On Charlie Hebdo and the Media

In the midst of an interesting New York Observer interview, legendary cartoonist Robert Crumb says this about American journalism:

You don’t have journalists over there anymore, what they have is public relations people. That’s what they have over in America now. Two-hundred and fifty thousand people in public relations. And a dwindling number of actual reporters and journalists.

Which is somewhat true! An over-exaggeration maybe, but true. (CONTENT! CONTENT! CONTENT!)

Immediately after that, the writer says:

We don’t have a context for this tradition here, merciless, political satire.

And then:

These guys were not trying not to offend, and that’s what an American media-conditioned mind cannot understand. The idea that yes, you offend those who abuse power.

A few points.
1. I’d accuse the writer of living in a bubble of time and space. It sounds like the sort of thing said because she hasn’t seen any cartoons of that ilk in the things she reads and assumed they’re not out there. And because she lives in the time she lives in, she seems completely unaware of what’s happened before she graced the earth with her presence. America doesn’t have a tradition of this sort of thing? Do tell! I run into this during election cycles when people in general whine about the negative attack ads and how far we’ve fallen. There is NOTHING in politics today that was as vicious as what the Founding Fathers did to one another during the first elections. BUT… she’s supposedly an anti-PC person and has written, for among other publications, The New York Press, which along with The Village Voice, used to run these sorts of things as recently as the 90s. (In other words, she SHOULD know better.)

2. The American self-loathing built into her questions. Not the most outrageous case, but obviously there. (And, you know, because the French government is such a champion of free speech. And because Charlie Hebdo, in a regular week, was such a wildly successful enterprise and not something that’s been propped up by subsidies, some of which came from American corporate giant, Google.)

3. The jaw-dropping projection here. It’s not the American media-conditioned mind that’s the issue here. It’s the mind of the American media. Considering her supposed anti-PC history, maybe her heart is in the right place but don’t put this on the American people. It’s on you and your people. They (and the socio-economic class from which the modern journalist crawls) are the ones who assume that all those greasy, unwashed Americans in the rest of the country can’t handle this sort of humor (or the reaction to it) without turning into some sort of violent mob. They’re the ones — in business journalism, celebrity journalism, political journalism — who pull punches in order to maintain access or protect “their guy.” And they’re the ones who never would have published cartoons such as these in the first place — and refuse to show them now — because they’re PC and chicken-shit business people. (They’re also the ones who wanted to really, really believe that Charlie Hebdo was a right-wing, racist publication. They beat the Pope to saying stupid things like “The murders were wrong, but…” by a solid week.)

Or maybe they’re just straight realists who know damn well there’s a difference between running a cartoon of Muhammad and running a 500-word review of Piss Christ (with photo) or showing Jesus fighting Santa Claus in a cartoon or staging an extremely successful, long-running (and hilarious) Broadway play called The Book of Mormon (spoiler alert: There’s a song called “Fuck you, God”). Some of those things will get you letter campaigns and boycotts and protests. The other will get you killed.

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