mercredi 14 janvier 2015


These past few days, I’ve come to see many articles (mainly in English) stating Charlie Hebdo magazine was racist, homophobic and sexist. As evidence, selected cartoons from the magazine were taken out of context and used wrongly... As they seems to state the exact contrary of what their authors originally meant.

These articles are slanderous, and here I will try to disassemble them.

First of all, it is important to understand this magazine’s spirit, birthed by a very traditional, French type of satire that may be tricky to understand by non-French minds. It’s the heritage of 19th century’s caricaturists such as Honoré Daumier, or of the satirical and anarchist magazine from the early 20th century, l’Assiette au beurre.
Born in the late 1960’s, Charlie Hebdo was linked to a monthly satirical magazine, with a very dark, biting and provocative humor, with no respect whatsoever to any political wings, or establishment of any kind: Hara Kiri, which was subjected to censorship many times, and even banned by the then-government.
Both magazines were created by cartoonists close to the left wing ( anarchists, communists, environmentalists). Their favourite targets are the army, religions, politicians, employers, the far-right and fascism. This double identity linking political views and art was important. In the pages, you’ll find in the mean time cartoons, texts and news coverage defending what they fought for (ecology, feminism, anti-clericalism, anti-militarism...), while others would tackl with a ferocious humour topical politics, lampooning absolutely everything: the leaders and the lead, the criminals and their victims, and even their families. Their motto would have been «nothing is sacred!» Everything, everyone is potential laughingstock, as a means to transcend topicality, even life itself. Rather than a left-wing magazine, it is in fact a nihilistic magazine, typical of the era it was born in, advocating that absolutely everything is subject to questioning.
Being strongly linked to topical, current events, each cartoon has to be read in its context, its era, intended for its audience, and within its culture - the French tradition of satire. The tone is highly sarcastic, violent, erotic, coarse, even surrealist at time.

To illustrate, I’d like to decipher three pictures that I have seen used as «proof» by those accusing the magazine.
In the first one, a black woman is represented as a monkey. Utmost racism, you may say. Except that this cartoon isn't making fun of that woman. In fact, it’s referring to the cover of an extreme right-wing French magazine called «Minute». In French, there’s a expression meaning «full of energy»: avoir la banane (to have a banana). «Minute» titled their cover «Taubira [French attorney general] has the banana», therefore implying Christine Taubira, as a black woman, is a monkey. Sickening racist metaphor. The text on Charlie Hebdo’s picture, «Rassemblement bleu raciste» («blue racist rally»), parodies the extreme right wing catchword «Rassemblement bleu marine » («Marine blue rally», from the name of its leader, Marine Le Pen). Far from being a racist cartoon, it in fact denounces the racism of Minute and Front National.
In the second cartoon, «Bonne année, bonne quenelle» («Happy new year, happy quenelle»), a black man has a phallic object up the arse. This character’s identity is important. It’s Dieudonné, a french stand-up comedian, and extreme right wing politician famous for his countless anti-semitic provocations. He popularized a gathering gesture with his fan, calling it the quenelle*, halfway between the Nazi salute and the «bras d’honneur» (coarse gesture meaning «Fuck you»). So, the cartoonist turns the gesture back to its initiator, to fuck him as well, and as such... denounces him.
*[Initially, quenelle is a French dish, a small seasoned ball of pounded fish or meat... Looking quite like the phallic object coming out of his arse.]
In the third picture, two women, ecstatic - obviously two Lesbians – look adoringly at a crucifix soiled with vaginal secretions. Looks like a homophobic cartoon, doesn’t it? It actually portrays Frigide Barjot and Christine Boutin, the two leaders of the reactionary movement «la manif pour tous», which is dominated by Christian fundamentalists opposed to homosexual marriage rights. The title «2 mamans, 1 sextoy?» («2 moms, 1 sextoy») is also a parody of their slogan «1 papa, 1 maman» («1 mom, 1 dad»). Their movement predicts that allowing homosexual union will lead to the destruction of the Christian Western civilization. By portraying these two women as what they despise, two Lesbians, furthermore obsessed with an improvised dildo (the crucifix, a sacred object, becomes here a mere, trivial object). The cartoonist Coco here pictures their true nature: two irrationally obsessed people, actually obsessed not by sex lust of course, but by an absurd and anachronistic belief in a moral apocalypse. The target isn't the LGBT community, but its opposition.

We may consider those cartoons to be of bad taste, to be vulgar. We may not find them funny. But to accuse them of being racist, homophobic or sexist is nonsense, pure misinformation.
It’s perfectly legitimate to find these cartoonists’ attacks against one or another group, person, establishment, movement shocking. But from the moment we forbid to make humour about someone or something, humour is dead. Humour (particularly Charlie Hebdo variety thereof) is ferocious, and spares no one. It’s in its nature.

Inside the extreme left in France, there is no consensus about Charlie Hebdo. Part of it accuses the magazine of being carefree, irresponsible, of mocking Islam at inconvenient moments, as a xenophobic and Islamophobic wave hits the country, with symptoms such as the growth in popularity of the extreme right wing Front National, the trivialization of racist speech in politics, and also a few laws supposedly for secularism, when in fact they target specifically the Muslim community. To what the authors answer there’s no humour without the right for it to be... carefree. Here lie the magazine’s limits, its vulnerability (or strength), standing between humour and militancy, stances against xenophobia, and extreme-right, but also fierce defenders of secularism, and raging humour that takes any aspects of life, any member of the national community as a target.

But in no way can it be said that Charlie Hebdo is racist. It is slander.

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