Tasteless but genius – Charlie Hebdo

Who wants to be Charlie now? A question many ask themselves on account of the latest edition of Charlie Hebdo – where Alan Kurdi, the refugee boy washed ashore on a beach in Turkey, has become a sex offender.

This is, more or less, how news articles begin – and the waves of indignation rise high.

Leader writer Erik Helmerson of Dagens Nyheter (Sweden’s biggest newspaper) tweets: “I have often defended C Hebdo. The new drawing is utterly disgusting. Do I want to prohibit its publication? Would understand if it leads to prosecution anyway”.

The award winning journalist Glenn Greenwald retweets a picture where the body of young Alan Kurdi is impaled by a pencil that reads “Charlie Hebdo”.

My facebook feed, once saturated with ‪#‎JeSuisCharlie‬, is now filled with collective wrath.

“I am so terribly aggravated by the cartoon”, writes J, “the editorial staff at Charlie Hebdo just can’t keep themselves from using a deceased child, a child who faced a terrible death…”. J concludes that “the hell I am Charlie Hebdo, as much as I support freedom of expression, I think the paper is a piece of shit”. One person writes that it is “grotesque”, another that it is “racist crap”. S takes it further by saying “I take back all I’ve said about how wrong it was to shoot the Charlie Hebdo staff – next time make sure no one survives…”.

As many others, I read the condemnations of the cartoon before seeing it. I barely dare to look at it. But I open the link, and voilà! There he is, the fictional adult Alan Kurdi, drawn with monkey-like features, running at full speed with his hands in the air, reaching for the appetizing butts of terrified German women. “What would have become of little Alan had he reached adult age?” An ass groper”.

Provocative. Yet, the feeling of indignation is absent, for it is evidently not the poor boy they make fun of, but of all those who now point to refugee boys as a threat to native women. The cartoon mocks the racists with a pastiche of their own propaganda. Its aesthetics are ridiculous, as the opinion that Europeans could not share fundamental values with people from the Middle East. It is as vulgar as Donald Trump, who uses the sexual assaults in Cologne as an argument to ban muslims from entering the US. And is it not also a criticism of Media who only six months ago exploited Alan Kurdi as a symbol for the refugee tragedy – but suddenly prefer the symbolic value of the Cologne events?

By combining the two diametrically opposed stereotypes into one, Charlie Hebdo effectively points to the 180 degree shift that has occurred in the European Media landscape.

It is not tasteful, but brilliant.

Indeed, it is a symptom of fanaticism, when a message is equated with its form, and satire evoke such emotion that it cannot be understood without an instruction book. In the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, some have pointed to the particularity of French satire tradition. And the criticism against the cartoon has been less heated in French Media. Perhaps for cultural reasons; perhaps also because the French have bad experience of extremists who rage against cartoons.

In Sweden some have joined in the global sensitivity against journalism that ‘may offend’- a culture of censorship which unites fundamentalists, anti-racists and anglo-saxon liberals. The moral police is ever watching. But the indignation says as much of the observer as of its object, the cartoon – sometimes more.

Alice Wadsröm, master candidate in International Human Rights Law

Article was published by Göteborgs-Posten on 24 January 2016 http://www.gp.se/nyheter/debatt/1.2965804-smaklost-men-genialt-av-charlie-hebdo

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