Breathess stories about Muslims fighting extremism by promoting moderation in their home countries have become so commonplace, and so cheesy, that they’re a clichÃ©. It’s especially bad since they look like sellouts merely by being praised by Americans! What if Americans went on Arab television channels for analogous, equal ridiculous, self-promotional opportunities?
Al Qaeda claims credit for Charlie Hebdo attacks
All in with Chris Hayes
January 14, 2015
Originally published by The Los Angeles Times:
An event like yesterday’s slaughter of at least 10 staff members, including four political cartoonists, and two policemen, at the office of Charlie Hebdo newspaper in Paris, elicits so many responses that it’s hard to sort them out.
If you have a personal connection, that comes first.
I met a group of Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, including one of the victims, a few years ago at the annual cartoon Festival in Angoulême, France, the biggest gathering of cartoonists and their fans in the world. They had sought me out, partly as fans of my work – for whatever reason, my stuff seems to travel well overseas – and because I was an American cartoonist who speaks French. We did what cartoonists do: we got drunk, complained about our editors, exchanged trade secrets including pay rates.
If I lived in France, that’s where I’d want to work.
My French counterparts struck me as more self-confident and cockier than the average cartoonist. Unlike at the older, venerable Le Canard Enchainée, cartoons are the centerpiece of Charlie Hebdo, not prose. The paper has suffered financial troubles over the years, yet somehow the French continued to keep it afloat because they love comics.
Here’s how much France values graphic satire:
- More full-time staff political cartoonists were killed in Paris yesterday than are employed at newspapers in the states of California, Texas and New York combined.
- More full-time staff cartoonists were killed in Paris yesterday than work at all American magazines and websites combined.
The Charlie Hebdo artists knew they were working at a place that not only allows them to push the envelope, but encourages it. Hell, they didn’t even tone things down after their office got bombed.
They weren’t paid much, but they were having fun. The last time that I met print journalists as punk rock as those guys, they were at the old Spy magazine.
They would definitely want that attitude to outlive them.
Next comes the “there but for the grace of God” reaction.
Every political cartoonist receives threats. After 9/11 especially, people promised to blow me up with a bomb, slit the throats of every member of my family, rape me, and deprive me of a livelihood by organizing sketchy boycott campaigns. (That last one almost worked.)
The most chilling came from a New York police officer, a sergeant, who was so careless and/or unconcerned about getting in trouble that his caller ID popped up.
Who was I going to call to complain? The cops?
As far as I know, no editorial cartoonist has been murdered in response to the content of his or her work in the United States, but there’s a first time for everything. Political cartoonists have been killed and brutally beaten in other countries. Here in the United States, the murder of an outspoken radio talkshow host reminds us that political murder isn’t something that only takes place somewhere else.
Every political cartoonist takes a risk to exercise freedom expression.
We know that our work, strident and opinionated, makes a lot of people very angry, and that we live in a country where a lot of people have a lot of guns. Whether you work in a newspaper office guarded by a minimum wage security guard or, as is increasingly the norm, in your own home, you are always one pull of a trigger away from death when you hit “send” to fire off your cartoon to your syndicate, blog or publication.
Which brings me to my big-picture reaction to yesterday’s horror:
Cartoons are incredibly powerful.
Not to denigrate writing (especially since I do a lot of it myself), but cartoons elicit far more response from readers, both positive and negative, than prose. Websites that run cartoons, especially political cartoons, are consistently amazed at how much more traffic they generate than words. I have twice been fired by newspapers because my cartoons were too widely read — editors worried that they were overshadowing their other content.
Scholars and analysts of the form have tried to articulate exactly what it is about comics that make them so effective at drawing an emotional response, but I think it’s the fact that such a deceptively simple art form can pack such a wallop. Particularly in the political cartoon format, nothing more than workaday artistic chops and a few snide sentences can be enough to cause a reader to question his long-held political beliefs, national loyalties, even his faith in God.
That drives some people nuts.
Think of the rage behind the gunmen who invaded Charlie Hebdo’s office yesterday, and that of the men who ordered them to do so. It’s too early to say for sure, but it’s a fair guess that they were radical Islamists. I’d like to ask them: how weak is your faith, how lame a Muslim must you be, to allow yourself to be reduced to the murder of innocents, over ink on paper colorized in Photoshop? In a sense, they were victims of cartoon derangement syndrome, the same affliction that led to the burning of embassies over the Danish Mohammed cartoons, the repeated outrage over The New Yorker’s insipid yet controversial covers, and that NYPD sergeant in Brooklyn who called me after he read my cartoon criticizing the invasion of Iraq.
