoken, written, or expressed in some other way. This would be covered under the first amendment in the US. Offensive does not constitute a crime. Sweden supposedly has free speech as well, but I know nothing about the country other than that, so who knows how well it’s protected. Not very, according to this.

burntbonez's avatar

If you know the context, @livelaughlove21, would you please share it. Halloween barely touches the surface of the context. There is so much more important to know. What did this person say about their costume before and after? What is this person’s reputation in the community? What clubs does this person belong to? Have they ever been arrested before? What tattoos do they have? What do the tattoos depict? And on and on.

glacial's avatar

@livelaughlove21 This occurred in Sweden, so they don’t respect your first amendment. The relevant rules are here.

livelaughlove21's avatar

@burntbonez The only thing you mentioned that really matters is what he may have said. According to the OP, he was prosecuted FOR wearing the costume, not for saying anything. Tattoos are a form of speech as well. Having a swastika tattoo is awful, but it’s not a crime. And his criminsl record barely makes a difference in itself either. The fact of the matter is that wearing a costume does not constitute a crime.

The term “hate speech” could include any racist, homophobic, or otherwise ignorant or insensitive speech, but why is THIS person picked to be prosecuted? Until the members of the Westboro Baptist Church are thrown into prison, some guy in a Hitler costume on Halloween doesn’t deserve criminal repercussions either.

@glacial…which is why I said I knew little about Sweden and I specifically stated “in the US.” My original comment was posted before we found out this was outside of the US, and I see no one else referring only to Sweden. The OP asked about our opinion, so I brought it home, where I’m familiar. He was prosecuted, so things are obviously different there. That doesn’t change my opinion on whether that’s right or not.

JLeslie's avatar

@livelaughlove21 I think you make a good point about some of what is said and signs that are held up in America. God Hates Fags to me is just as bad as the Nazi uniform, because that person scares me too. But offensive is too light of a word. I am not offended, I am afraid. I feel terrorized by it.

I would not say someone should be thrown in jail, but some sort of penality would be noce, I don’t know what. Freedom of Speech is one thing, enciting a riot is another, and threatening people is another, and it feels like a threat. Freedom of Speech is primarily to be able to speak out against the government, but I do believe and support being able to speak freely about almost everything.

@glacial That doesn’t surprise me. Western Europe tends to have little tolerance for such things. Their memory and understanding of Hitler tends to be much clearer than ours.

livelaughlove21's avatar

@JLeslie If there was intent, then it certainly would be threat present. If he wore the costume to scare or menace others, that’s one thing, but if there was no malicious intent and it was simply a costume he chose, there’s nothing that constitutes a legal response. A social response, sure, but not legal.

wundayatta's avatar

If there was intent, it could only be determined from the things he did and said before he wore the costume.

JLeslie's avatar

@livelaughlove21 For me the intent doesn’t matter. I don’t know his intent. Believe me, I understand halloween is a day of being people we aren’t, but why choose a hate monger?

glacial's avatar

@livelaughlove21 Your Westboro comment doesn’t hold. This person wouldn’t be charged in the US, for exactly the reason that the Westboro people haven’t been. Free speech is protected by your laws, and hate speech is protected as free speech; it is not against the law. So no… the costume does not constitue a crime in your country. It does constitute a crime in Sweden. Whether you feel that it should be against the law is the question. I get that you think it shouldn’t be. What I am reacting to in your posts is that you don’t think it’s even in poor taste. It is in poor taste. Please take a moment to imagine your family being touched by genocide. This is a reality for so, so many people.

livelaughlove21's avatar

@JLeslie No, I wasn’t implying that only intent mattered to me, I meant that intent is a required element of crime. If they can’t show that there was malicious intent, the defendant’s actions don’t fit into the crime category and there’s no offense to prosecute. I was only speaking from a legal perspective there.

@glacial Fair enough. It’s in bad taste in that it is potentially offensive. Many consider providing registry information to guests at a wedding is in bad taste – that doesn’t make it morally or legally wrong. Technically, any action that offends ANYONE is in bad taste. However, my example DOES hold, seeing that I clearly stated I was referring to the US only as to whether or not I think it should be illegal to behave this way.

JLeslie's avatar

@livelaughlove21 I think there is an argument to consider it harrassment.

