Julian Assange: What a Character

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
Dec. 9 2010 5:24 PM

Julian Assange: What a Character

/blogs/xx_factor/2010/12/09/the_literary_complexities_of_julian_assange/jcr:content/body/slate_image

This is trivializing the important, I know, but whenever I read those reports about how Julian Assange's cyber-supporters are keeping WikiLeaks online and open for business by making mirror images of the site's contents pages, creating an endless, exponentially multiplying number of WikiLeakses, I cannot help but think of that scene in the latest Harry Potter movie where Harry's friends drink a potion that makes them mirror images of Harry Potter. Harry's friends do this so the forces of evil won't know which Harry to bring down as they are flying him to a safe house. WikiLeaks' friends do it so government officials and a striking number of e-commerce entities-- Paypal, for example, as well as MasterCard, and Amazon , which apparently stopped letting WikiLeaks use its cloud servers after getting a call from staffers for Sen. Joseph Lieberman--won't be able to bring the site down.

And when Assange was on the run, as he was for some time , staying with friends and presumably in hotel rooms, biding his time, plotting his next move, doubtless eating a lot of takeout, I kept thinking of Harry and Hermione, apparating to various places of exile and wandering through forests protected by spells that would render them invisible from Voldemort. Except that exile wasn't a permanent solution for them, just as it wasn't for Assange, who, unlike Harry and Hermione, at least has lawyers to present his case for him.

Of course, the analogy breaks down there, since Harry Potter is good, and Julian Assange is ... weird, for sure, and hard to know what to think about. Possibly he is noble--in his commitment to open government and the exposing of shocking as well as simply copious documents--but possibly he is quite a bit less than noble, even terrible, on other public and personal moral levels. Time and the judicial system will tell on that one, I guess. Thinking about him I also keep kind of randomly thinking of Easy Rider and Vanishing Point and even The Day of The Jackal , and all those books and movies about protagonists fleeing retribution and trying to get from state to state or country to country, barely one step ahead of the law. Thelma and Louise , also, maybe. Sometimes in these works the protagonist is a villain and sometimes he/she is a hero, depending on the genre and the era and the country and what happens to be the author's viewpoint on rebels and counterculturalists and lawbreakers.

And now that Assange is being held in the face of sexual assault allegations by two Swedish women, I find myself thinking about Stieg Larsson, and Sweden, and how in Larsson's moral universe many men seem to be potential rapists, unless of course they are working to catch the potential rapists, and I am wondering if Larssen's fiction could help at all in understanding Assange and what is happening to/by/as a result of him. Did Sweden's strict rape laws give authorities an excuse to hunt him down and get him for the WikiLeaks stuff, and if so, should we be glad about that, or angry? And why does Sweden keep cropping up in the headlines so much, now, anyway? 

Either way, isn't this all so bizarrely Larssonian? I mean, can't you just see Lisbeth Salander, herself also a fugitive, come to think of it, sitting in a hotel room in the Cayman Islands or somewhere, making all those duplicate Web sites on Assange's behalf? Wouldn't she be the perfect cyber-warrior to throw a cloak of invisibility over his operations, or whichever metaphor you wish to pursue? If you need to bring in an outside consultant to clone your Web site and sabotage your antagonists, who better than the greatest fictional hacker of all time? Except Salander would never help Assange if indeed he is a sexual coercer. Of course she would not! She would pretend to be helping him, and at the same time she would be tracking him with her Palm Tungsten T3 hand-held computer so that she can find him and tattoo something horrible on his stomach. But then again, what if he is innocent and those "radical feminist" accusers, one of whom may be on the move herself, or not, extremely hard to tell, are part of an anti-Assange conspiracy, as some have hypothesized? In that case Salander would have some ingenious double-game going on, in which she is pretending to help the accusers but really helping Assange. And then, what if there were some counter-revelation? If Larsson had written this, would there be some scene where Salander realizes Assange is bad after all, and goes after him with a golf club? Also, are lesbians involved in any way? Or kick-boxing? Will the movie version have hot women with their clothes off? And importantly, where does Hillary Clinton fit in ? In the end, would you say that Assange made Hillary look bad, or good? From the cables he obtained and posted we learned that U.S. diplomats were told to spy on foreign counterparts , it's true, but we also found out that many Foreign Service officers write really well and entertainingly ! Good job, State recruiters! You are hiring well-educated people with a sly literary sensibility! And no overabundance of scruples! Perfect!

And, the point Noreen raises: Did Assange's Internet allies hack Sarah Palin's Web page and if so, for what purpose? Are they trying to alienate women of every political persuasion? Do they just want to be bipartisan? Or, as Noreen suspects, does Palin simply want to divert all media controversy back to herself?

How will all this end? Whom to believe? I am waiting for an omniscient author to help me know how to think about this guy. If nothing else, Assange is a character as oversized and complex as any that have been created in modern fiction, and this is a plot worthy of a Scandinavian spymaster. Or Dickens. Tom Wolfe. Whoever. I am interested to see how things unspool, and hoping that clarity will emerge, and justice triumph, in the last chapter. Though frankly there are still parts of the Larsson trilogy that confuse me, when I look back and try to really follow the plot details, so possibly, given the convolutions of this strange sex-and-cyber-secrets saga, there will never be any final understanding of l'affaire Assange, just interpretations. But at least then dueling dissertations can be written. Or, more realistically, dueling nonfiction best-sellers.

Advertisement

Still of Peter Andersson and Noomi Rapace in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  Courtesy of Music Box Films.

Liza Mundy is the director of the Breadwinners and Caregivers Program at the New America Foundation and the author of The Richer Sex.

  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Nov. 21 2014 1:38 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? See if you can keep pace with the copy desk, Slate’s most comprehensive reading team.