Is it a brave new world since the attack on Charlie Hebdo? The short answer is Yes and No. As the Jan. 11 Paris anti-terrorism rallies made clear, people choose not to live in fear. No, we will not live in fear. That is the universal gut reaction and what inspired such a massive outpouring of expression.
Then you add world leaders getting involved, taking a prominent spot at the rallies, and things get very calculated. Still, it was what it was: a moment. The deadly Jan. 7 terrorist attack on the satirical French newspaper Charlie Hebdo inspired the biggest march in France’s history with at least 3.7 million people participating.
Then you add a multitude of talking heads and assorted pundits and you sift through that for a while. Some comments were fueled by unchecked outrage. Some comments were motivated by an ax to grind. Some comments were made by perhaps the unheroic wishing to be part of something that seemed heroic. And so on down the line. Pretty tiresome but also human.
But have we entered into something new? Yes, in the sense that Charlie Hebdo is now part of the hive mind. For now, for a very long time to come, we will consider and discuss what happened at Charlie Hebdo and its fallout.
There can be no universal consensus, no universal support, for the content in Charlie Hebdo. That is part of its appeal. It’s regular print run of 60,000 has risen to, at last count, 7 million. It is freedom of expression that inspires many of its supporters, many who are totally new readers to the paper. Jump in, feet first, when it comes to freedom of expression, they say. The fact remains that Charlie Hebdo is more than willing to cross a line into questionable and volatile terrain. It is out of any significant frame of reference for many of these new readers. It is only fair, and decent, to stop and think, no matter what the paper’s intentions, who is ultimately being hurt, offended, marginalized, targeted, turned into an Other, for the sake of some alignment with freedom of expression. Things, even seemingly innocent jokes, have ways of taking on lives of their own.
Ultimately, freedom of expression must win out. South Park must exist. Charlie Hebdo must exist. Any paper, any website, any street corner prophet, has a right to expression. But it doesn’t mean that everyone needs to feel obligated to join in and legitimize any and all content. In the spirit of attempting to make sense of events, there is a new site focused on dissecting Charlie Hebdo which may prove helpful. You can find it here. Learning more about Charlie Hebdo is good, in and of itself, whether or not you agree with its content.