TCS Daily

Cyber Social Commentary

By Marni Soupcoff - June 23, 2003 12:00 AM

Last week a hacker got control of the British Labor Party's official Web site and posted a picture of U.S. President Bush holding his dog. Might have been kind of cute if the dog's head hadn't been replaced with an image of Tony Blair's face, creating a visual depiction of the now popular notion amongst British labor types that in supporting the war against Iraq, Blair became nothing more than Bush's British b-...well, let's just say furry female buddy.

And you thought the Internet was only good for porn and Nigerian money scams.

Actually, the web is filled with progressive social commentary these days. One of my favorite examples is Tiki the Penguin, a web-based eco cartoon character who cheerfully teaches children nuanced messages, for example, that the West is dominated by greedy money grubbers wrecking the entire planet, heading for an environmental apocalypse, killing all the animals, and screwing up nature by genetically modifying food. None of these is a particularly new area of concern, of course, but what makes Web-based Tiki different is his special way of exploring the various shades of gray of the issues.

Take the genetically modified food quandary, for example. Tiki offers kids a Genetic Engineering Guide, which is also helpfully referred to as "Messing About with Nature to Make Money." In this Web guide, Tiki takes a scientific approach to laying out the potential effects of genetically modified organisms:

"Maybe nothing will happen... [o]r maybe people and other living things will get ill and die."

How's that for subtlety? He also cautions that "most companies like to make lots of money and they like to make it fast." That's why Tiki thinks genetic engineering is not okay when practiced by companies, but is probably all right in China because they can't be in it for the cash.

Tiki's a little obsessed with money. He thinks money causes greed and he's really ticked that humans want so much of it. "Do you think that having everything you want would make you happy?" Tiki asks, in what I'd have to assume is an accusing tone of voice. "I doubt it. Look at us penguins: we're happy and we own nothing at all."

True, Tiki, but then I can't see that penguins would have much use for, say, a plasma screen TV. Maybe ownership just isn't a penguin's bag, in the same way that eating raw fish on an iceberg isn't most humans' idea of a good time. But I won't say this to Tiki because he'll just get cranky. He ends his discussion about the ills of private ownership with the comment, "Anyway, that's your problem!"

Another one of our problems, according to Tiki, is that our obsession with money leads to wars, which are "bad news for everything and everybody except the industry that makes guns, bombs and other things for killing lots of people. ...This seems stupid to us animals!"

But then again, Tiki thinks being stupid is highly underrated.

"To me what you call 'cleverness' usually means trouble," Tiki says. "'Clever' people invent nasty things -- like atomic bombs, deadly pesticides, guns, engines which burn oil and wreck the atmosphere." Which I suppose leaves all the not-so-clever people milling around at Earth Day conferences and anti-globalization rallies.

The point, however, is not the details of Tiki's message, but rather the mere fact of Tiki's existence. Because of the miracle of the World Wide Web, there is finally room for refined and finespun progressive messaging that would never have made it onto the pages of the usual newspapers or magazines. There is, at last, a space for bitingly original critiques of the dreaded establishment.

Ah, technology. When those clever people aren't using it to make bombs and guns and poison and stuff, it can be a truly beautiful thing.

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