Turkey is notorious for its draconian laws regulating exactly what kinds of things its citizens can and cannot say—especially about its head of state. As a result, in the past year, according to Foreign Policy, nearly 250 people have been investigated for insulting the president. And now, a Turkish doctor named Bilgin Ciftci faces two years jail time for comparing Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Gollum from The Lord of The Rings.
Ciftci’s Gollum meme—which compared several images of Erdogan with the ring-obsessed, fishing-loving Gollum—went viral this October, and Erdogan’s lawyers quickly slammed the doctor with a lawsuit. But it turned out neither the prosecutor nor the judge had read or seen The Lord of the Rings: "The prosecutor didn't watch the movie and he defined Gollum as 'the monster in a bad role,’” Ciftci’s lawyer, Hicran Danisman told Reuters. “But we said Gollum can't be defined as evil. The character itself is a war between good and bad. He is basically seen as a victim of society.”
The case is now being postponed until February, so that a panel of experts—including a cinema specialist, psychologist, and behavioral scientist—can decide whether Gollum is a good guy or a bad guy. But anyone familiar with the books and films knows that question might be hard to answer. Gollum is a notoriously ambiguous character, sometimes helpful, sometimes treacherous. And it doesn’t help that he has a split personality. One the one hand, there’s Gollum, corrupted by the ring and ravaged by centuries of life in a cave; on the other, there’s Smeagol, the kind-hearted, loyal guide whose biggest character flaw is that he doesn’t understand what taters are.
In fact, that distinction between Gollum and Smeagol might play an important role in the case—at least if Peter Jackson has anything to say about it. The Lord of the Rings director has already released a statement in defense of Ciftci, arguing that the images he used were clearly of Smeagol not Gollum—and therefore inoffensive.
In a statement to TheWrap, Jackson and screenwriters Fran Walsh and Phillippa Boyens wrote that “If the images below are in fact the ones forming the basis of this Turkish lawsuit, we can state categorically: None of them feature the character known as Gollum. All of them are images of the character called Smeagol.”
In defense of Ciftci, the Lord of the Rings team explained: “Smeagol is a joyful, sweet character. Smeagol does not lie, deceive, or attempt to manipulate others. He is not evil, conniving, or malicious—these personality traits belong to Gollum, who should never be confused with Smeagol.”
Yahoo notes that the so-called "Gollum is not a bad character" argument, or "Smeagol Defense," was Ciftci's lawyer's backup strategy after an attempt at a more straightforward freedom of expression argument failed.