Lars von Trier and the dogma of hate speech

Af Jacob Mchangama, 17-10-2011

On 5 October, it emerged that a French prosecutor has opened an investigation against Danish film director and screenwriter Lars Von Trier for ‘justifying war crimes, crimes against humanity or inciting to racial hatred’. But while Von Trier may have said some stupid and distasteful things, the criminal law has no place in regulating what people say.

The investigation follows a complaint relating to Von Trier’s comments during a press conference at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year. At the press conference, Von Trier said, among other things, that he ‘understood’ and had ‘a little sympathy’ for Hitler. He also made rambling comments about being a ‘second-rate Jew’ as well as a Nazi and that he was in ‘favour of Jews’ but not ‘too much’ because ‘Israel is a pain in the butt’.

Trier also repeatedly said that he was joking and ‘how can I get out of this sentence? OK, I’m a Nazi.’ No doubt Von Trier – accustomed to an indulging media treating his every non sequitur as a revelation – thought he was being provocatively witty. Von Trier only realised he had crossed the line when it was too late and the damage had already been done. Trier’s comments were rightly condemned as inappropriate by everyone from his cast to the director of the Cannes Festival who even decided to expel Von Trier. But while Von Trier’s comments were in very poor taste, they were more likely to induce severe cringes than incite hatred against Jews or enthusiasm for Hitler and the Nazis.

Læs mere på