Since the last Media Circus ran in late December, your faithless columnist shattered his left kneecap and, after surgery, landed in a full-length leg brace. Also, 12 cartoonists, editors, and staff were murdered at the office of the satirical French weekly Charlie Hebdo. I do mean to compare the two events.
For one thing, my accident caused far more long-lasting physical pain. The Parisian cartoonists only suffered for a few seconds before taking the easy way out and dying. I, on the other hand, am poised to endure months of excruciating physical therapy and I won’t kick off at the end, so agony will continue to be a regular feature of my life for years to come.
Second, the dead cartoonists got all the attention. Depending on political affinities, the whole world watched in either horror or pleasure at the bloody unfolding news out of Paris, whereas nobody noticed my suffering at all, let alone cared about it. Millions of protesters carried signs and wore T-shirts proclaiming “Je suis Charlie,” superficially an expression of solidarity with the slain but actually the graphic equivalent of an employment application. The ubiquitous “Je suis Charlie” was an easy, self-serving claim to make once half the paper’s staff had been assassinated and a bunch of job openings suddenly materialized. Why did these ostentatious “mourners” have to parade around the streets advertising themselves? Why couldn’t they have just sent their résumés and portfolios to Charlie Hebdo’s office, stayed home, and not blocked traffic? Why couldn’t they keep their boldfaced careerism to themselves?
As for the terrorists, I have one question: Who assassinates cartoonists? Heads of state and political parties I can see. Disgruntled spouses, aggrieved children, humiliated ex-employees… these are people who have legitimate reasons to kill others. Cheating husbands, abusive mothers, dim-witted bosses, boring professors, world leaders — murdering them makes sense. But cartoonists? It’s as though members of a deranged PETA fringe group shot Charles Schultz to death because they thought Snoopy deserved to live in the Brown residence itself instead of in an unheated shack in the backyard. Or some crazed barber deciding he simply couldn’t take Prince Valiant’s hairdo any more and knifing the comic strip’s artist in the heart.
Charlie Hebdo is offensive. Frogs would say that’s its raison d’être, and from what little he’s seen this Christ-killing columnist agrees. Insults, often quite vicious, are its mother’s milk — milk that has turned. Scott Sayare, writing in the Atlantic, has the best analysis of Charlie Hebdo’s obnoxious mission I’ve seen:
“Since its founding in 1970, the satirical magazine has delighted in transgressing the moral and aesthetic taboos of most everyone. But it has reserved a special, obsessive disdain for the world’s organized religions. In 2011, after Catholic extremists in the city of Avignon vandalized ‘Piss Christ,’ the photograph of a plastic crucifix submerged in urine, Charlie Hebdo produced a cover cartoon featuring rolls of toilet paper labeled ‘Bible,’ ‘Koran,’ and ‘Torah.’ The headline read: ‘In the shitter, all the religions.’”
The strictest forms of Islam prohibit depictions of the prophet Muhammad. Naturally, the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo depicted the prophet Muhammad. They put their drawing on the cover of the paper and it was extremely offensive: the prophet has a gigantic hooked shnozz that rivals any nose in Nazi illustrations of Jews. The drawing led two maniacs to shoot the staff of Charlie Hebdo, which resulted in the ludicrous spectacle of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (emphasis on the yahoo) marching in support of human rights, a hilarious irony the cartoonists would certainly have appreciated had they not been dead.
L’Affaire Charlie Hebdo raises difficult and uncomfortable issues for the LGBT communities. For decades, many of us have been calling on the media to cease depicting us in demeaning and offensive ways. And we have largely succeeded in shaming those who, in strikingly declining numbers, still have the urge to mock and dehumanize us — shaming them into silence. Have we defended their right to offend? No. We have argued, either tacitly or explicitly, that they have no such right. At the same time, we get a good laugh out of Tom Ford’s new cock-and-balls crucifix, the patently offensive piece of jewelry I discussed in my last column. What is the difference? I see none.
The Western world’s support of Charlie Hebdo is at best well-intentioned hypocrisy. At worst it’s a pernicious lie. Unless you agree that the late and unlamented Fred Phelps and his herd of pigs from the Westboro Baptist Church had — and continue to have — the right to hold signs reading “God Hates Fags” at American soldiers’ funerals, your support for Charlie Hebdo is self-congratulatory bullshit.
And for the cretins out there who require me to state the obvious: Yes, there is a distinct difference between nonviolent protest and terroristic murder.
Effective satire has a real bite. It’s meant to irritate and offend. I hope you hate this column. I hope you write a letter to the editor in protest. As for me, I take my cue from the great Lewis Carroll, who wrote this brilliant defense of child abuse and stuck it in the mouth of the Duchess in “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”: “Speak roughly to your little boy and beat him when he sneezes. He only does it to annoy because he knows it teases.” Being annoying for its own sake is always worthwhile. Being annoying to make a political point is vital and necessary. Like the dead cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo, I live for it.
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