The Pen Is Not Mightier Than the Sword If It Is Silenced Forever. (On Charlie Hebdo.)

Unless you live under a rock, or the only news you read yesterday was about how many models Leonardo di Caprio left a recent party with (the answer to that is 20…he left with 20 models), you heard about the coldblooded massacre at the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris yesterday.

For those even further under a rock, or who have been living on the planet Mars for the past five or so years, Charlie Hebdo is a satirical newspaper that routinely prints comics that are, for lack of a better term, brazen. Other terms that have been used to describe the paper have been: offensive, over the top, outspoken. While not exclusively religious satire, a fair amount of its sentiments are focused on religion. Most recently, Islam.

Back in 2011, the old headquarters of Charlie Hebdo were attacked by fire-bomb and website hack, presumably in response to their prior special edition of the paper which named the Prophet Mohammed as “editor-in-chief” of the paper, with a cover depicting Mohammed. If you know only one thing about Islam, it’s this: caricaturing their Holy Prophet is considered passe. Actually, it’s not even passe (that would imply it was at one time OK to do) – it has never been accepted, and in fact is considered to be of the utmost insult to the core tenants of the religion.

Muslim leaders and lay people from around the world had two responses to the fire-bombing: (a) we do take offense to the Charlie Hebdo caricatures, (b) we don’t condone violence in any form.

No religion really has been spared, though – several years back the Pope was drawn on the cover holding a condom, which is when I (a cradle Catholic who never goes to church out of frustration with the Catholic church) even started to question just what is going on with this paper.

When you get down to it, the artists and editors at Charlie Hebdo are – yes – expressing their political and religious sentiments, and moreover describing for the world where their own self-professed atheism lies. Beyond that, they claim to be calling out and setting the stage of shame for the extremest of extremists within religious groups.

Now that we’ve caught up on our history, we can get down to the aftermath of this terrible, ideologically-charged, coldblooded murder yesterday. For the pen is not mightier than the sword if it is silenced forever.

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In the immediate aftermath, candlelight vigils with people holding pens up in solidarity, as well as signs that said Je suis Charlie, were held in support of the 12 individuals tragically slain.

And this is when I started to balk at how people are handling this. On one hand, the murder was an act of terrorism, with no terrorist or religious group taking the credit. On the other hand, it is the terminal silencing of 12 individuals. 12 individuals who I would not say were “asking for it” – I would never say that; but it is undeniable that they were routinely fanning the flames with not only fans, but buckets of gasoline.

The statement Je suis Charlie – I am Charlie – implies that we all are those working at the headquarters of Charlie Hebdo. Fan the flames with buckets of gasoline. We all – artists, writers, cartoonists, editors – are just trying to get our message out there in the most effective way we know how. In a way that will appeal to people and make our point, and leave a lasting impression on the world.

I. Am. Charlie.

So will you be publishing this on your blog, or your magazine; your newspaper, or on the corner space you have of your community group newsletter, next week?

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Will you spread your message like this?

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When people criticize you, threaten you, entreat you, implore you, or even sit down with you  calmly – your most trusted advisors and best of friends – and have a conversation about whether or not you are effectively getting your political and religious ideas out there, would you still print this?

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Or when readership is dwindling and the funds are running dry, as was the case with Charlie Hebdo, would you just continue to print again and again these types of images, rather than doing a little bit of personal reflection and market evaluation, to see what will get you out there, rather than silenced?

And more importantly than that: do you really believe this is the best way to express your beliefs?

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The Charlie Hebdos of the world are not what you will ever get here in in the United States. The Wall Street Journal and the New Yorker will never run anything quite like the satires of Charlie Hebdo, for many reasons above all which includes wanting to get the message out there without losing readership.

Does that make the artists and cartoonists and editors at those other papers – not even just American, but all around the world – censored and less real in their statements, because they don’t run caricatures of the Pope giving Mohammed a blow job?

With dwindling circulation and constant pleas for fundraising coming from actual Hebdo headquarters, combined with criticism from virtually every aspect of society – even staunch atheist groups – you have to wonder just how effective Charlie Hebdo’s message was. I’m not talking about whether or not it was right, everyone is entitled to an opinion. I’m talking about how it was said.

Some have even gone as far as to call out the paper for its flagrant hypocrisy, as if the term “freedom of speech” can be used conveniently, even when describing a situation that was previously considered unacceptable – even for an opinion.

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Readership and funding and circulation and whether or not you would actually publish any of this stuff is not the point. Because you are not Charlie, just as I am not Charlie. And in reality, none of us can ever be Charlie Hebdo or the Wall Street Journal or Jim’s Neighborhood Circular if our pens are silenced, for whatever reason.

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More baffling is that people seem to have lost the meaning of “the pen is mightier than the sword.” Suddenly cartoons, again in solidarity, are being published like the one above: of the pen stopping the gun. As if the pen can literally stop violence – stop the madness, stomp out the crimes, and outlive the violent actions that tried to take it down.

That’s not what it means at all.

To say that the pen is mightier than the sword is to say that written words and other passive, expressive art forms are more effective in stating a message than the use of direct violence or malicious attacks. It doesn’t stop violence. It’s just a better way of making your point (presumably because people are left to continue making it, rather than all dead and gone).

I won’t argue that the Charlie Hebdo drawings are on par with coldblooded murder. But I would say that they are more than merely expressive works of art. I might go as far as to say they are malicious, and I would certainly say they are not passive.

So where does that leave us?

Well, it leaves us with 12 people dead. Gone. Their pens broken and silenced, forever.

It leaves us reminded that we live in a terrible world in which killers don’t even care about what they are fighting against, or who they are killing; just how many they can take off before getting caught. Coldblooded, psychotic murdering done just for the sake of murdering.

