Sunday, January 11, 2015


At the Daily Beast, Arthur Chu tells us that he mourns the dead at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, but he's not a fan of their work:
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....

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.
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:
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.

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 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.

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.


Ken_L said...

I would say we have more to worry about from people who want to suppress free speech by intimidation - and I don't mean Islamic extremists. Many conservatives try to shut down alternative points of view. Comment on Breitbart or Daily Caller or any one of dozens of other similar sites and you will cop a barrage of personal abuse and liberal hate speech. Sites like NRO and Gateway Pundit go even further, and block the ISPs of people who have the temerity to disagree with the hive mind. They are the internet equivalent of the 1930s political gangs which used to break up opposing parties' rallies with offensive interjections that led to scuffles and chaos.

I don't think this is a significant problem either, but we should never underestimate the willingness of so many people to silence viewpoints they don't like. Terrorist activity by Islamic extremists is only going to increase in future, and the response in countries like the USA will not be pretty. Authoritarian measures like banning published 'comfort for the enemy', that seem far-fetched now, might quickly become acceptable.

Anonymous said...

So 40 world leaders gather in Paris to mourn the dead and show solidarity but where was your Noble Peace prize winner? Not only couldn't hebe bothered to go to Paris, he didn't even leave the comfort fo the White House to attend any of the American rallies.

And your Sec of State for (in)Justice was actually in Paris yesterday but couldn't be bothered to show his face. Well, none of the victims were black, I suppose!

Anonymous said...

"Noble" = 'Nobel'.

Joe said...

Chu doesn't know what he's talking about. A French cartoon drawn for French people, translated into English, usually won't be meaningful to Americans, and he face-planted right into it.

The Boko Haram cartoon is a perfect example. The phrase "welfare queen" is meaningless in France. The French love their state support for young mothers. It's the reason they're the only country in Western Europe that's not facing a demographic crisis.

Except for the extreme right, that is. They don't approve of spending money on people with dark skin, and cut it whenever they can.

A translation of that cartoon into American would be more like, "Don't let the Republicans rape us, too!"

Dark Avenger said...

Obama isn't the Chief Morner in charge, duff. With the security arrangements, it's not like Michelle can drop him him off at the airport at a moment's notice. In case you haven't noticed, he has a country to run.

If he had attended, you probably be complaining that he was making all about himself.

As for Eric Holder, maybe he was actually doing some work with his French counterparts about preventing more terrorist attacks instead of issuing sound bites at a press conference.

If I were you duff, I'd be checking for terrorists under your bed every night. If you find one, you can blame it on Obama.

paulocanning said...

How many op-eds in the US or UK have you seen written by people who understand France? Or, y'know, by actual French people?

So much commentary is just ignorant of the context for the cartoons. Charlie is a left-wing magazine. Many of those killed were socialists or communists. [Charb was Front de gauche).

Its prime target was right wing leaders like Le Pen. It has a long history of backing immigrants and minorities.

This - in English - is exactly what should be (but ain't) in The Atlantic or NYT (or Guardian for that matter) >

I am sick of reading about how 'racist' it is

Anonymous said...


Oh you mean he couldn't even be bothered to walk out of the White House and show his face at the Washington rally?

Must have been a golf match!

Ten Bears said...

Why weren't you at the Peace March' duff?

Dark Avenger said...

Duff, I've seen the Secret Service in action, not with a President, but with a Presidential candidate, many years ago. They don't let anyone under their protection just go places, they have to have their people in there first. They have better things to do than rearrange his schedule to assure intellectual louts like you of where he stands in this matter.

I always wonder why some people make a big thing about display or showing concern. I'd rather have a President inside the WH getting things done instead of going out, strutting around, making speeches and looking determined all the time. You know, like his predecessor.

You have Liz II for your supermarket openings and the like, but we do things slightly different here, and some of us don't need a national daddy flying abroad and appearing at rallies instead of doing something useful.

Rule Brittania
Brittania rules the waves.
Britons, never, never, never
Shall be slaves.

Tom Hilton said...

Must have been a golf match!

Longer Mr. Nonsense:
"Obama playing golf would be a huge scandal, because while we can't legally prevent those people, we do expect those people to know their place, which is absolutely not on the golf course."

Fuck off, you racist fucking dipshit.

Anonymous said...

Ah, no, I gather that a WH official informed the Daily Mail that during the afternoon he watched some NFL game.

Yeeeees, quite!

paulocanning said...

1. Why does it always have to be about YOU!?!?! You think any other country is talking like this? Really!@?

That#s not just @DA BTW. Plenty of you are making it all about you. Sheeeeesh ...

2. It was a photo op! >

3. May I patronise you, speaking as a Brit? Learn from the 'old country' :] Look at and try reacting like Brummies did ...

paulocanning said...

This is the best, comprehensive demolition of the 'Charlie is racist' meme - by a Nigerian bisexual atheist >

Dark Avenger said...

Ah, no, I gather that a WH official informed the Daily Mail that during the afternoon he watched some NFL game.

Along with a lot of his fellow Americans as well, that's what we do here on Sunday. Do you think that watching the NFL means he's objectively pro-terrorist, or would you have preferred something more manly, like clearing brush or chopping wood?

Unknown said...

How can Chu, or anyone else, "call for grief"? I'm sad and angry about this, but I never had the honor of meeting these people or reading their publication. They meant nothing to me, in that sense. Grief?