The French satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, recently went under fire for publishing a cartoon comic in yet another display of indecency. Commenting on the recent stories of Muslim refugees allegedly assaulting women throughout Europe, the comic depicted two ape-like men chasing women through the street with a caption translating into “What would little Aylan Kurdi have grown up to be? Ass groper in Germany.”
Aylan Kurdi was the young boy photographed after washing up dead on the shore of a Turkish beach earlier this year. The image horrified the world, not only inspiring rallies and fundraisers for the Syrian Refugees, but also causing many Westerners , who had previously been sheltered from the true severity of the conflicts within Syria, to face their international social responsibilities.
It’s not the first time that Charlie Hebdo has gotten itself into trouble as a result of its controversial content. In January 2015, the newspaper staff were victim to violent attacks instigated by insensitive comics. Ever since, Charlie Hedbo has been testing its limitations. Its particular brand of comedy is fairly unique to France and uses brutal satire to ridicule hypocrisy within Europe. It seeks to critique French prejudices through political cartoons and cheeky humor. In response to the Kurdi controversy, many of Charlie Hebdo’s readers were quick to argue that the comic was not intentionally offensive, but was rather critiquing Europe’s hidden biases against incoming refugees. The image, though crass and callous, was meant to mock many conservative French ideologies and encourage Europeans to reevaluate their prejudices.
Though the image might have been interpreted as such, Charlie Hebdo’s sudden concern for refugees is rather convenient. The issue of discrimination towards Syrian refugees in Europe is one of great urgency, but Charlie Hebdo should have chosen a different image to depict this. Satirical newspapers are not new to literature, and they are constantly being released around the globe to comedicize political and social philosophies. There is no issue with using comedy to discuss topics, but there is a difference between satire ridiculing hypocrisy and the current imagery being used in Charlie Hebdo’s publications.
Charlie Hebdo is not sharing an edgy, new perspective on an ongoing issue; rather, it is capitalizing on the death of a child. The newspaper’s intent was to attract a wider viewership, but this goal was achieved in a troublesome manner. Rather than being analytical, the cartoonists used controversial imagery and then wrote it off as a witty comic piece. It should not be necessary for the reader to have a deep understanding of French and European culture in order to understand the comic’s humour. Accordingly, it is crucial that news workers are aware of the social implications involved with publishing their pieces.
In the last few years, Charlie Hedbo has become notorious for its lack of eloquence in the face of controversy. The discussion on the limitations of satirical news is one we have had at great length. It is time to recognize that although comedy can be controversial, it should not further disadvantage marginalized minorities. People have the right to do, say, and draw whatever they want, but they must also be willing to deal with the resulting criticism. By dismissing those who condemn Charlie Hedbo, we are only silencing voices that are already struggling to be heard.