Thursday, January 8, 2015

Charlie Hebdo, Part 2

There’s nothing like Charlie Hebdo in the United States. The totally irreverent Parisian weekly that was attacked by terrorists and lost 10 of its editors, writers and cartoonists, has no peer on this side of the Atlantic.
The Onion? Marginal, overly obvious and trying too hard. Jon Stewart’s Daily Show? Current event comedy that at its best never wavers too far from the politically correct; there are, after all, advertisers one must cater to, and it would be unseemly–and costly—to alienate too many of them. National Lampoon? (one of my prized possessions is the Lampoon’s Unwanted Foreigners issue.) Out of business. The hundreds of websites that claim to be edgy, ahead of the curve and irreverent are peripheral as well, vague shadows of the brazenness that suffered such a loss in Paris.  In the US, impertinence is never mainstream.
Charlie Hebdo is mainstream. People buy it at newspaper kiosks and tabacs across the width and length of France. They read it in cafés over anisette and espresso. They discuss it at lunch and dinner with their spouses and friends. They take issue. They are offended, amused, outraged, occasionally disgusted– Charlie Hebdo has its truly tasteless moments—and, if it is their minority that’s the butt of that week’s bayonetting, they fume and occasionally take to the streets fronting the paper’s offices. Charlie’s reporters and cartoonists, meanwhile, are household names, sought after and well-informed celebrities often seen on television, whose opinions are quoted and respected.
It’s odd to think that France, a smallish country, could have not only Charlie Hebdo but Le Canard Enchainé as well, another brilliant satirical newspaper that will be celebrating its 100th birthday this year.  A canard in French is a duck, of course, but it’s also the slang term for a newspaper. Le Canard Enchainé is anything but chained, and it too ridicules France’s shortcomings, politicians, bicycle racing, governmental decisions, sex—particularly among its elected officials–racism, sports leagues, and societal movements. It breaks important news stories and has sources in the highest venues, but, compared to Charlie Hebdo, it behaves with relative elegance and evinces better grammar and less graphic cartoons.
I’ve often wondered what happened here in the US. Have we been co-opted by cable, or lulled into complacency by the droning of the mainstream media? How in the last few decades did we lose our sense of humor and become so politically correct that no publication of any importance would ever dream of taking on the vagaries of any faith, including Islam. Why is there no nationwide publication ready to brochette the ridiculous and unethical behaviors of our politicians, and, just for once, call a spade a spade?  
How did we get so smug, so uninvolved, so uninterested, that we have neither a chained duck nor a Charlie Hebdo.    

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