One of the cutest stories in our family archives centers around my cousin’s son, who was perplexed when his aunt began dating an identical twin (whom she eventually married and whom I maintain is one of the best people in the world. Rightly so, because that’s exactly what my cousin deserves.). The little boy met his aunt’s boyfriend and then later in the day met the young man’s twin. Having never seen identical twins before, he was fascinated and not a little perplexed. Finally, when Nicky couldn’t take it anymore, he looked up at my cousin and asked, “Why is everyone David?”.
As the response to the massacre at the Charlie Hebdo newspaper grows, that sweet little story has danced around in the back of my mind, asking the question: “Why aren’t we ALL Charlie?” Shouldn’t we be? Didn’t our American forefathers fight for that exact thing? The freedom to say what needed to be said to keep oppressive powers in check and not be afraid?
The message has become viral. I think that anyone involved in the creative arts needs to take up that banner and wave it proudly. I think that anyone who consumes the fruit of an artist, writer, actor or musician’s labor needs to take up that banner and wave it proudly, too. Part of the creative process is knowing that at some point, you will create something that offends someone. It’s inevitable and it’s necessary. We write, paint, play,photograph, sculpt things that reflect back to the world what we see when we look at it and it’s not always pretty. The cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo specialized in this kind of satire and it made them a target. Americans looking across the ocean at our French counterparts should especially pay attention. Didn’t we just deal with a foreign agency’s attempt to prevent creative expression? I shudder to classify the silly antics of James Franco and Seth Rogan as “creative expression”, but it definitely counts. Two attacks on freedom of expression in two different countries in less than a month! Doesn’t that affect all of us?
You bet it does. History provides ample evidence of the love/hate relationship between the arts and oppressive groups. The first people to be silenced are the unbiased journalists and newspapers that will make sure the truth is distributed to everyone. Next are the people that encourage their audiences to think for themselves and not what the government (or invading power) wants them to think. Consider that for a moment, because once the freedom to speak out is really lost, is takes a revolution to get it back. The terrorists that killed all of those people at the Charlie Hebdo offices wanted to stop that flow of ideas to the non Muslim public; they wanted to control and kill it, so they did. The North Koreans that hacked Sony Pictures wanted to stop “The Interview” from being released; they wanted to show the world that they could somehow silence America and it’s big Freedom of Speech loving mouth, so they tried. There is no respectful way to show how ridiculous certain groups are without the subtleties of satire, Which makes everyone who dares to pick up a pen and draw a political cartoon, write a goofy movie about assassinating a dictator or any other commentary on what’s wrong with the world a threat.
That’s right. If you challenge people to think with your work, present new ideas or poke holes in the hypocrisy of the world around you, you’re dangerous. Congratulations. How many of you reading this now have ever considered yourself to be a dangerous person? Live on the edge, folks. It’s not just the political cartoonists and comedians that were attacked. It’s anyone that has ever laughed at one of their drawings because you got the message, or if you stayed up late to watch Saturday Night Live and chuckled while they lampooned everyone and everything.It’s your own discussions about world events, the books you choose, the music you listen to and the art you appreciate that threatens these people and inspires them to hack a movie studio and hold it hostage until they get their way, or shoot up a newspaper office and kill the men and women who work there. All to keep those ideas from spreading into their countries. Democracy as a virus – and a deadly enough virus to those that would keep all the power for themselves that they can’t stand that these things even exist at all.
So, be a virus. In the best possible way, of course. Keep creating. Keep thinking. Keep sharing with the world around you. Challenge yourself and your audience. This is why the First Amendment matters, guys. Not to waste it fighting about nonsense, but to keep the world alive, vibrant – to keep it REAL. The writers at Charlie Hebdo were acting as the boy in “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, letting the Muslim extremist society know that they weren’t making sense. The creative team behind “The Interview” were pointing out the pompous arrogance of the North Korean government.
We have power. Those of us that use words and images to encourage people to see the world differently – whatever different that can be – more beautiful, more horrible, clearer, or through the haze of reminiscing have a responsibility to use that power and not let the bullies of the world stop us. We have to use that power to remind those that wrap themselves hypocrisy that they are walking around naked.
Consumers of creative thought – those that buy what we write and make have that power too, simply by choosing. What a gift that is! Remember that and use that gift wisely and never take it for granted. There are people in the world that don’t want you to have it and will do what they can to take it from you.
I am Charlie, We Are Charlie.
Je Suis Charlie, Nous Sommes Charlie.