On Satire and Charlie Hebdo

Among my many labels, I’d like to see myself as an aspiring satirist. Whether under my name or a nom de guerre, i’ve been publishing my satirical works in the past 6 years. Along with a few friends, we created a satirical TV program thas was aired on national television for 1,5 years. Last year i hosted a workshop in an international writing festival on crafting social critics through satire. This is the form of expression that i’m really fond of.

The shooting at Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical magazine yesterday caught me in shock and horror. Nothing justifies a murder, let alone this kind of carnage. When the works of pens are retaliated by the rounds of Kalashnikovs, there’s only one outcome.

The responses to this brutal savagery have been mixed, depends on the demographics. Most people, regardless of the background, condemn the slaughter and hold the act of taking lives in contempt. But while some see the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists and journalists as martyrs of the free world, some others say that what happened to them was not unprecedented because they have been playing with fire all these times.

This debate on whether the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists had it coming sparks the old questions of the boundaries of comedy and satire. Is there a limit to the art of satire? Is there any topic that the satirical artists should keep away from? If there’s a boundary and the satirist goes through it anyway, would the repercussions be justified?

No, i dont think there should be boundaries on comedy and satire. By its basic nature, satire is a medium of social critics. I dont believe there’s anything in this world that is immune to critics. The world has seen centuries of power and authority without the moral obligation to answer the critics and it didnt turn out very well.

Having said that, i believe that the only thing that regulates the creativity and aspiration of a satirist is own conscience and moral values. I, for instance, will not find myself within a touching distance with what the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists did. Not that i consider religions as a taboo and critic-proof - i poke fun at religions a lot, especially my own because Christians are just as funny as the next believers-, but it’s just not the way i would like to do it.

Back when i was working on that TV show, we threw jibes at a lot ot people. We poked fun at the president, the ministers, members of the House. Anybody in power was an easy target. Sometimes we caught ourselves in trouble. We were threatened with lawsuits that, fortunately, never got materialised. We got certain public officers who refused to come to our show. We’re blacklisted by some institutions. That’s the price we had to pay for channeling the critics through this medium.

But we’ve never put religious topics on our crosshair. Not even once. Did it glance through our minds? Yes. Matter of fact, always. But we’ve never done it. Did we think religions shouldn’t be subject of satire? No. But our consideration was, broadcasting rules aside, if we satirised religious issues, would our audience receive and it in the way we wanted them to? Would our satire work to highlight the issue that we wished to address? Or would it distract the focus away from what we intended to do, and at the end of the day, instead of solving an old problem, we ended up creating a new one?

Our moral values and conscience suggested us to stay away. For a greater good.

Yesterday was not the first time i heard of Charlie Hebdo, even though unlike its British counterpart, Private Eye, i’m not a frequent reader. I can’t say i’m a fan of their cartoons. Most of them came in a poor taste that makes them, at the very least, cringe-worthy. They still went with it anyway because there’s no law that prohibited them to do so, and their moral - their only regulators - encouraged them to proceed.

It’s problematic for me say that i’m a supporter of Charlie Hebdo way of lampooning, but i know that i’m a proponent for freedom and liberty of speech. No killing is justified.

One thing for sure is satirists know that we always dance on thin ice and our manouevre can break the surface anytime.