No, this is not a headline from The Onion: A Turkish judge has assembled a group of experts—including two academics, a movie or TV expert, and two behavioral scientists or psychologists—to effectively conduct a character study of Gollum, J.R.R. Tolkien’s unforgettable character. But Gollum is not the one on trial—Turkish physician Bilgin Çiftçi is, for comparing Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to the creepy, misshapen, “my precious”-spouting creature.
In October, Çiftçi was fired from his job at Turkey’s public health service after he posted an Internet meme matching up Erdoğan’s various facial expressions to Gollum. As The Guardian points out, Erdoğan has gotten flack from social media users for being “precious” about such comparisons. But it’s enough to put Çiftçi on trial. The only problem is, the judge hasn’t seen the Lord of the Rings or Hobbit films. So, they’ve adjourned until February so that the judge and his experts can educate themselves on pop culture.
This story is all manner of WTF, from the notion of someone who doesn’t automatically get Gollum to (on a more serious note) the suppression of free speech and free press in Turkey. In Turkey, insulting the president is a crime punishable by up to four years in prison. Between August 2014 and March 2015, 236 people were investigated for “insulting the head of state,” with 105 indicted and 8 formally arrested. (Thanks to the BBC for these statistics.)
Compare that to the United States, where social media users regularly use memes to poke fun at Barack Obama and criticize him alike.