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Tuesday, October 02, 2012

What were they thinking? or Not so bad?

A colleague sent me this story from the Jewish Daily Forward: Amazon will no longer sell a 250-piece Jigsaw puzzle featuring a picture of Dachau Concentration Camp. The puzzle, marketed as appropriate for ages 8-and-up, met with objections from German legislators, as well as the head of the Dachau memorial.

I want to raise two points and I ask them honestly, not trying to be provocative.

1) I was struck by the comment that the head of the memorial wanted an investigation into whether prior sales of the puzzle were unlawful under German law, once again demonstrating how the U.S. departs from other countries on the subject of the freedom of speech. We can debate whether the puzzle is offensive or in bad tatse. But unlawful?

2)  Is this really that offensive? The picture was taken by Robert Harding, a well-known international travel photograph who has had many photos made into puzzles. He also has taken a number of photos of Dachau. The picture itself  is not disrespectful (at least reports don't suggest that it is); it is an image of a historical place where something awful happened, something that we should remember. I assume no one would object to anyone selling the photograph (although maybe I am wrong on that).

It seems to me that puzzles are simply one way of creating or presenting a picture or photograph. There is nothing wrong with having that picture be somber or meaningful or emotional, as long as the picture created is respectful or tasteful. We have puzzles of great works of art; why not also of photos of historically significant places or events. There were comments in the story about a "toy" being a "trivialization" of the events there. But this is not Dachau action figures or Dachau trading cards. Perhaps it is inappropriate for children and eight is too young as the target audience for the puzzle. But the call was for a total ban on (and suggestion of illegality of) all sales, not just a change in marketing.

Update: I am guesting at CoOp this month and I cross-posted this. One commenter over there suggested that anything that facilitates "never forget," even in the form of a jigsaw puzzle, serves a beneficial purpose. He also poses a great hypo: What would our reaction have been if Iran had banned those puzzles because they acknowledged Dachau as a special place, thus acknowledging the Holocaust? Would we be troubled by a combination of denial of free expression and denial of the Holocaust?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 2, 2012 at 02:27 PM in Current Affairs, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman | Permalink


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"There were comments in the story about a "toy" being a "trivialization" of the events there."

This is it. People think of puzzles as toys, not as just another way of presenting a photograph.

Posted by: Derek Tokaz | Oct 2, 2012 3:49:27 PM

I think Derek's sense is right: a puzzle just strikes many people as too light-hearted a way to present the image.

Posted by: Darryl Brown | Oct 3, 2012 7:52:35 AM

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