Je Suis Charlie

I had never heard of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo prior to the assault on it’s staff. From what I have come to understand it produces cartoons that normally would be considered quite offensive to anyone associated with whatever it is currently satirizing. That’s what satirists do, they mock people, places and institutions that others may hold in high regard. Someone is being very offended by satire every time it happens. Others may laugh. A trillion offensive jokes are told by humans every day outside of any public context. Few of them, if any, are ever gravely held accountable for their indiscretions.

Humans are the most sociable of all animals. And we are an ironic and contradictory species that on the one hand claims to not care what others think while demanding that our opinions be heard. It can be hard to get a word in.

We are hard wired for survival and reproduction like all other living things. But it is language that separates us, makes us the dominant species on the planet.

Sticks and stones
May break my bones
But words will never
Hurt me

In an ideal world, a mature one, words and pictures would never offend anyone. And we certainly would never want to legislate against poor taste no matter how tempting. But like the bullies in the school yard we will eventually learn how to push each other’s buttons, if for no other reason than we can. And that is the chance that satirists take when they choose politics and religion as their subjects, and we have now seen how it can all go horribly wrong.

Good satire is analytical thinking in action. It’s that language thing again. Often we only learn both sides of an issue when someone makes fun of the standard popular version. So good satire is also often very political. And that in itself makes it a potentially very dangerous activity.

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

Evelyn Beatrice Hall

Perhaps someone is offended that I did not credit Voltaire with the above quote? It can happen.

There are those who are suggesting that we should not be too sympathetic with the victim’s at Charlie Hebdo because they were part of a team that published racist, homophobic, intolerant articles that insulted individuals and groups. Perhaps they did cross the line of what most people would call good taste with consistency, but I will continue to insist that unless you can pinpoint articles that show any deliberate manipulation of public opinion for political gain or any attempts to maliciously single out any persons or groups while avoiding others, I am going to side with the satirists. They were human beings who had no good reason to be murdered at their desks any more than you or I.

It’s a crazy world, inhabited by some truly cruel and evil people, but the vast majority of us do try to get along despite overwhelming evidence that we really should be hiding out somewhere far away. We cope, and part of that mechanism is to poke fun at one another and that seems to be a universal quality –  it’s in our genes. And for that reason I will say that Je Suis Charlie.

Paris,Charlie Hebdo,Woman,Placard,Murder

A woman holds up a placard that reads in French, “I am Charlie” as she and others gather at the Place de la Republique in Paris. (JOEL SAGET/AFP/Getty)





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