State of Fantasy
Saturday January 24
President Obama's State of the Union address was exciting. He stated that Americans should get free college, paid leave for pregnancy for all, equal wages for all, much higher minimum wages that could support a family. Why stop there? Let's help the president make it a perfect world.
* Free rental cars for people whose cars break down. No ID required. That would be biased.
* Government paid two-week vacations even if you're unemployed to relieve stress.
* Free NBA, MLB and NFL tickets for a donation to the DNC.
* Government subsidized vegetables and apple sauce.
* Rename all American workers "managers" to boost self esteem and fairness.
* Give all Americans paid leave from their jobs to pursue procreation.
We just raise taxes on the wealthy and corporations. They can afford it and they rip everybody off anyway.
The government could launch a user-friendly website we could all access to get information and sign up. Talk about a no-brainer!
Robert Van der Upwich
Je Suis Charlie
Friday January 23
I suppose this is where the sheriff on the chain gang gets to say – “What we have here is a failure to communicate!”
I write this a few days after a set of Islamist thugs shot up the offices of the Charlie Hedbo magazine in Paris and then later were cornered and killed. Many Western opinion makers have already weighed in saying things very similar to the thoughts contained here. They boil down to we must preserve the art of satire in the face of determined opposition. I’m not sure if they fully articulated why.
Satire defends liberty and free speech because it helps make the bad, ridiculous and tragic in our common existence manageable. Like how Mom tells you to cut your steak into small bites and chew.
Satirical and other types of political cartooning play in the gray area between prose and images drawing strength from both for maximum effect. Cartoons have changed the world, if ever so slightly.
The Los Angeles Times used to have a multiple Pulitzer-winner as its cartoonist, Paul Conrad. He took on everybody when they deserved it. He felt safe ridiculing everyone from Presidents to whole industries. The result: President Nixon, a middle of the road Republican who otherwise might’ve earned a nomination to Mount Rushmore 2.0 if he could restrain his all-consuming paranoia, ended up chased from office. I don’t want to live in that hypothetical America where no one speaks up against a president for allowing by omission a campaign of illegal political tricks and then actively covers it up. Failing to protect Mr. Conrad or Mr. Woodward and Mr. Bernstein would’ve given us exactly that scary America.
The current issue adds the emotional element of religion (or for the best of us, faith). Muslims really don’t like representations of Muhammad or jokes and parodies of the same. Okay, speaking as a Christian that’s the Second Commandment. But, I simply don’t care if someone blasphemes Christian theology or, in the best cases, uses ridicule to expose wrongdoing in the collective entity we call the Christian Church.
Sometimes the attacks are mean and come from a place of ignorance. Sometimes we Christians have it coming. The Catholic Church had it coming over the multi-decade Altar Boy Scandal for which the end phase has lasted about 15 years. Even in highly Catholic Ireland, commentators, cartoonists and regular people stood up and demanded change. Worldwide, the church pays up when victims can be found and actively jails and defrocks problem priests. And, Yes, it’s annoying to have what passes for the Muslim press continue to dredge up this scandal when we think we’ve already moved on.
In contrast, the Muslim press freely attacks Christian and Jewish principles with an almost childish glee. The state-directed outlets order it, but the couple of independent organizations that exist in the region do it to play to their audience. The First law of capitalism: give your customers what they want. But, maybe it’s because Christians front-loaded the Golden Rule into our theology we feel the right to give them a little of what they give us?
Attack Pope Francis or Jesus, expect a return salvo about Muhammad. To a certain extent, this war of words shows ignorance and the ancient “not us fear of the people from the cave three canyons over” on both sides. I’m glad I live in the modern world where I prefer the almost-honesty of “we fight this war to support the economy of Japan by stabilizing oil prices,” than “don’t worry I have a direct line to God and they don’t believe the way we do. They are automatically evil.”
However, we can’t discuss satire, free expression or hardcore Islamism without taking a moment to go directly at the problem with Muslim extremists, and not the millions of Muslims who are like everybody else: they stay home and make money. Please tell me with a straight face that a people so blinded by being poor when a thousand years ago they were rich and powerful who think that suicidally driving planes into buildings filled with civilians will solve that problem aren’t worthy of ridicule. Please tell me with a straight face that a people willing to stick their fingers in their ears like pouty five-year-olds when theology comes up at dinner (an Emily Post violation) aren’t worthy of ridicule. Get over it, we share the planet and if we feel hurt, we don’t have to invite each other to dinner. The flip side of free expression.
In writing this I wondered if Europe had developed free expression before the Gutenberg Bible and the printing press would some of the animus between the West and Islam be different? Would there have been Crusades if mothers of potential warriors could’ve written to the editor of Le Monde to express their outrage, fear and the ridiculousness of the Pope’s assertions that the Holy Land needed Christian management? If that mother could’ve drawn a devastating cartoon expressing the perspective that Europe wanted easy plunder and a way to siphon off extra population in a Crusade of dubious effect?
Looking back, the Crusades are a thing of ridicule. Only the First Crusade marched into Jerusalem. The Second began a decline of forces too far removed from friendly supply lines to matter. The Third Crusade with the most well-known personalities, like Richard Lionheart of England, lost Jerusalem. And don’t get me started on the Fourth where the western Crusaders beat up the city of Constantinople and never went anywhere near the Holy Land. The history goes downhill from there, where Muslims used the Crusades as an excuse to Jihad in Europe well into the 16th Century doing exactly the same thing: forcing other people into worshipping your name for God. The military result: the defender who was closer to friendly demographics won to be called the Good Guys.
What could Paul Conrad have made of Richard Lionheart being kidnapped and held for ransom by another Crusader after the Crusade, despite having the Pope’s Freedom of Europe for wearing the Red Cross? What could Charlie Hebdo have made of not even trying to regain Jerusalem? What could Ben Bradlee have made of reports from pilgrims to the Holy Land written between the various Crusades that the Muslim management was perfectly willing to let Christians spend their tourism gold with a minimum of harassment?
We’ll never know because anti-war activists couldn’t exist in the Europe of the Crusades; it would mean challenging the Pope, the Vicar of Christ and Successor of St. Peter. Look how that worked out for Galileo.
Similarly, we can credit modern anti-war activists not for stopping the wars, but for keeping the discussion alive so that the rest of us had the ability to either see “we have gained what we want and can now go home,” or “we can’t gain what we want because we have to own the place 50 years to have a chance, so let’s go home and be more careful next time.”
But, it takes all kinds of free expression to make it acceptable to stop a war or oust a leader like Richard Nixon. It takes tearful letters to the editor from mothers of dead warriors who felt lied to in a rush of patriotism after vicious attacks. It takes carefully researched books asking people who were there what happened. It takes vicious and exaggerated cartoons to make a powerful point in one image.
I don’t want to curb Muslims from bashing our traditions while displaying the hypocrisy of trying to insert the concept of religious defamation into the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. I’ll simply write more opinions like this to call them out on their bullshit, if they keep calling us out on ours. The act of a true friend.
Hopefully, it will be enough to use real facts known at the time of writing that everyone calms down and appreciates a joke or comment for what it is. If not, I have a living trust; in the absence of my own spouse or children my sister is my literary executor for the benefit of my nephews.
Editor’s Note: Jacobs is a part-time journalist, retired filmmaker and full-time writer. His articles have appeared in many outlets including zap2it.com, Indie Slate, creativescreenwriting.com and his own blogs – smokinglizard.comand nancyappleton.com. He’s written seven books ranging from nutritional self-help books to all kinds of off-the-wall genre fiction. He just completed his latest novel – Crimes Against Elves. He lives in Los Angeles.