Jussange's avatar

Humans are fucking hyenas lunging at anything that presents itself as out of line or politically incorrect by pressing charges or suing. Was it the best costume idea? Hardly. But if we went after every last thing that was offensive, well, what of your bill of liberties would you be left with. About as silly as the ruckus over someone decorating their house with the middle finger for christmas. And hell, they’re not having any issues with the law. And of course we have our world wide set of double standards. If the average joe does something “bad” he gets thrown in prison and people pray for his/her ass to get raped/shanked/etc. When royalty/celebrity/“idols-of-flippant-idiots-known-as-the-masses”/rich-sons-of-bitches do something “bad,” it’s a little rap on the knuckles followed by a little “shame on you” and then everything goes back to being all rosey and shiny. Morons.

livelaughlove21's avatar

@Jussange I’d give you two GA’s if I could. :)

zensky's avatar

@livelaughlove21 I think you haven’t visited a Holocaust museum nor read enough about the subject. If your grandmother had been in the camps, half her family murdered before her eyes, narrowly escaping death – with the Number burned on her forearm to remember always her time spent in the dungeons, awaiting certain death by gas – you wouldn’t want her exposed to “nazi halloween costumes” like that on the street.

livelaughlove21's avatar

@zensky You’re making it sound like I’m condoning Hitler or the Holocaust. Oh yeah, that’s me, just call me neo-Nazi Lyndsey!

I know plenty about the Holocaust – I’ve studied it in school numerous times, read books, and watched videos and documentaries about it. I know it was a horrible, tragic event. I also know that it occurred 70 years ago. Now, that doesn’t make it any less horrible or tragic, but enough time has passed that someone should be able to mock Hitler via Halloween costume without getting arrested. As I’ve said, wearing a costume does not mean you’re showing support for the individual you’re impersonating. And, again, as I’ve said, something being offensive does not make it a crime. I conceded that it was in bad taste, but nothing you say will support the idea that this is a valid reason to prosecute someone.

zensky's avatar

Apparently not.

poisonedantidote's avatar

I have no problem with people dressing however they like.

I would even argue, that by preventing people to dress up like Hitler, you are actually protecting Hitler and doing him a favor.

To me, this is part of Hitler’s punishment. To go down in history as a figure that is there to be mocked and made fun of. In cartoons, in youtube remix videos, with people dressing up as him and acting like asses, and so on.

If this guy had gone to WW2 germany in a time machine, and dressed up as Hitler and walked round town like it, he would have probably been arrested and executed. Hitler would be the first one to not like it, and for that reason, I say it should be allowed.

Let drunks dressed as him and mockery in cartoons be his legacy.

rooeytoo's avatar

To me it is similar to building an islamic community center on ground zero. It is distressing, it sucks, it is in bad taste and I don’t like any of it. But I don’t think it should be illegal or anyone should go to jail for doing it. You know the old saying, if I have a problem with something, it is my problem.

Blackberry's avatar

Bad taste. Hate speech is actual speech, not what you wear.

And uh…there was a community center there before ground zero.

zensky's avatar

A few days ago, an Israeli star basketball player, captain of the country’s best team, was fined 100,000 shekels (about 25,000 dollars – considered a huge sum and unprecedented) and suspended until further notice – losing his title of team captain as well – for trash-talking an opponent in a game – using the term Nazi.

Here

rooeytoo's avatar

@Blackberry – I don’t know what you are referring to but if you google, you will find much controversy regarding the one of which I speak. And my personal opinion is that it is not a healing thing, rather a smack in the face.

But I don’t believe you can legislate good taste or propriety or manners, soon it won’t be safe to criticize the government anymore.

Blackberry's avatar

@rooeytoo And you can also google and find much clarification on the subject. That is, unless one is already biased against islam or arabs, for example. Then it doesn’t matter what one reads.

rooeytoo's avatar

So Blackberry, enlighten me, all that I have read about a “new” center being built within a short distance of ground zero is all bullshit? That is all lies?

glacial's avatar

@rooeytoo Being offended by an Islamic community centre being built several blocks away from ground zero is not comparable to being offended by a Nazi halloween costume. It is comparable to being offended by a German halloween costume.

JLeslie's avatar

I agree with glacial. Yesterday I wrote the same thing in a long paragraph, but stated it would be like building a German community center near a Jewish neighborhood, much different than a Nazi center, and then I lost it. Some sort of computer glitch. I didn’t have the energy at the time to rewrite it, and then I forgot about it.

rooeytoo's avatar

@glacial – personally I find it extremely offensive and like a royal fuck you by the people building it. When there is as much opposition to something, you would think they would have the sensitivity to back off.

