There I said it. I’ve seen the cartoon Charlie Hebdo put on their cover, and I thought it was a bad fourth rate Sergio Aragones piece (and I LOVE Sergio Aragones). I get the joke and its intention—the whole point of satire—but I thought it also crude, basically bad satire.
However it’s not worth killing someone over it.
I have to admit I’m a bad First Amendment advocate. While everyone of the friends I respect were up in arms about the murder of 12 people, including four cartoonists, at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris because of publishing the cartoons, I was still shaking my head as to why they published it. While First Amendment rights are paramount, let’s not forget that the Muslim population in France are a very maligned group, looked upon almost worse than the Tea Party looks upon “immigrants.” While satire is a good and healthy form to deal with powerful forces, it can be a very harmful form of attack against people with no standing. As much as we condemn the killings of those artists for their art, we should be able to criticize the artists for what their art represents. Without gunfire.
An old 2008 (yet potently relevant) article by Neil Gaiman about defending “icky” freedom of speech got me turned back around on the issue. He wrote. “Freedom to write, freedom to read, freedom to own material that you believe is worth defending means you’re going to have to stand up for stuff you don’t believe is worth defending, even stuff you find actively distasteful, because laws are big blunt instruments that do not differentiate between what you like and what you don’t, because prosecutors are humans and bear grudges and fight for re-election, because one person’s obscenity is another person’s art. Because if you don’t stand up for the stuff you don’t like, when they come for the stuff you do like, you’ve already lost…. It’s because the same laws cover the stuff you like and the stuff you find icky, wherever your icky line happens to be: the law is a big blunt instrument that makes no fine distinctions, and because you only realize how wonderful absolute freedom of speech is the day you lose it.” This also covers the current anti-police brutality protesters. After the death of the Two NYPD officers, many politicians and pundits asked that the protesters stop; they declined and kept protesting. They showed that you can both speak out against police brutality and be mournful of those police officers killed in the line of duty. Because even as we are a nation of laws, as Gaiman points out, the law is a blunt instrument and doesn’t make fine distinctions.
So yes I will mourn the loss of the 12 killed in Paris and say “Je Suis Charlie” with my other artist friends in solidarity today; maybe we’ll get into where the line between satire and bullying lies some other day. But still, you couldn’t pay me enough money to watch that Seth Rogan/James Franco film.