Thursday, July 17, 2008

Not a very funny joke, if it was one

I'm only posting about this matter again because of the replies it has generated here and apparently elsewhere.

I do not think it was a joke, or if it was, it was one in extremely poor tatse.

The real motivation in my mind was and is racial in character and trust me, I am not one to yell racism at the drop of a hat. Given the context of the matter and the woman's grandchildren swimming at the pool why else would it have been done?

Net users insist 'racist' sign is joke
By Roger Croteau - Express-News

Members of an Internet group called Anonymous insist the “Pool’s Closed” sign that appeared at a neighborhood swimming pool in New Braunfels this week was not a racist attempt to keep black children out of the pool, but a harmless joke that started on a social networking site.

The picture of a black man with a large afro haircut, wearing a suit, and the words “Pool’s Closed” superimposed was posted at the River Tree subdivision pool days after two children whose father is African American started swimming there.

The children’s grandmother, whom they are visiting, interpreted the sign as a way to intimidate the family and keep them from using the pool.

“Pool’s Closed by no means implies racial bigotry,” one person said in an e-mail to the Express-News after a Tuesday article about the incident. “It is an Internet fad (commonly known as a meme) perpetuated by various Internet communities.”

But Mary Alice Altorfer, who filed a police report after the sign was found, said she is still convinced it was meant to intimidate her grandchildren and keep them out of the pool. After reviewing Internet sites, she said the whole “Pool’s Closed” meme smacks of racism to her.

“I spent the day on the computer looking into it,” Altorfer said. “If you really get into it, it is really about as racist and homophobic as it gets. The excuse that it’s all a joke just does not fly with me. I don’t owe anyone an apology. This is garbage.”

On Wednesday, someone posted a new sign by the pool with an image of a woman with a superimposed afro and the words “Pool’s Open.”

Members of Anonymous, who use the slogan “We are Legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. We are anonymous,” are active on Web sites including one called 4chan.

Members conducted the Great Habbo Raid of ’06 and the Great Habbo Raid of ’07 on the Habbo Hotel Web site. Habbo Hotel is a social networking site for teenagers where users create a cartoon avatar to represent themselves and roam through the virtual world and chat with others.

The Anonymous members all adopted the same avatar of the black man in a suit and blocked access to the pool area of the hotel, shouting at others, “Pool’s Closed due to AIDS.” The swarm of activity caused the site’s servers to crash.

“We all create characters who are black, afro and a business suit cause we feel like it,” a member e-mailed. “No one knows why we do it but we do.”

All the e-mails insisted the character, known as “Nigra Jim,” is not intended to be racist, just an inside joke.

Some said the racially provocative aspect is done for shock value or to be ironic. The 4chan random message board is also peppered with homophobic and racist comments.

After the news article was published, Altorfer said she was bombarded with about 75 phone calls from people, many of whom used racially derogatory words.

Altorfer’s address and telephone number were posted on the 4chan Web site, with encouragement to make harassing phone calls to her home. It was also posted on, where a KENS 5 report on the incident was posted.

It had generated more than 65,000 views and 1,200 comments by Wednesday afternoon.

New Braunfels Police Department spokesman Mike Penshorn said a witness saw the person who posted the second sign on Wednesday, but he did not have a description of the person.

He said the postings may have simply been an inside joke referring to the Internet phenomenon, or the image may have been appropriated by someone trying to send a message to Altorfer’s grandchildren.

“It’s kind of hard to say without knowing the underlying motive,” he said.

He added that whether posting the sign violates any laws would also depend on the motive.