The memorial issue of Charlie Hebdo will have a print run of 1,000,000 copies, financed by the French government; so, now the satirists have been co-opted by the state, precisely the institution you might’ve thought they should never cease from attacking. But the question needs to be asked: were the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo really satirists, if by satire is meant the deployment of humour, ridicule, sarcasm and irony in order to achieve moral reform? Well, when the issue came up of the Danish cartoons I observed that the test I apply to something to see whether it truly is satire derives from HL Mencken’s definition of good journalism: it should “afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted”. The trouble with a lot of so-called “satire” directed against religiously-motivated extremists is that it’s not clear who it’s afflicting, or who it’s comforting.
Graphic journalist Joe Sacco muses in the Guardian on that same notion:
But along with grief came thoughts about the nature of some of Charlie Hebdo’s satire. Though tweaking the noses of Muslims might be as permissible as it is now believed to be dangerous, it has never struck me as anything other than a vapid way to use the pen.
However, as Ruben Bolling (Tom the Dancing Bug) argues, Sacco doesn’t expand on his arguments (assuming familiarity with the ‘nature of Charlie Hebdo’s satire’, for one — I don’t have such a priori knowledge — and leaving too much room for wilful ignorance of context) and falls for the same traps he’s attempting to point out for others:
[Sacco] imagines that some would answer that Muslims can’t laugh this off because “something is deeply wrong with them.” But just as he’s right that we must not generalize about Muslims in this way, it is also true that we should not generalize onto all Muslims an imagined response to the satire.