Now if you don’t find it offensive, that is your privilege, but to me it is outrageously insensitive. And your comparison is not even close in my opinion.

JLeslie's avatar

@rooeytoo Muslim extremists committed the acts on 9/11 not mainstream Muslims. The Muslim rec center won’t be visible from ground zero, it is two blocks away. There already is an existing Mosque just 4 blocks away. There were Muslim prayer rooms in the tower’s themselves, I think it was the south tower. I would assume when the towers are rebuilt if someone wants a Muslim prayer room again in the tower it will be allowed.

rooeytoo's avatar

@JLeslie -personally I find it extremely offensive and like a royal fuck you by the people building it. When there is as much opposition to something, you would think they would have the sensitivity to back off.

Now if you don’t find it offensive, that is your privilege, but to me it is outrageously insensitive. And your comparison is not even close in my opinion.

If I were a member of any religious organization (and that is highly unlikely because they are all misogynistic as well as silly) and others within the same organization committed a heinous crime, I would not advise the remaining members to further roil the waters and create more dissension. Not only do I find it insensitive, it is very poor marketing if the group is trying to reestablish itself as a group of peace loving, good people. If there was an existing establishment before 9/11 so be it. That is not the situation in question, it is the idea of building a new one that I and millions of others find untenable.

As I see it, the difference between me and most flutherers is that I don’t differentiate between religions. Here it seems as if christians are always in the firing line but muslims are always being defended because only a few are extremists. I don’t think the christians have had any mass executions lately, have they?

JLeslie's avatar

@rooeytoo The Christians seem relatively calm lately. Fairly recent history they were blowing people up in England, Northern Ireland, Ireland, that whole Protestants against the Catholics thing. But, that was Christian against Christian, although I would say the Protestants would not be fond of Catholic churches during that time. That “war” only ended in 1998. The Oklahoma bombing in my country killed many and what sickened people most was a day care was blown up, the person who commited that crime was a Christian, but I don’t know if he credited Christianity for his motives, I don’t think so. America is never going to blame Christianity. The KKK was a bunch of Christian white men, but Christianity is almost never discussed regarding it, unless you go to their website.. In history class the Christian part is glossed over, but I would bet their white supremecy was discussed in churches and they associated their superiority in some sort of religious way, but that was many years ago when it was at its height, but not so very long ago though, last being the 1960’s. More recent than Nazi Germany. If the KKK blew up a black church and set crosses on fire we would still allow Christian churches to be built nearby.

A couple years ago some Christians set a Mosque under construction on fire not far from me. Not a very nice thing to do.

I understand why you find it offensive, I was just giving the other side. I would be curious to know how many New Yorkers are against it. The mayor of NY is fine with it. America in general might sound outraged, but the majority of America has probably never been to NYC. A good portion of America is anti-Muslim, look at what they say about Obama being Muslim and their hate for him because of it. America also is very pro-Israel, which feeds into anti-Arab and anti-Muslim feelings. Many Americans supported going into Iraq because of 9/11. One had nothing to do with the other, except that Americans just mush together all those Arab Muslims over there in the Middle East. I would guess the majority of Americans also think Iranians are Arabs. Many Americans are very black and white on the issue.

Americans all over my facebook get pissed store clerks say Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas. One Q here I had to explain to someone who lives in our bible belt in a Christian town that in NY about 25–30% of people are not Christians. So 1 in 3 you would be wishing a Merry Christmas when it is not their holiday. It is the same as if I wished everyone a Happy Chanukah. Not that it is offensive…well, that’s the point, none of it is offensive.

The main reason we support the Muslim center is because America is supposed to be about religious freedom, and we want to believe it is just some crazy group of Muslims that would do something like 9/11 and not Muslims in general. I also, after listening to the Imam heading it up, like his message of American Muslims being more moderate and western. I would rather conquer Muslim fanatics by assimilating them into western culture, into America, pluralism, and less religiosity, than fight them with a religious war war of trying to convert everyone to Christianity or blowing up each other.

