Charlie Hebdo: Creative Thinking is not (always) a Pretty Thingon January 12, 2015 at 3:16 pm
Creativity is not necessarily a beautiful thing. It is a process fraught with dead ends, missteps and waste. Sometimes the results are great. Sometimes, not so much. There is, however, that occasional jewel that makes it all worthwhile.
A great deal has been written about Charlie Hebdo this week, but there has been a bit of a backlash. Some saying explicitly that they are not Charlie Hebdo. While no one has come close to saying the egregious crime committed in Paris was justified, there has been criticism that Charlie Hebdo itself was guilty of hate speech.
Certainly some of Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons push at the edge of good taste. Some, arguably, have gone over the edge. But is creativity that goes beyond the bounds of good taste (as defined by whom?) any less worthy of legal protection?
Satire always pushes up against the bounds of good taste. One person’s send up is another person’s hurtful insult. To some extent, it depends on whether you’re the target or the one slinging the arrows. In satire the arrows miss the mark a lot, and there are some satirists who anger more than they amuse. Some of the just get it wrong, a lot.
Who are we to determine what satire is OK, what’s offensive and what’s just plain not funny? I’m a firm believer that it should be the market that determines what’s acceptable. Satirists who fail to hit the mark continually will sooner or later find themselves looking elsewhere for work. It certainly should not be the government making the decision. First, governments are notoriously weak when it comes to aesthetics, and second, there really should be a market place of and for ideas. Mussolini made the trains run on time, but one look at the government approved art that came out of Fascist Italy leads one to question whether these were the same people who inspired the Renaissance.
The one exception that I make is for hate speech – speech that is intended to prompt violence. It is sometimes difficult to find precisely where that point is, but speech intended to lead to violence has no place in any society, civil or otherwise. That goal was very clearly not intended by the cartoons in Charlie Hebdo and really all satire.
You can argue that many of the images that appeared in Charlie Hebdo were offensive or just not your cup of tea. And you are free to exercise your freedom not to buy the magazine or just to ignore it all together. You never know, however, when lightning will strike and when that satirist, painter or writer will get it just right. Yes, the process is inefficient, filled with mistakes and sometimes ugliness. But we need to allow for that moment when inspiration hits. That idea, that thought or that cartoon that makes it all so worthwhile.