It’s been more than a week since the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris, and society is already starting to move on. The publication is set to print its first issue this week — 3 million copies with financial backing by multiple government and media entities. The relevance of Charlie Hebdo’s message and the appropriateness of its practices has been rightly debated.
But before this mass murder fades into the background fabric of all the other ones, it’s important to think hard about what these lives were taken for and what letting others dictate what we can joke about takes from us as well.
Boko Haram just killed 2,000 people in Nigeria and no one in the media gives two shits about it because the slaughter happened in Africa. Now, let’s talk about the Super Bowl halftime show and what actors and actresses are getting golden awards for doing their jobs. It’s a truly absurd world we live in where human lives are given different levels of value due to geographic and cultural factors.
This is why satire is important. It’s free, and without it we aren’t.
Here at “Worst Week Ever!” we make fun of religion an awful lot. We never go out and say, “Fuck Jesus, Muhammad and the Buddha,” but without the right to do so the quality of our lives diminishes and our species is lowered as a whole.
There are millions of jokes about every ethnicity and religion that some people laugh at and others are rightly offended by. It’s fine to debate whether satirists and comedians are insensitive or just perceived as such by those who identify or hold sacred whatever or whoever the punchline is. The point is bigger than that — without the ability to speak freely a part of us dies before the rest stops living.
We’ll all attend each other’s funerals, we just don’t know what order our tickets will be called in. While we’re alive, struggling, succeeding and struggling some more, it’s important that we can make fun of whoever or whatever we please. If we as a species consent to cordoning off and restricting humor, we are giving consent to others to dictate what we think and how we’re allowed to feel.
There are avenues of humor that each of us find to be tasteless and reprehensible. However, in a world in which it seems like we are stuck in our roles and facing long odds to enact significant change in our lives (from the government spying on us right down to the internal, individual level), one of the final frontiers of oversight and intrusion is fear — society making us hesitant to joke and to laugh.
Views change over time. So do we.
My views on religion and the world as a whole have changed over the years, as is natural. From youthful and misplaced outrage at the Muslim faith while passing by New York City on September 11, 2001 on my way to visit family upstate to disgust about the torture and innumerable civilian casualties America is responsible for since that time, I’ve come to a point where I realize terrorist attacks, wars and all the barbaric things we’ve seen go down over the past 14 years have less to do with religion than they do power and influence. And the awful people seeking both.
Directing humor toward what is revered and holy is necessary, even though it makes people uncomfortable. Without jokes about Jesus being “hung like this” and pictures of Mohammed we are squandering one of humanity’s great gifts — the ability of men, women and children to react differently than impulsive and wild animals.
Humans are able to process the words of others in a more sophisticated fashion than a primal “fight or flight” choice, and when people kill over cartoons or jokes the correct response is not to stop drawing cartoons or otherwise expressing free thought and free will to appease them.
A hearty portion of things in life aren’t funny. If that starts to curtail our appreciation for what we subjectively decide is, what will take its place?
There is no shortage of entities and people in our lives telling us to do things that hardly mirror what we want to do or think is right. The knife that cuts through that almost frozen block of butter is wit and humor.
There has always been a lot of pain and suffering on this blue and green marble of ours, and there probably always will be.
Since the days of tunics and hemlock, the ability to satirize has been lauded and celebrated for good reason. Without it, life on earth becomes something we’ll do with less enthusiasm.
Throughout life, various outside forces will attempt to curtail or limit what you were born able to enjoy and take part in. That much is a given.
The only recourse available is to firmly reject the notion that society, religion or government can restrict your sense of humor and/or what you’re allowed to laugh about. If you accept such notions, it’s a very slippery slope toward a joyless, unsmiling life in which your facial expressions and reactions will be dictated by others.
If and when we get to that point, all the things we spend our time worrying and fretting over will dominate, undiluted by the cleansing power of a smile and a laugh.
Modern life doesn’t make a lot of sense in many ways.
Neither does going through it walking on eggshells to avoid angering those who feel their beliefs are important enough to murder people over.
CONTACT ISAAC THORN: [email protected]