As much as I understand why the Muslim center can be seen as offensive, I don’t understand at all how you don’t see that the German v. Nazi example is like Muslim v. Terrorist Muslim respectively. My grandmother would never had purchased a German car. I felt the same way for many years, but now that time has passed I am ok with it and indeed my husband is a Porsche fanatic. When the holocaust was so recent we did not want to give our money to a country that systematically killed our people, understandable, even though we understood not all Germans were Nazis. But, I had friends who were German, German-American, and they weren’t Nazis. Some of their parents and grandparents were, but they weren’t/aren’t.

janbb's avatar

Is this mosque still an issue? I haven’t heard about it in years and I don’t know what the resolution was.

Seems like there should be newer issues to fight about guys! :-P

JLeslie's avatar

@janbb It opened up with little fanfare. Fox news must have had something better to report that day. My guess is without them riling up their base, it is barely something anyone thinks about.

bkcunningham's avatar

It is now called Park 51, @janbb, and it isn’t completed as @JLeslie said. It is expected to open next spring. They are still raising money for the completion. Apparently, when people educated themselves about what the original name, Cordoba House, represented, they changed the name.

For me personally, a big part of the problem I had was with Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the founder of the Cordoba Initiative, who said American policies were what caused the slaughter of people on September 11. Now, mind you, this is the man who founded the center who built Park 51. No reason for controversy there. Pppsstt.

rooeytoo's avatar

@JLeslie -personally I find it extremely offensive and like a royal fuck you by the people building it. When there is as much opposition to something, you would think they would have the sensitivity to back off.

Now if you don’t find it offensive, that is your privilege, but to me it is outrageously insensitive. And your comparison is not even close in my opinion.

JLeslie's avatar

@bkcunningham I had remembered reading it opened. Here is a link from HuffingtonPost, I realize HuffingtonPost is left leaning, not sure if it was reported differently in other news outlets? Maybe it isn’t completed, and oly parts of the center are open? I am not sure.

The next town down from me is Cordova, TN. So? We also have Germantown, TN nearby, which did have a temporary name change around the time of World War 1, not sure exactly why, but later was changed back. Ironically, most Jews in this area live in East Memphis and Germantown. The JCC for the area is located in Germantown.

JLeslie's avatar

@rooeytoo Again, why not close? Nazis killing 6 million Jews and 3 million others? You compare that to 3,000 in NYC? Don’t get me wrong, every life counts. Every single one. My sister is still fairly traumitized from 9/11 she lives fairly close and is a nurse and had to report in to area hospitals, and I could go on about how horrific her days were following the attacks. My exboss lost his brother who was in the towers for an appointment, not usually working there, just that day he was. People were surprised by the attacks? Why? I don’t know, being Jewish nothing surprises me when it comes to how people can hate and kill.

But, I respect your opinion. I am not trying to change your mind at this point, I just am annoyed you dismiss Nazi Germany as not comparable.

bkcunningham's avatar

Cordoba, @JLeslie. Not Cordova. Do you know the history of Cordoba, Spain, and how it relates to the name chosen for controversial building near Ground Zero? Look it up. It is very interesting. I am leaving for dinner with my husband. Today is our anniversary!

JLeslie's avatar

@bkcunningham Cordoba is Cordova, just like Havana is Habana. In Spanish the B and V are basically interchangeable. When we translate to English we usually opt for the V. Yes, I know the history. He changed the name since there was so much public objection. Spain was a nightmare for my people on and off throughout history. Yet, I don’t freak out when I am in Toledo, OH, nor bothered that there are condo complexes in FL named Cordoba. The Imam interpeted Cordova, Spain as a great time of enlightenment for the Muslims. They were advanced for that time, great libraries, arts, etc. Some think of Cordoba, Spain as representing the three Abrahamic religions living together in peace, but I think it is pretty clear it was not always peaceful. Anyway, again, he changed the name.

rooeytoo's avatar

@JLeslie – you apparently have lost the plot here. My response was originally to the comparison @glacial made. Then when you also jumped in to tell me I should not be offended
I simply copied and pasted my response. I will say it one more time, then I give up. It offends me, that is my right, if it doesn’t offend you, good on ya mate, but I find it reprehensible and if this group truly wants to act in a conciliatory fashion to prove they do not approve of the actions of the extremists then they are going about it in a very strange way.

Amen, over and out, the end!

JLeslie's avatar

@rooeytoo And, as I said, you have the right to be offended, I understand your reasons for finding it offensive, I am not trying to change your mind. But, you disagree with @glacial‘s comparison, as you stated again, and I am trying to figure out why you think they don’t compare? For you to explain it to me so I understand why they are not comparable. But, you don’t seem to want to explain it, that’s fine.

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