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.

unnamed

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?

Charlie1

 

Will you spread your message like this?

Charlie2

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?

Charlie3

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?

Charlie4

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.

double-standard 2

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.

charliehebdomuhammedcartoonssept_small

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.

Advertisements

4 Reasons Political Season Needs To Be Over, and Now

For the last few weeks, whenever I look on Facebook, scan the trending topics on Twitter, scroll through the TV, read the news aggregate, or just have any communication with other human beings whatsoever, I find myself pulling at my hair and resisting the temptation to chug whisky until I black out, sprawled on the ground with my legs spread and my cooter in the air. Like that one time I smuggled a fifth into the Yo Gabba Gabba concert. The urge to embark in my own personal debauchery is especially bad right now on account of political season.

As I see it, there are four very compelling reasons why political season needs to be over, and now.

#1 The political memes have gotten old

The political memes have all gotten old at this point. There were a few that were pretty catchy at first. Obama drinking in an Irish pub with various captions. Mitt Romney laughing with Big Bird’s bird shit all over his head. But around the 294,532,197th meme depicting the same fucking message, the memes got old. Really, really old.

As I said to someone recently about memes in general: there is nothing wrong with being clever and making people think through the humor of an Internet meme. There is, however, something wrong with the same thing being done over and over and over and over and over again until it has lost all its meaning and become nothing but a cliche.

#2 The hype over single issues has become a little frightening

I think the Sesame Street-Big Bird thing is what really killed it for me. Within minutes of that stupid comment Romney made about shutting down Sesame Street and PBS, everyone jumped on the bandwagon. The memes started. The ads started. The Save Big Bird Twitter accounts began and all of a sudden the Huffington Post was passing up publishing me in favor of Big Bird pictures yet again.

These elections seem to move from issue to issue in terms of popularity and public awareness, now, and I see so many people change their allegiance accordingly. It scares the shit out of me to see how many people I know that don’t sum up all the issues anymore, but rather make impulsive decisions based on what is in the news right now. Romney is anti-abortion, I’ll vote for Obama! Obama didn’t create as many jobs as we wanted, I’ll vote for Romney! Romney wants to kill off Big Bird, I’ll vote for Obama! Obama wants to crack down on gun control, I’ll vote for Romney!

Voting for the issues is definitely the right way to vote. Voting for the issues in the limelight right now (rather than all of them, together as a well-thought out whole) is not.

#3 All the things neither candidate will do a goddamned thing about being shoved down our fucking throats to try and make us angry enough to vote

Democrat or Republican, neither candidate is going to be able to snap their fingers and undo the damage of all the years of misappropriation and poor leadership this country had. Obama or Romney, gas companies will still get kick backs, health insurance companies will still be pulling their usual bullshit, this country will still be unrelentingly divided. This is the beauty of living in a country that is both staunchly capitalistic and stuck with just two parties for us to choose from come election time.

Some things will not change for a long time, no matter who is elected. It’s the reality of running a country.

So it makes me feel like shipping myself off to the planet Neptune for the rest of my life every time I hear about things that neither Democrats nor Republicans will ever be able to change instantly. The other day I saw a picture on Facebook about how much gas prices cost and how much Exxon got away with not paying in taxes last year. This did nothing but upset me. It doesn’t make my vote sway either way because no matter how many candidates have promised to eliminate corporate welfare for oil companies, none have been successful in doing so. It didn’t compel me to vote for change, in fact in sort of compelled me to sit at home on voting day eating donuts and wallowing in the depression that comes with getting the gas card bill every month.

#4 Campaign signs junking up my town

Is it just me, or are campaign signs getting uglier and uglier these days? Whatever happened to the old red-white-and-blue act? The traditional font and a simple logo? Now I’m being blinded with neon orange and pink. Candidates want to stand out from the crowd, so they use purple and photographs of themselves.

I’m going to tell you all this right now: I will never vote for some dumb motherfucker that uses Chalkboard for their font on their campaign sign, which I saw the other day while driving to the grocery store.

It could just be that I live in a place where local politics are a complete and utter joke in the grand scheme of things. Or it could be that politicians are appealing more to the common people than just the elitists that used to be the only voters. In any event, it’s fucking ugly and doing nothing but junking up my town.

I am so ready for political season to be over with. I really, really am. I am sure you all are too, or maybe your only reason is that you are tired of hearing me bitch about it. Whatever the case may be, I would love for us all to be magically transported to the second week in November. Then we’ll all know what the fate of our country is. We’ll all be ready to return to our traditionally apathetic selves until the next campaign season comes along. And we’ll have a few years to seal the wounds our previous political diatribes may have caused in our interpersonal relationships. That last one is something I know I’m really looking forward to.

I’m tempted to ask who you are all voting for. But then again I don’t want a debate on my page to erupt. I’m also tempted to suggest we all grab a fifth of whisky and go to the polls wasted, then we can all write me in – sprawled out on the floor with my cooter hanging out, and all. As compared to the other candidates, my stance is pretty clear: abortions for some, miniature American flags for others. And fuck yeah, ‘merica!