Everyone’s a Criticon January 8, 2015 at 8:42 pm
Yesterday morning I awoke to the hostile antics of Elvis Duran and the Morning Show, a syndicated zoo crew on Rochester’s KISS FM. I am occasionally subjected to the Elvis Duran show when the dial on my 30-year-old clock radio wanders from my smooth jazz station (the one with the nice trimmed lawn at 105.9) to its frat house neighbor at 106.7.
And so it was just before the day’s Phone Tap prank, where innocent schnooks are tricked into thinking that their wedding invitations will be embossed with the word “cuntlicker” (no refunds!), that I learned of the shootings at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris.
For nearly a year I have been on what I cherubically refer to as a “nooze snooze”. During this time I have avoided as much news coverage as a person can without having to pour cement in their ears. I had been planning to deliver my executive summary of this undertaking in February, the anniversary of my experiment. However, with the unwelcome news that four of yesterday’s victims were cartoonists–the only tribe with which I can claim to share any social DNA—I’ve decided that my remarks on this event, at least, should not be postponed.
I’m not really familiar with Charlie Hebdo (“Weekly Charlie”), and can’t say that I know anything of the work of the four artists who died along with eight others in the attack and subsequent escape of the suspects. This seems scandalous to me now, as the satirical magazine they drew for appears to have been keeping the homefires burning for an era of radical underground cartooning that I often feel I was born too late for.
In those heady days of Zap! and Rip Off Comix, the most dangerous enemy you could make was Dick Nixon. But his Plumbers were not so overtly fascist as the humorless mob that the anti-capitalist and anti-religious Charlie took fearless aim at. Not only did they commit the token blasphemy of repeatedly depicting Islam’s prophet, but they did do so in ways that were occasionally pornographic even by Western standards.
Charlie should not be confused with the likes of Jyllands-Posten, though, the reactionary Danish newspaper whose Mohammed cartoons sparked violent protests across the Middle East in 2005. Charlie Hebdo is decidedly left wing and anti-bigot, and their covers are just as likely to depict the Holy Trinity in acts of tri-fold sodomy as they are to take swipes at Islam’s schizoid patriarch.
However, political poles are irrelevant o those whose politics are the one-dimensional edict of God. Charlie Hebdo’s offices were firebombed in 2011 and its editor-in-chief Stephane “Charb” Charbonnier (one of Wednesday’s victims) had received death threats and was under police protection.
The magazine’s contributors could not have been naïve about the peril they faced. Despite this, they chose to walk the walk, a bold position that few even in the United States have been willing to take in the face of jihadist intimidation (following the Jyllands-Posten incident, Comedy Central created a whole new category of censorship—call it “Kafkawellian”—by refusing to re-air an episode of South Park that was already distinguished by its censored images of Mohammed).
Regrettably, the murderers (still at large) also walked the walk, and it is a testament to the power of boiling hatred that they have chosen to throw their own lives away in this trivial, symbolic gesture.
It will not be mere symbolism, however, if the ends of terrorism—which are the destruction of cultural infrastructure, not dams and bridges—carry the day. For that not to occur, people like myself, who dare to believe they can contribute meaningfully to the political dialogue through silly scribblings, must find a way to channel the natural outrage at this event to a constructive purpose, and not merely through Twitter vigils that will have been abandoned by next week.
This is an exalted goal, and I can’t speak to how skillfully Charlie Hebdo itself threaded the needle of holding a mirror up to the advocates of violence. What is clear is that there is very little that one can do to have a dialogue, much less a laugh, with people who can be worked into a killing rage over a drawing of a historical figure with a rubber nose.
“Freedom isn’t free,” Steven Spielberg reminded me at the end of Saving Private Ryan, a movie I recently re-watched on DVD. I usually feel my gorge rise at that expression, but seeing as how it was a mint delivered with the check at the end of a well-crafted and honest film, I was braced for it. Now, with my own tribe under fire on the front line of a war of cultures, I am even less inclined to reject Spielberg’s sentiment as mere jingoism.
If the freedom of speech that was the jihad of Charlie Hebdo’s contributors is to triumph in the face of insanity, it must be meaningful. Its purpose must be an end greater than freedom of speech. America, which can scarf down mass shootings like Funyuns, may well be the last to figure out what ought to have been said in response to this moment. Someday soon I will deliver my own answer to this madness from atop my Arraki battle worm. But until then…