There’s something about being a cartoonist that makes people think you’re the foremost authority on anything cartoon-related. It’s assumed you know how much any particular comic book is worth or any trivia related to anything in the medium, anything a friend or relative sees a news item about, as if everything with words and pictures exists in one big lump. Thankfully superheroes have become more the domain of movies in the past ten years since I know next to nothing of the genre after my birth.
Now that the biggest story so far this year involves the profession of cartooning, suddenly people are asking my opinion. The past few months have seen issues equally newsworthy, but apparently I know nothing about those, only cartooning. I’ve done a couple cartoons on the subject on this page as well as for print, but I suppose I can say more, though my opinion changes day to day the more I know.
There are those making it a quality control issue, though nobody seems to believe anyone should have been assassinated. Except religious fundamentalists. But they don’t count. Fuck ’em. Yeah, the way Islam as interpreted by some says there can’t be images of Mohammed, but by that logic they have to bomb the Louvre too. The Ten Commandments have a similar law. Where are the Christians and Jews enforcing the Old Testament? How can your God be so powerful if you have to carry out his rules for him anyway? It’s been said religion is like a penis. If you have one by all means be proud of it and share it with those who are interested, just don’t wave it around and force it down everyone’s throat. If you feel the Koran or Bible is a historical document and feel the information in it applies to everyone else you’re an idiot. If you don’t believe in drawing the prophet then just don’t do it and shut the fuck up. End of story.
I have seen a few—not many but a few—saying the staff was provoking terrorists. Such an argument is akin to saying a rape victim was “asking for it” by the way they dressed.
Then there’s the argument that they were a hate rag. Editors cherry pick the most controversial covers as if they’re representative of the magazine’s content leaving those unfamiliar with it under the impression they’re like the Nazi party’s Der Stürmer because of one or two cartoons they don’t like. Looking at the past year of covers, only one is specifically about religion, and only because the magazine covers current events. Most of what they do is alien to these American eyes, similar to if the typical French person saw a magazine satirizing Sarah Palin.
Some say you need to see them in context. Others have countered by saying the images are offensive regardless of the context. I say BOTH. The French have always been an imperial, colonialist power but at the same time everything besides that is different as well. The men have wives and mistresses. The government approves what names people can have. Most of their energy is nuclear power. They smoke in supermarkets. The fact that the staff of Charlie Hebdo was mostly white doesn’t help, though. “But they make fun of everyone” is the usual cop-out. You might as well say “I have a black friend”.
Do I think using racism to criticize racism is still racism? No. But that’s easy for me to say being a beneficiary of white male privilege. I may never be able to own a home and I rely on Medicaid but could still never experience the likelihood of being stopped by cops when you’re just going on about your business.
I will not go on too much about how as white liberals we’re at worst misguided but not evil. I’ll just say if people think they’re offended by some material now it’s a good thing they didn’t live in the past. The type of thing typical of Charlie Hebdo wouldn’t be out of place in mainstream American entertainment forty years ago. Even though then you could never imagine there’d be fart jokes and talking penises on TV today, at the same time you could never have anything as incendiary as All In The Family now. It’s somewhat dated by today’s standards and remembered now mostly as being about a guy who called his son-in-law a meathead, but it was mainly a show about a white guy who hated black people. Sometimes on the show they even said the n-word. And it was the most popular show on television. It was all in the service of showing the evils of prejudice but if I experienced prejudice in earnest it’s probably patronizing to have it be libsplained to me.
“There are worse things happening”. Yes, there are. Whether it’s Boko Haram, police brutality, the NAACP bombings, ISIS, someone might even include the Sony hackings if they’re personally affected. No two people would prioritize everything the same way, though. It comes down to apples and oranges. A doesn’t nullify B. The reductio ad absurdum of this argument is that nobody should ever be allowed to enjoy themselves when something is going on somewhere in the world.
What should one make of the situation? What does it all come down to? If there’s one thing we can all agree on, regardless of race or taste, it’s not to shoot people. Don’t do it. It’s not nice. If you do you’re just a big poopyhead.