Freedom & Liberty,  Freedom of Expression,  Islamism

Punching up, punching down

Re Charlie Hebdo:-

“The point of satire is to attack the powerful, to expose their hypocrisy and absurdity, and of course to be funny. If satire is directed downwards it is not satire, it’s bullying.”

So doubly wrong there Tim Sanders at the Socialist Review. (H/T Tendance Coatesy – do read his whole piece)

Two elementary objections:-

1. Mohammad and Islam are powerful to a gruesome degree in some places;
2. It’s not the point of satire to attack the powerful. The point of satire is to ridicule absurdities. It’s not just the powerful that are absurd.

Tim Sanders belongs to some left wing groupuscule. I suppose he’d admit that left wing groupuscules are (sadly) not powerful. They had the piss gloriously taken out of them in The Life of Brian with the The People’s Front of Judaea vs the Judaean People’s Front.

Here’s a video clip to refute his argument:-

Link – won’t embed

1. It’s funny – one of the funniest scenes in one of the funniest films
2. It attacks the powerless – who happen to be absurd in this instance. In fact their powerlessness is part of their being ridiculous.

However word seems to be getting about that satire MUST attack the powerful otherwise it isn’t really satire – punching up against punching down. Will Self said something incoherent about this on Channel 4 (both he and Martin Rowson are purgative – see them fisked here.)

“You always have to ask with something that purports to be satire, who is it attacking? Are they people in a position of power? And if it’s attacking people in a position of power, is it giving comfort to people who are powerless and who are assaulted in some sense by those powerful people? This is not the dynamic with Islamist terrorists, they are not in power in our society, and it is not comforting the people who look at these cartoons whether in Charlie Hebdo or in newspapers here, they don’t feel better about themselves or about life to see Islamist terrorists mocked or the beliefs of Muslims in general mocked – why does it make anybody feel better?”

Islamists do have power within our society. In that interview the cartoonist Rowson said he wouldn’t draw Mohammad in case staff at newspapers got killed, i.e. he obeys the assassins’ veto.  Pissing off Islamists and their followers seems as morally imperative as pissing off David Cameron and his – except that David Cameron won’t execute you out of hand.

When Rageboy was in one of his fits about a crappy film, those fits which would be funny if they weren’t sinister, it made me feel better to knock this cartoon up.  Caption:- When Film Critics Revolt

Filmcritics

Self teaches contemporary thought at Brunel University but his notions of satire seemed to have stopped at Spitting Image. One thing to notice about modern culture, as I thought last night when watching Charlie Brooker’s Screen Wipes, which twists the tail of the ordinary glazed-eyed citizen as well as world leaders, is how it is flooded with satire, with piss-taking, with smart-arsery, with Reddit, and Cracked and Weird Al Yankovic. It’s the modern idiom. Selfie, with his natural tone of sneering contempt and his ultra-punnable surname, is evidently the fish who doesn’t know it’s water he’s swimming in as he hasn’t noticed that early twenty first culture in the anglophone world is satirical to the point of misanthropy, which makes our politicians despised to an unhealthy degree, because, they, poor buggers, have to talk in the language of hope and belief, and it’s as if they’re speaking Victorian Uplift, while we their voters speak Modern Cynic.

However Self may have been doing a piece of satire of his own – perhaps a subtle reference to the English academic in David Lodge’s Changing Places (a satire against the not very powerful) who boasts he’s never read Hamlet.

Satire can be cruel, or it can be gentle. Goodness Gracious Me was rather gentle about its crass whites, its social climbers the Coopers and the bloke who says Indian about every invention (who should be resurrected as a Muslim saying, “It’s in the Qu’ran” about genetics, embryology and thermodynamics.)

Jonathan Swift punched up at politicians in Lilliput and Brobdignag, and scientists in Laputa, but come the fourth voyage he was punching downwards at grovelling humankind. The Simpsons punches down at America’s blue-collar class. Shameless punched down at the British underclass. The Royle Family punched down at the British working class and Rab C Nesbit punched down at the Scottish schemey.

Mo Dawah, one of the best things on Twitter, aims his darts at the target of the “community leader” – who has a helluva lot more power than their victims though less power than the Government.

We must not be afraid to address the problems within our community, by introspecting fearlessly on how it is everyone else’s fault.

We have to fight the hegemony of hetero-normative racist patriarchy that tries to blame the perpetrators who are victims too #Rotherham (Now that one is savage.)

Sick of double standards of liberal fascists imposing freedom to say what I want on me, whilst denying my right to impose censorship on them.

Meanwhile the Charlie Hebdo disapprovers reach for their Holocaust. What would you think if we made cartoons about Jews in gas chambers hey? Hey?

Well I’d think you were a shit of course, but I already thought that about you.

However, let’s treat this seriously for a second or two and spell out the difference between making fun of a religion with its sacred objects and a staggering, culture-breaking historic event that still has living witnesses. Here are a couple of cartoons featuring women – one semi-mythical (though admirable on the whole).

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The Virgin Mary/Our Lady

Rape-victim

A rape victim

I’m sure you Holocaust cartooners can find something absurd and ridiculous about her plight and will knock up a nifty speech bubble. As for me I never want to google “rape victim” images again.

Actually if I was Charlie Hebdo I’d do a caption like “Her skirt must have been too short” which, to explain to those who are slow on the uptake, would be a satire against rape-victim-blamers. But I haven’t got the heart or stomach.

My satire is constrained by my own boundaries and a shared culture is one where we judge what is outside of enough. We can judge satire as good or bad in all sorts of ways, but not that it only should attack the powerful and that cartoonists laying into a religion should think again, except for the prudential reasons that now are forcing us to mind our manners or else.

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