Monday, 25 May 2015

Who is Charlie? And where are you going?

I didn't say anything about the Charlie Hebdo killings at the time because some things are so bloody obvious they shouldn't need to be spelled out.  You don't kill people over drawings is one.  For the record, I'll spell it out:


Beyond that, my limited awareness of Charlie Hebdo was a bit more ambiguous.  Their humour was always juvenile and I didn't like the enthusiasm with which they seemed to portray minority ethnic and cultural groups.  But I wasn't too fussed either way as it was an obscure French publication and unlikely to impinge upon my consciousness, far less my life.  That changed, of course in January.

Like all sensible people, I was horrified by the mass murder.  Refer to the golden rule above.  You don't kill people over drawings.  Not even bad one's which (to my untutored eye) most of the CH cartoons were - crudely executed. look-at-us-being-daring-and-challenging-and-pushing-the-boundaries stuff.  Like many things french, you couldn't escape the feeling that the cartoonists had never really left the senior common room at school, and weren't really aware tht they now lived in the real world, and their deliberate crudities and 'iconoclasm' was being published for all to see.  Though of course we allow any sort of vulgarity as long as it calls itself 'satire.'

I was angry about the Charlie Hebdo shootings, because you don't kill people over drawings, even if you really, really like the person in the drawings and think no-one should draw him.  People of all ilks need to understand their conscience terminates at the outer layer of their skin; they don't get to impose it on anyone, not even with bullets.

At the same time, I was angry at Charlie Hedbo as well, basically for entirely selfish reasons.  Their juvenile desire to push boundaries and be offensive to as many people as possible has managed to make the world a slightly more dangerous place.  Let's not exaggerate this.  Publishing a picture of Mohammed is not quite the same as funding militant groups in the 1980s or invading Iraq.  But it was a gratuitous attempt to stoke controversy and a fairly obvious appeal to the broad streak of racism and cultural xenophobia the imbrues Europe and to which the left is not immune.  As a result, the fanatics and haters were gifted ammunition (metaphorically - though the metaphor was tragically crystallized in a literal form in January) and the world is a slightly more angry, divided, us-versus-them place than it was.

Which brings me to an interesting profile of Charlie  Hebdo as it is now, published in the Guardian.

I recall, speculating at the time of the shootings, that I thought Charlie Hebdo would be gone within a year - while everyone wanted to be Charlie immediately afterwards, no-one would actually want to work there or have them operating out of their premises.  That still remains to be seen, but the portrait sounds a bit grim.

The other scenario I envisaged was a sharp move to the right, as Charlie's new found audience - those that stuck with it after the initial solidarity surge - would mostly be drawn from the Pam Gellar, mad-about-Muslims fringe of lunacy.  According to the profile:
Charlie Hebdo had a print run of between 24,000 and 50,000 copies a week. But its “survivors’ edition” published after the attacks sold 8m copies and weekly sales are expected to stabilise at at least 100,000. It now has 200,000 pre-paid subscribers, compared with 8,000 before the attacks, and sales profits since January stand at around €12m before tax.
That's a big, new audience, and their political persuasions are unknown.  But I would be interested in knowing how many of them are actually French, and how many overseas; how many actually read it because they are passionate supporters of free speech, or very interested in the satirical portrayal of French and European politicians and issues, and how many are buying it in the hope CH will say something rude about Muslims.  In other wards, a rough parallel with the Islamic hate-mongers who circulated the originate obscure and naff cartoons and kept impinging them on the consciousness of the unhinged.

I suspect the long term prospects for CH are not good.  Even if they manage to resolve their internal differences (and they won't, I suspect, as there is too much money involved, and they didn't before when there was less money to squabble over), there is still the nagging issue of going to work every day wondering if today is the day for rough three of Charlie vs Allah.  And even if it does survive - and I've been wrong about most of my postulations this year, so I don't see why I should break my remarkable run of form - the magazine may have to change to meet its audience, shedding whatever left wing credentials it ever had to pander more and more to the mad hater bigots that are buying it.

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