January 9th 2015
Rick Salutin, in his latest Globe column, made the point that the terrorist attacks in Paris at Charlie Hebdo weren’t against journalists. They were against satirists. I guess some people can’t take a joke.
Of course, the satirists knew they were making themselves into a target. Satirists have always spoken truth to power through mockery. It is an essential service. When people, any people, claim a moral superiority it leads to fundamentalism and then to extremism and then to jihad (or the Crusades or the Tea Party). Fundamentalists, Christian or Muslim, frightened me. They are scary people and anyone who has the cajoles to take them on has my respect.
For eight years I was a satirist in a one man show I wrote and performed called Napalm the Magnificent. I was trussed up in a costume as a three foot dwarf and I insulted the audience directly, theatrically and, I hoped, amusingly for their cowardice, their hypocrisy, their addiction to distraction and their morale superiority and complacency in the face of suffering. It was actually pretty popular but there was always the risk, a risk my wife felt more than me, that some crazy would take it personally and beat me up. One night an audience member stood up in the middle of the show and started walking towards the stage. I realized in an instant I was totally vulnerable. The stage manager was in the booth, the stagehand couldn’t see what was happening and the costume prevented me from running. My mouth was at boot level. The guy climbed up onto the stage, marched towards me, and then, I kid you not, took off his clothes. Phew. Not a crazy, just a looney. But it left all of us trembling because I was making myself into a target.
I agree with Salutin. The attack in Paris was on satirists but in the bigger picture, these guys are, if there’s any logic to their lunacy, targeting ‘the West’ and they are looking for targets with high symbolic value: Our cenotaph, our Parliament buildings, our freedom of the press, hell our freedom. The place they’d really love to attack is Disney World. They have a sports pool to see how outraged they can make us. Which, quite correctly, should put us on our guard and, quite incorrectly, should make us feel superior to our enemies. If this is, as Prime Minister Harper says, a war and if we are attacking them with smart bombs and drones then we must expect them to attack us. Serious stuff. The satirist who can find a way to make us laugh in the face of death is an artist. I aspire to be in that number. Je Suis Charlie.