To compare Charlie Hebdo to its US counterpart, say, The Onion, is to wonder if the former’s sense of satire is indeed less ironic, more explicit and crass, if not somewhat mean spirited. Their rhetoric, to use foreplay as a metaphor, is like being dick slapped during the appetizer. From the massacre comes the phrase “Suicidal Free Speech,” the implication that you are free to say what you want, but may die from it. “I’d rather die standing than live on my knees,” says their late editor Stephane Charbonnier, in eerie prophecy, long before it would be his final epitaph.
If you’re subdued by seeing Muhammad’s wobbly nutsack, imagine what a militant Islamic extremist might think. The conventional “they were asking for it,” of course, does not apply to being murdered, but should reside in the turf war of politics; with religion, however, such ideas always sadly manifest in swords, guns, bombs, and one day I promise, nukes. Those who are most literal with their books tend also to be the most violent, which applies to not just Islam, but the legacy of Christianity and modern Judaism (Hinduism and Buddhism, by which one might be instructed, have bowed out of the race).
Now merely a tepid precursor to terror’s curation of culture, when Seth Rogan and James Franco reprised their bromance in The Interview, expectations wavered between mildly funny to brilliant satire, and as the reviews rolled in, we conceded to the former. That producers would make millions off a bad movie is not a phenomenon; that this is not a phenomenon, however, is a kind of phenomenon. Yet, unlike Lincoln, JFK, Selma—or even The Passion of the Christ and Zero Dark Thirty—whose complicated men would all be fated to die without any spoilers, the subject of assassination behind this movie was not only still alive, but petty, humorless, and maybe a tad paranoid. Then again, irony is only enjoyed within the alliance. North Korea thus hacks the production company in a new “cyberwar,” as opposed to the more domestic and ridiculous “celebgate” hack, in which boobs of our royalty (i.e. celebrities) are unwittingly bared for hungry subjects, leaked photos which oddly became inadvertent satires of celebrity itself: imperfect truth rupturing the semblance of perfection. With the Sony hack, we nervously wondered if terrorism could be virtual; that is, over the internet, and not in actual bloodshed, that timeless exclamation mark of a head on a spike. Little did we know.
The gunmen were heard shouting Allahu akbar, which means “God is greater,” whose comparative adjective infers outside competitors, a twist on “God is great,” which probably betrays something deeper about religion, beyond linguistics—that the incessant wars fought in His name are not necessarily about God, but which particular one is greater. A mascot made by men to evoke provincial sentiment, to mock the other team, and be mocked.
All revolutions start with books and end in blood. The pen is not mightier than the sword, but simply earlier. The cartoonists who died at Charlie Hebdo may have lost their lives, but they won the war of ideas, in whose ideals we find solidarity and ultimate dignity. To those wholeheartedly agreeing with this sentiment—that death and loss are, in the grand scheme of things, not just inversely related but even mutually exclusive—just imagine what suicide bombers think. There simply aren’t enough virgins in heaven to hold hands with each of us.
Those who have nothing to live for tend to find something to die for, which describes not just much of the Middle East, but the plight of Black males as well, both arguably products of some kind of American machine. I’m either too modest or jaded to think I know the answer, but I’m perversely enthralled by all this recent disaster. I guiltily go to the news looking for death the way, as a boy, I’d masochistically seek horror movies, disturbing my sleep in fits of ecstatic worry, tossing and turning to visions of imagined monsters. “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he did not exist,” says Kaiser Söze discreetly about himself, which is how an atheist might indict God. Satire may have begun at the tip of a pen, but it died at the tip of a finger. Now that’s a trigger warning. Hands up, still shoot.
*The asterisk, shaped like a star at first to denote births and deaths in family trees, is now mainly used as a quick non-numerical sole footnote, to cite a caveat, something wishfully hidden but legally imperative: the long list of a pharmaceutical’s side-effects; the supplemental legalese in tedious contracts; the contextual information about a fact which may not be obvious; that something is not technically vegan. It is at once apologetic and clandestine, an unabashed secret. In the article “The End of Satire” for Entropy, the author reappropriates Charlie Hebdo artist Coco’s sacrilegious image of Muhammad, whose anus was originally either self-censored or replaced by a star—likely an Arabic five-pointed star—using for the orifice the very meta-asterisk which brings the reader to a swift end.