The Charlie Hebdo Cartoons Still Aren’t Funny

“A February 2017 poll of 10 000 people in 10 European countries by Chatham House found on average a majority (55%) were opposed to further Muslim immigration, with opposition especially pronounced in Austria, Poland, Hungary, France and Belgium.” —Wikipedia

“Until recently, it would have been hard to imagine the combination of street violence meeting internet memes. But experts say that the “alt-right” have stormed mainstream consciousness by weaponizing irony, and by using humour and ambiguity as tactics to wrong-foot their opponents.” —The Guardian

Charlie Hebdo echoed the right-wing’s defense of confederate statues when the left? satirical magazine righteousness republished their blasphemous cartoons against Prophet Muhammad. Right now the trial for the terror attacks in response to their tasteless cartoon are under way. Charlie Hebdo’s defense of their unnecessary republication was a boring one and identical to defense of confederate monuments in the US. They contend that their cartoon “should belong to history, and history cannot be rewritten nor erased”. They are branding it as a “survivor’s issue”—taking advantage of not only a tragic terror attack but a scapegoating and ethnic cleansing of Muslims across the world. One cannot help but see parallels to the United States, and an ugly and racist response to Black Lives Matter from many different sources, some left and some right.

The United States and French media both make false equivalencies by narrowing in on “terror” by a force from what Donald Trump would call the “dark shadows” (dark skin). Wouldn’t the satire by a left-wing publication have more punch if a cartoon against the “War on Terror” was published? Surely these figures have more power and are easier to make fun of. But perhaps, and this is dangerous, the game isn’t fun unless the target is weak.

Meanwhile this so- called survivors issue sold 7 million copies, showing that bigotry isn’t out, it’s in. The Muslim world responded, according to CNN: “Protests against the new cover were reported in Pakistan, Jordan, Algeria, Niger, Mali, Somalia, Senegal, and Mauritania.

In Karachi, Pakistan on Friday, one protest turned violent, and a photographer working for the Paris-based news agency was injured by gunfire. In Niger, a number of churches were set on fire and several people were killed. The French embassy in Niamey advised its citizens to be vigilant and avoid going outdoors.”

CNN is typical for corporate media—emphasizing and condemning violence by poor people of color while ignoring normalized, systematic violence against people of color, in police murder and in immigration policy, where an increasing amount of the world, out of work, out of resources, with nowhere to go, is only useful and profitable when detained, in wretched and inhumane conditions. The current race for President in the US is a race to the bottom, the man who separates immigrant families vs. the man who lead with Bill Clinton the domestic separation of black families through mass incarceration. Of course there’s no need to get sentimental about families, linked to property, ownership and other forms of violence being questioned by anti-police protests around the world.

Ultimately political correctness, in all its forms is a road to nowhere. My gripe here is that the cartoon just isn’t funny. While the magazine may want to trot out a sentimental “say their names” campaign of sorts,how is this done with a sense of humor, especially as Donald Trump refuses to say the name of Jacob Blake? There simply is too much seriousness in the persecution complex of all those in power who believe privileges such as hate speech, private property and profit are rights.

The modern world is full of possibilities precisely because it is full of multiplicities. We should not be scared of eradicating a specific hegemony because it will only produce a plurality of beautiful tensions. If we take down a confederate statue, what is the loss? Wasn’t the statue itself not a stand in for history, but a production of it? And wouldn’t the tearing down of such statue just be a continuation of time, neutral in its speech implications and positive in its political ones?

Likewise isn’t the sentimentality around the freedom to be Islamophobic simply just one of the many freedoms in our modern world and therefore a specific campaign defending such a freedom not based in freedom itself (a broad category, which could be replicated with a different joke, another statue, etc.) but rather preoccupied in a rather serious way around defending the specific bigotry.

Sigmund Freud recognized two types of jokes. One was the innocent joke where the joy comes from the joke itself. The other kind of joke is the tendentious joke where joy comes from breaking a rule. Such jokes, according to the exploringyourmind.com website function this way: “It’s very common for tendentious jokes to be directed at a figure of power, an ideology, a belief, a race, and so on. They’re often a “politically correct” way of exposing the truth that wouldn’t otherwise be accepted.”

Thomas Frank and other people who like to make a caricature of “working class” as crude (white cis straight uneducated Christian middle class male, in decline) identity rather than as a material relation miss the humor necessary to break past stagnant stereotypes. The biggest victory of post-modernity has been to play capitalism’s dehumanizing commodification against itself. Such cultural Marxism is in the romantic tradition of Marx, and is just as material as it is cultural.

Contrary to the right wing snowflake tears around cancel culture it is this sort of racism that is not only politically correct, but politically expedient. It is a sort of primal shortcut in the so-called Information Age where the same people who bemoan the lack of nuance in extreme leftists tend to limit their scope of freedom to politically correct racism.

There is nothing innocent, and everything tenacious, about such a step. The extreme left is ready to not only defund the police and military but also to transform the relations of property, labor, borders, the hereto-patriarchy familial relations and colonialism. The extreme left is ready to deliver basic income, universal health care and most urgently a sustainable and egalitarian relationship with the natural world. This is the sort of rule-breaking that is fun. Getting sanctimonious about the right to dump on Islam and people of color when such hate is so normalized seems more fun for those interested in law and order. The extreme left is here for extreme fun, not for run of the mill bigotry.

Nick Pemberton writes and works from Saint Paul, Minnesota. He loves to receive feedback at pemberton.nick@gmail.com 

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