Tuesday, April 1, 2008

'Ain't no Darwin fish'

Jonah Goldberg, who I have been prudent enough to never quote here, watched that anti-Islam film I mentioned Friday, "Fitna," and found himself fixated on fish. He, who in most other cases is very close to crazy in his logic, explains:
During a 1991 visit to Istanbul, a buddy and I found ourselves in a small restaurant drinking, dancing and singing with a bunch of middle-class Turkish businessmen, mostly shop owners. It was a hilariously joyful evening, even though they spoke nearly no English and we spoke considerably less Turkish.

At the end of the night, after imbibing unquantifiable quantities of raki, an ouzo-like Turkish liquor, one of the men came up to me and gave me a worn-out business card. On the back, he'd scribbled an image. It was little more than a curlicue, but he seemed intent on showing it to me (and nobody else). It was, I realized, a Jesus fish.

It was an eye-opening moment for me, though obviously trivial compared with the experiences of others. Here in this cosmopolitan and self-styled European city, this fellow felt the need to surreptitiously clue me in that he was a Christian just like me (or so he thought).

Traditionally, the fish pictogram conjures the miracle of the loaves and fishes as well as the Greek word IXOYE, which not only means fish but serves as an acronym, in Greek, for "Jesus Christ the Son of God [Is] Savior." Christians persecuted by the Romans used to draw the Jesus fish in the dirt with a stick or a finger as a way to tip off fellow Christians that they weren't alone.

In America, the easiest place to find this ancient symbol is on the back of cars. Recently, however, it seems as if Jesus fish have become outnumbered by Darwin fish. No doubt you've seen these too. The fish symbol is "updated" with little feet coming off the bottom, and "IXOYE" or "Jesus" is replaced with either "Darwin" or "Evolve."

I find Darwin fish offensive. First, there's the smugness. The undeniable message: Those Jesus fish people are less evolved, less sophisticated than we Darwin fishers.

The hypocrisy is even more glaring. Darwin fish are often stuck next to bumper stickers promoting tolerance or admonishing random motorists that "hate is not a family value." But the whole point of the Darwin fish is intolerance; similar mockery of a cherished symbol would rightly be condemned as bigoted if aimed at blacks or women or, yes, Muslims.

As Christopher Caldwell once observed in the Weekly Standard, Darwin fish flout the agreed-on etiquette of identity politics. "Namely: It's acceptable to assert identity and abhorrent to attack it. A plaque with 'Shalom' written inside a Star of David would hardly attract notice; a plaque with 'Usury' written inside the same symbol would be an outrage."

But the most annoying aspect of the Darwin fish is the false bravado it represents. It's a courageous pose without consequence. Like so much other Christian-baiting in American popular culture, sporting your Darwin fish is a way to speak truth to power on the cheap.

Whatever the faults of "Fitna," it ain't no Darwin fish.


Gil said...

The writer is making a very valid point. However, it is only valid in the context of the coasts. This discourse changes as you move around the country.

I don't think a Darwin fish is a easy shot in the mid west.

Also, some groups you can attack and others you can't it really depends. Attacking Pagans, feminists, evangelicals, and the rich is ok while attacking Latinos, catholics, and the middle class is not. There does not seem to be a hard and fast rule.

LanceThruster said...

Jonah Goldberg, author of the of the smear publication "Liberal Fascism" has little room to talk as far as things offensive goes. A common depiction of Darwin around the time of the Scopes trial (continuing to this day) is his head on the body of a chimp. The Darwin fish was in part a response to xians seeking to control science education and was a creative play on their logo.

As to liberties taken with the Star of David, it should not be forgotten that it has been incorporated in the national flag of the nation of Israel. However, when used in editorial cartoons to depict the state of Israel, more often than not the complaint is that it is a religiously based attack.

Brad A. Greenberg said...


I agree with you on Goldberg. He's a nut.

But the reason the Magen David is sometimes a source a pride and at other times a tool of anti-Semitism has to do with context, particularly when it's used in propaganda to allege Jewish world dominance.

Doobie said...

"...However, when used in editorial cartoons to depict the state of Israel, more often than not the complaint is that it is a religiously based attack."

That's a mischaracterization, if not an outright lie. The complaint; "more often than not" is not that the attack is religous in nature, but rather about the fact that its an ethnic slur trying to disguise itself as legitamate editorial.