It has left us confused. Bewildered. Unsure of anything.

We are left with soundbites and snapshots to remember the victims. (“I would rather die on my feet than live on my knees” – a religious sentiment from the slain editor in chief, that has now gone viral and will be applied to every out-of-context situation imaginable.)

There are statistics we have still. Like the Charlie Hebdo circulation: roughly 50,000. Versus the other leading French satire paper, Le Canard Enchaîné: 500,000.

Versus the publicity of this coldblooded murder: millions.

And we are left with the reminder that sometimes it isn’t about what you say, but how you say it.

The pen is not mightier than the sword if it is silenced forever. It is a travesty that those 12 pens, and the countless other pens in recent and ancient history, have been silenced. May they rest in peace, and may their deaths be not in vain but rather in a reminder that expression of your beliefs is effective only if it is heard.

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Contemporary Children’s Programming: WTF?!

Um, so can I just say what most parents should be saying? Caillou is a little fucking pansy, and I want to stab the shit out of Dino Dan every time he opens his stupid, Canadian mouth.

What in the fuck happened to children’s programming in the last ten or fifteen years, for children under the age of around 8 – 10 that is? When I was growing up, TV was awesome. It was Rainbow Bright, Glow Worms, Popples. It was My Little Ponies and the Smurfs. Sure I watched all the girl’s shows, but there were other ones that boys watched too – like Tom and Jerry, Mickie Mouse, and Looney Toons.

Now, it’s as if contemporary children’s programming is so overly concerned about hurting sensitive feewy-weewings, and being politically correct; as well as not allowing any illusion to violence whatsoever on the TV (because God forbid we have to take responsibility for teaching our children not to be violent, rather than depending on the TV to do it…).

I now have a Contemporary Children’s Programming Shit List, and while I’m sure there are some moms out there changing their 10 year old son’s diapers that think Caillou is just the bees knees, I’m sure the majority of you really agree with me.

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Caillou is this little, bitchy, bald ass four year old cartoon character, whose every-other-word out of his mouth is “mommy.” I always imagine this show is written by a woman who still breastfeeds her fifteen year old son because it is a tale in pansy, momma’s boy behavior. Ultimately, Caillou would be an awesome show that teaches kids about every day things, if only Caillou and his little sister Rosie weren’t being helicoptered to death.

Peppa Pig

Peppa Pig is (I believe) on the preschool channel – Noggin or Nick Jr. or whatever the hell it’s called now. It started as a short interlude between regular programming, but for some ungodly reason they decided to give it its own thirty minute time slot. Peppa Pig would be more tolerable if only those piggish mother fuckers didn’t snort and belch every couple seconds through the entire show. I get the idea of trying to make it “authentic,” but how authentic can a cartoon about anthropomorphic talking pigs be anyway? If they want it to be authentic, why not go all the way and have the pigs slosh around in their own shit and mud, laying around eating hay all day; rather than what the show really does, which is have these snorting, belching pigs out taking boating trips on their yachts and shit. Pigs on yachts – real values there.

Dino Dan

When Dino Dan comes on the television, I want to get ice picks and stab at my ears until I permanently damage my hearing so that I don’t have to ever hear stupid Dan and his unhealthy obsession with dinosaurs again. And what’s worse is that all the adults in the show enable Dan and his obsession – no matter what situation they are in, what they are doing, what they are learning in school, somehow Dan is always allowed to relate it to dinosaurs and completely derail what is going on into his weird imaginative love of the extinct beasts. Dino Dan teaches kids that it’s okay to have an unhealthy obsession that renders you entirely nonfunctional if not talking about that very obsession. Once I Googled “where’s Dino Dan’s dad” because he never appears on the show; and I found one discussion forum where the first poster said “who knows, probably abandoned Dan and his mom because he was too fucking annoyed by Dan and his stupid dinosaur journal.”

Good Luck Charlie

Yeah, sure – Charlie’s cute, Bridget Mendler is a great actor, and the slapstick comedy is a little more tolerable than the aforementioned shows. But has anyone actually noticed that Charlie has minimal roll in the show at all, not to mention this most recent stunt of the parents having another “accidental” pregnancy? Um, hi! Have we never heard of birth control, Disney channel? What does it say to a generation of little kids, when the world population is completely out of control and there are millions of orphaned children in need of loving homes, that the lovable sitcom Duncan family is on their way to having five kids? That’s +3 population growth – a concept I don’t expect most lovers of this show to understand, but is nonetheless an horrible example.

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The only thing cool about this Dora the Explorer knock off is that we all learn fragments of Mandarin Chinese while watching it. But it’s like the creators of the show sat down and said “okay, we want her to be just like Dora only Chinese, and her voice needs to be even more goddamned annoying than Dora’s, Boots’, and Tiko’s all were combined. In fact, imagine Dora, Boots, Tiko, and the Grumpy Old Troll all screaming at the top of their lungs and let’s make it even more fucking loud and annoying than that. And pointless, too. We know it’ll be hard to make it more pointless than a fucking singing backpack and a map that repeats the same stupid route to rainbow bridge over and over and over again, but we think we can do it with this little annoying Chinese chick.”

I’m sure there’s more. I can actually think of a few more, like Wow Wow Wubbzy (by the way, is Wubbzy a girl or a boy? or a transgender rounded cube that talks and has arms?) But these are really the cream of the crop in terms of annoying and stupid contemporary children’s programming. It’s sad that this is what it has been reduced to. A staple of childhood is watching your Saturday cartoons, or finishing your homework in time to watch that show you love more than the toy in the Cheerio’s box. I feel like mainstream media, bad parenting, and helicoptering of children has destroyed that; has made it this stupid, androgynous whiny and pointless shit that it’s become.