The tragedy at the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris has been fuel for reflection for a lot of people who write smarmy shit for a living. It’s also proven useful First Amendment fodder for people who would never consider mocking a man’s religion or a woman’s faith but, like Voltaire, claim that they would defend to the death your right to do so.
These may or may not be people who would actually miss a meal for your right to do so (let alone die for it), and I’ll bet that most Americans had to look up ‘je suis’ before attaching their names to memes claiming that they were Charlie.
Which, of course, they aren’t.
I’m not Charlie either, so I thought better of adopting the slogan, although in ways I am probably closer to being Charlie than you are, having spent a decade writing incendiary tripe for a satirical rag called Fun Magazine where I managed, at various times, to offend dogmatists of many stripes. Which is cool, except that in the process I also offended a lot of excellent people. I once did a one-line joke that so angered the gay community that they protested outside our office and called our advertisers demanding that they pull their ads (which many did); I wrote a ludicrous bit making ludicrous jokes about a jumbo jet that crashed in Detroit in 1987, and it so hurt the sister of one of the victims that she wrote me a long, expressive and beautiful letter that so eloquently dissed the lameness of my piece that to this day I remain somewhat humbled and ashamed.
But do you know what? She didn’t shoot me, and against the odds, she is today one of my tight friends.
Je ne suis pas Charlie.
Yesterday, I posed an honest hypothetical, which was also an honest rhetorical hypothetical because I already knew the answer. It went like this:
“If—incensed over their protests at the funerals of soldiers—a couple of vets broke into Westboro Baptist Church and opened fire, I am sure we would all call it a tragedy.
But I’m not sure how many of us would post status updates saying ‘Je Suis Westboro’.”
As I expected, a lot of the people who responded missed the point entirely and used the statement to express their personal disgust at Westboro’s anti-gay, over-the-top demonstrations and insisted that, because the intent of this hysterical gang of publicity-seeking Bible-thumpers is not ‘satire’, somehow, defending to the death their right to say ‘God hates fags’ in public does not rank quite as high on the bucket list of Charlie Hebdo’s free speech zealots.
You tell me; but I suspect it is because if we are honest with ourselves, we’ll admit—me included—that we are passionate about freedom of the kind of speech we agree with (in the case of Charlie Hebdo’s juvenile nonsense, rubbing the collective oversized Muslim nose in their own fundamentalism) but are less self-righteously vocal when, say, pro-jihadist Muslims make crude jokes about the attacks of 9/11.
In fact, CNN host Brian Stelter nearly popped a capillary when radical cleric Anjam Choudary did exactly that on Reliable Sources last August. Choudary responded to Stelter’s outrage over his joke with this:
“If you had a sense of humor, you would have laughed at that. You shouldn’t take any of these things that seriously. If you want to make it a big deal, then do so, but it makes you look much more shallow, really.”
Stelter reacted by throwing another hissy fit that ended the interview. Needless to say, we are still waiting for all those ‘Je suis Anjam Choudary’ memes.
As free-press writers focusing on wine rather than bad jokes, our dogmatically-held mantra is that ‘everybody should drink more wine’. Wine as a social beverage, wine as a contemplative tongue-loosener, wine as a prize at the end of a hard-earned day, wine to accompany each of the three squares we somehow believe, as Americans, are our sovereign birthright even though 80% of humanity is lucky to get even one.
We may be Charlie, but very few of us claim to be four-year-old Sadiya eating sheep lungs in a concrete shed in Botswana.
To that end, we should embrace any wine that cheap enough and mass-produced enough and, frankly, good enough, to serve as that all-day, every-day tipple—that is, if we really believed our own mission statement. Je suis Two Buck Chuck. Instead we spend an inordinate amount of time creaming over labels that cost more than Botswana’s GNP and pause only long enough to remind everyone that we are firmly committed to the principals of Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité.
I am assuming that if she had the wherewithal to consider our hypocrisy, little Sadiya would laugh so hard she’d choke on her sheep lungs.
Unknown is how she will react one day if she sees a copy of Charlie Hebdo’s cover portraying her father—an ordinary hardworking, give-us-this-day-our-daily-sheep-lung Muslim—as a gay man embroiled in a slobbery French kiss with the late editor Stéphane Charbonnier. However, the point is probably moot since she has a one-in-five chance of dying before her fifth birthday anyway.
She may not note that the social media community is ready to become meme-ically militant over Charbonnier’s death, but over her own, not so much. But I note it, and I am just as guilty of cherry-picking noble causes as you are. Thus, humbled and ashamed as I was reading Lisa’s letter in 1987, there is a slogan that I’m prepared to embrace: In general,
‘Je suis plein de merde’.
And I’ll defend to the death your right to admit that, more than likely, you are too.