Charlie Hebdo and the Comic Tradition

CHARLIE HEBDO AND THE COMIC TRADITION

I’ve read and watched an awful lot of news analysis of Charlie Hebdo, but rarely do pundits mention some of the salient facts about what Charlie Hebdo actually does and about the tradition of satire:

1) Charlie Hebdo mocks all three Abrahamic religions, not just Islam, and it does so offensively with no special favorites, but Jews and Christians do not attack and demonize Charlie Hebdo;

2) The tradition of satire and caricatures or religion in France is very old going, back to at least the French Revolution, and is tied to the deep distrust of religious institutions (the Catholic Church primarily) that was closely linked to the royal dictatorship that crushed economic, social, and political freedoms in France;

3) Charlie Hebdo does not only mock religion; it mocks other institutions and prominent public figures;

4) Charlie Hebdo is a part of a tradition of offensive satire that goes back to ancient Greek comedy. It includes writers such as Aristophanes whom many profess to love (mainly because they don’t understand, or care about, the ancient references). However, if Aristophanes were alive today, he would probably engender hatred among the people he would gleefully pillory and mock.

5) Commentators are shocked by all the sexual references in Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons. However, ancient comedy (and drama), which is the literary predecessor of Charlie Hebdo, was associated with phallus processions, accompanied by obscenities and verbal abuse.

So what some consider juvenile, stupid, and offensive in Charlie Hebdo has roots in literature and dramatic traditions that we profess to admire and call “classic.” We in the U.S. live in a culture that is still relatively Puritanical in its approach to public sexuality, and that is coming out in the U.S. media coverage.

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