It’s not hard to imagine the scorn that the artists and writers of Charlie Hebdo might have heaped on the dour protests their deaths provoked. I could see a cartoon lampooning the political luminaries and cultural lions who turned out, trudging along in solemn procession holding placards that insist they too are Charlie. Then they pause just long enough to say what they’re really feeling—relief! After all, they’ll now be spared, for a while anyway, the jaundiced and biting ridicule at which Charlie’s staff excelled.
Instead of laughs, the funeral air was thick with pieties about freedom. But, hey, nobody can control who comes to their burials or what’s said in their obituaries (if any), and so the brilliant malcontents whose work populated Charlie’s pages have little choice but to suffer in silence the ironies and discomforts of martyrdom.
Their killers confront their own ironies, I suspect, though their fate as martyrs wouldn’t make them wince, since it’s what they sought. They would never be taken alive, and they knew it.
Still, it’s ironic that they shared with the people they murdered an estrangement from a deeply rooted, cultural mainstream, a sense of alienation and grievance, a wish to be noticed, to have their impact felt, to settle scores. It’s hard to watch the video of slain terrorist Cherif Kouachi, a onetime rapper and pop culture enthusiast, alongside the video of Charlie’s cartoonists brainstorming about how to respond to the satirical Danish cartoons of 2005 featuring Mohammed in caricature, and not wonder what they all might have talked about, if their only meeting hadn’t been down the barrel of a machine gun.
I was shocked and disgusted by the Charlie Hebdo killings in a way that I hadn’t been by the other atrocities of the post-9/11 terror. That’s because I got to know the tabloid weekly when I was young, a student in Paris. I used to read it because the cartoons were cool, its language was the patois I wanted to learn, and its sensibility the same anarchic and tasteless post-’68 blasphemy that inspired the counterculture that was roaring to life back home.
Hearing about the Jan. 7 slaughter was like finding out that somebody assassinated Don Martin, the late Mad magazine cartoonist, or Robert Crumb, the Leonardo of the U.S. underground press. Charlie Hebdo? Who on earth would kill those guys? Has the world truly gone nuts?
Journalism advocates moved quickly to claim the killings as further evidence of the lethal danger that reporters face, and were eager to add the murders to the dismal tally of news correspondents killed, jailed, tortured, beheaded. But it’s not a good fit. Unless they’re held as a target of opportunity for ransom that’s refused, journalists are killed for cause. They die by a chill, utilitarian logic, which was absent here. Reporters are in the business of exposing realities Continue reading