I join with those who call for grief at the deaths of twelve human beings -- but I’m not down with mourning the work that Charlie Hebdo was doing or standing up and saying “Je Suis Charlie,” like what they did was a holy mission....Chu thinks that if it starts to be unacceptable to criticize Charlie Hebdo's work, we'll be replicating one of the worst aspects of Internet culture:
Paging through translated cartoons from Charlie Hebdo’s past, the comparisons that kept coming to mind were to Mad magazine or pre-David Wong Cracked, but while the sophomoric level of humor fits -- we’re talking single entendres on the level of this crappy joke about the Pope raping choirboys -- none of those publications ever descended to quite the same depths as, say, making fun of the girls kidnapped by Boko Haram by portraying them as pregnant welfare queens.
The best comparison here for an American audience is, well, Internet stuff. The stuff that ends up in censored form on Tosh.0 -- the kind of videos, images, and text memes you see linked from 4chan or Something Awful.
You see, I’m from the Internet.... I’ve already seen what happens when you get a culture that, rather than asking to what end we defend free speech, valorizes free speech for its own sake and thus perversely values speech more the more pointlessly offensive it is -- because only then can you prove how devoted you are to freedom by defending it.I understand the point he's making, and I think he's right to criticize some of Charlie Hebdo's work. But I don't see our cultural future as one in which critics of this sort of work are intimidated into silence -- Chu is far from the only defender of Charlie Hebdo's right to publish who's critiqued the nature of the magazine's work.
When the only thing you’re reverent of is irreverence, when the only thing you hold sacred is the idea that nothing is sacred, well, you eventually get chan culture, you get one long continuous blast of pure offensiveness and taboo-breaking for taboo-breaking’s sake until all taboos are broken and there’s nothing left to say. You get people who shout racial slurs in unbroken succession all day and think they’ve accomplished something in the name of “free speech” by doing so.
I'd say that "chan culture" -- the culture at 4chan and similar sites, where unidentifiable intimidators lurk in the shadows and threaten opponents -- bears much more of a resemblance to the culture that produced the Kouachi brothers. We've seen the way critics (especially female critics) of game culture were intimidated and threatened in Gamergate. And while Gamergate didn't escalate past threats of serious violence (as if those weren't bad enough), law year we saw Elliot Rodger kill six people and injure thirteen after devoting a considering portion of his life to online expressions of misogyny -- a spree reminiscent of the one perpetrated by George Sodini, who in 2009 killed three and injured ten in Pennsylvania after similarly devoting much of his free time to railing against women for their unwillingness to have sex with him. The subculture that threatened Charlie Hebdo resembles the online culture that threatens women. In both cases, there's a sense that it's impossible to curb the intimidators. In both cases, the intimidators succeed in frightening their opponents into silence.
Charlie Hebdo hasn't silenced anyone yet, or tried to. I don't see that as Charlie's goal. I acknowledge that its work may give aid and comfort to thuggish anti-Muslim intimidators. But we're not at the point where racially questionable work in Charlie Hebdo is beyond criticism, and I don't think we're heading there.