Political cartooning in the United States gets no respect. I was thinking about that this morning when I heard NPR’s Eleanor Beardsley call Charlie Hebdo “gross” and “in poor taste.” (I should certainly hope so! If it’s in good taste, it ain’t funny.) It was a hell of a thing to say, not to mention not true, while the bodies of dead journalists were still warm. But these were cartoonists, and therefore unworthy of the same level of decorum that a similar event at, say, The Onion – which mainly runs words – would merit.
But no matter. Political cartooning may not pay well, or often at all, and media elites can ignore it all they want. (Hey book critics: graphic novels exist!) But it matters.
Almost enough to die for.
President Obama is taking heat for agreeing to exchange Sgt. Bergdahl, an Afghanistan War POW held by the Taliban, for five high-ranking Talibs held as “detainees” at Guantanamo. Conservatives say he negotiated with terrorists (though the Taliban were the government of Afghanistan before being removed by a US invasion). More ridiculously, they worry that these five individuals might return to attack the U.S. – as if five people would make a difference in a war involving many thousands of fighters. I thought seeing this from the Afghan point of view would expose these lines of thinking for what they are.
Here is my cartoon this week for The Los Angeles Times:
The statewide legalization of marijuana in Colorado, for recreational as well as medicinal use, has prompted serious consideration of the drug’s health effects and socio-political ramifications. Well, that sure took awhile.
On the pro side, it’s been pretty much established that driving stoned isn’t nearly as dangerous as driving drunk. Since 7% of California motorists are cruising the state’s freeways with cannabis in their systems, that provides some comfort. (Sorry, no word on what percentage of the stoners are drunk as well.) Pot also has proven medical benefits; for example, parents of epileptic children are flocking to Colorado.
But the legalize hemp crowd’s timeless rant that pot is harmless is taking some hits.
A recent study claims to have documented the first two known cases of pot-related fatalities. Other studies find that beginning to smoke weed as a teenager — the most common age to start — can affect brain development, causing memory loss, permanently impaired judgment and even reduced IQ.
In musings that might surprise those who remember his “Moonbeam” period (but not those who have noticed there’s no squarer square than an old hippie), Gov. Jerry Brown took to Sunday morning TV to worry aloud that emulating Colorado could leave the state defenseless against (a) foreign business competition and (b) terrorism.
“How many people can get stoned and still have a great state or a great nation?” Brown mused. “The world’s pretty dangerous, very competitive. I think we need to stay alert, if not 24 hours a day, more than some of the potheads might be able to put together.”
The governor didn’t say whether his garbled grammar was attributable to pot or the shortcomings of his secondary education.
I’m always interested in policy appeals motivated by fear. Politicians have unleashed an awful lot of threats — a few real but mostly imagined — during the last decade and a half. And they haven’t exactly made us a better, stronger or more economically successful nation. Brown’s thoughts are nowhere close to the depraved paranoia of Dick Cheney; the idea that California will be morally and economically weakened, its security undermined, because a tiny minority of the state’s residents regularly indulge in the evil weed seems about as serious and substantial as a puff of smoke.
Stay alert? What’s going to happen if we don’t, governor? Are Chinese sweatshop workers going to take a fiscal victory dance on the bones of our stoner-sapped competitiveness? Will our collected stonedness open up the one big chance radical Islamists have been waiting for?
Californians won’t have the chance to vote for legalized pot until November 2016 — if they’re not too wasted to remember.
I draw cartoons for The Los Angeles Times about issues related to California and the Southland (metro Los Angeles).
It looks to be the end of the plastic grocery bag as we know it.
The state assembly appears to have struck a deal in which Californians would pay at least a dime for each recycled paper or reusable plastic bag they get at the grocery store. The currently-ubiquitous single-use plastic bags that have bedeviled litter-control types and environmentalists would be prohibited. That’s a lot of bags. Californians use an estimated 12 billion single-use plastic bags each year.
Plants that manufacture single-use bags would be retooled into recycling facilities, preventing job losses.
Given how hard opponents of a ban have fought over the years, it seemed wrong to this perverse cartoonist not to consider that something (aside from growing the massive plastic trash island in the Pacific Ocean) may be lost. But what?
Following the lead of dark surrealism master director David Lynch, I drank lots and lots of coffee to get my idea juices flowing. This is what I came up with: the plastic bag as weapon.
In self-defense class, they taught me that a folded newspaper can be a surprisingly potent tool for fending off an assailant. (No word yet on whether an iPad can knock a ruffian unconscious.) So can a trash can. What appeals about these strategies is the fact that they’re ubiquitous. Like — you remember the previous use of that word in this little essay — plastic bags. They’re everywhere, hanging from trees! In Africa, people ironically nickname them “African flowers.” What if a “California flower” could be called into service by law-abiding citizens?
Yep. That’s all I got.
Lynch must have drunk more coffee than me.