Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Punching Up

Garry Trudeau, the cartoonist responsible for Doonesbury, recently wrote an article about humor, appropriate targets for satire, and “good taste”

I’m not sure why he’s just now talking about Charlie Hebdo, but Trudeau uses it to give a sanctimonious lesson on satire:
Traditionally, satire has comforted the afflicted while afflicting the comfortable. Satire punches up, against authority of all kinds, the little guy against the powerful. Great French satirists like Molière and Daumier always punched up, holding up the self-satisfied and hypocritical to ridicule. Ridiculing the non-privileged is almost never funny—it’s just mean.
It’s strange that Trudeau would hold up Molière as an upper-cutter, given his refusal to criticize the monarchy. Molière of course realized the same thing the brave satirists at Charlie Hebdo did: if you target certain groups with humor, you risk losing your head—the only difference being Molière preferred to keep the good life, and the Hebdo cartoonists were willing to give up theirs.  So who actually “punched up” against a target perfectly willing to punch back, and who was merely shadow boxing?

Trudeau again:
Ironically, Charlie Hebdo, which always maintained it was attacking Islamic fanatics, not the general population, has succeeded in provoking many Muslims throughout France to make common cause with its most violent outliers. 
Every. Single. Time.

This argument is so lazy, so boring, and so depressingly common, that I’m livening it up with a new drinking game. Every time a narcissistic male shouts "Allah Akbar" and suicide-murders civilians, pick up the newspaper and take a shot for every article that mentions the words "alienate" “provoke” “disenfranchise” “offend 1 billion Muslims,” or makes some version of the argument that “Yeah, they shouldn’t have been killed, but they knew better than to draw a cartoon.” You will be hammered for a week straight. 

This is the masochistic logic that follows nearly all Islamic terror attacks: when looking for root causes, first find out how the victims brought it on themselves.  

This argument is also incredibly patronizing. It assumes the Muslim population is too delicate, its skin too thin, to ever deal with the same sorts of satire we all deal with. 

It's a shame that intellectuals are so keen to criticize filmmakers, cartoonists, and writers, and rarely ever insist that these easily-offended groups lighten up already.  


James R said...

While I'm not a free speech absolutist (in fact I'd say I was not an absolutist about anything if that wasn't being an absolutist),here I completely agree. "100 lashes for anyone who doesn't die laughing" is funny, and who has a better sense of humor than a sufi?

Ted said...

Interesting choice to use alcohol here. Hopefully nobody is offended.

Maybe I am asking for trouble here, but your point reminds me of the age-old argument in defending the male rapist - point to the woman, talk about the way she was dressed and that really she was asking for it, etc etc - basically blame the victim. Interesting how that pervades so much in our societies.

james said...

Yeah, I'm not sure why this thinking is so common. Perhaps people don't like admitting uncomfortable truths. I think it stems from a human need to control scary, rare events.

The thinking is something like this: If women didn't flirt or dress the way they did, men wouldn't be monsters. If we just didn't offend other cultures, they wouldn't fly planes into our buildings.

When you think like this, the world is a less scary place, because every effect has a clear cause. Every victim has a moral failing that invited doom. And so long as you stay pure, you won't endure the same fate.

james said...

Also, Ted and Jim, you guys made two better jokes in your comments than Trudeau made in that entire piece.