Est ce que Je Suis Charlie?

The attack by Islamic terrorists on the Charlie Hebdo offices and the death of twelve people is appalling enough, even without the implied attack on a free press and freedom of expression. We are naturally outraged, and the impulse to join together in solidarity under the ‘Je Suis Charlie’ banner is almost overwhelming.

But I’m resisting the temptation, and I’m not very happy, because it’s an uncomfortable position to be in. Here’s why. First take a look at the Charlie Hebdo Mohammed cartoons, with English translations.

Some of these cartoons are vile, for example this one.

iTumRdEJePilN-e1348078503609Compare it to this antisemitic cartoon from the Nazi newspaper, Der Sturmer.

der_sturmerBoth cartoons vilify an entire religion and by implication all its followers. Now you might say that satire is meant to be offensive, and of course it is. The great tradition of British cartoon satire held nothing back, and Steve Bell is its torch bearer. Here’s an example of his work.

Steve Bell cartoon, 28.06.2012The image of George Osborne is personalised, as with Muhammed, but it’s not implicating every Tory voter as scum of the earth. Or presenting a stereotype, as in the Der Sturmer cartoon, inviting the reader to tar all Tory voters with the same brush.

The point is that if freedom of expression is sacrosanct, then some of those expressions will inevitably be racist, zenophobic, antisemitic, Islamophobic. You have to ask who produced them and why. So the ‘Je Suis Charlie’ meme is fine when you’re defending an abstract right, but the Devil’s in the details. It’s such a big tent that any racist, zenophobe and Islamophobe can happily crowd in, along with the people who genuinely care about freedom of expression.

And I’m choosy about the people I associate with.

The Armageddon Playlist

The ICBMs have been launched. This is it – the End of the World – so what would you like to watch or listen to in the few minutes before a massive EMP wipes out all electronic communication?

There is an urban legend that Ted Turner, founder of CNN, planned to capture this demographic with a pre-Apocalypse video to be played as the last broadcast on his channel, before the bombs fell. It turns out to be true, as reported in the Guardian, and you can see the video here.

Well, what do you think? I think it’s the expression of everything that made a nuclear war possible – sentimental jingoism, aided and abetted by a military band, to convince patriotic Americans that their sacrifice was worth the cause of defeating communism. Appropriating Nearer My God to Thee, famously played by the ship’s band on the Titanic, is particularly cynical. The iceberg was a blameless force of nature, nuclear brinkmanship a calculated political decision.

So what else might we while away the minutes with? Tom Lehrer, who gave up satire when real life began stealing his best lines, brought us this.

See? We’re all in this together. On the other hand, communal spirit sounds suspiciously like communism, so perhaps we shouldn’t go with that. What’s needed is some old time religion, conflating Jesus with the atom bomb.

For myself, the song that’s most associated with the end of the world is Waltzing Matilda. That’s because of Stanley Kramer’s powerful yet understated 1959 film about nuclear annihilation, On the Beach. Nuclear war in the the Northern hemisphere has wiped out all human life, but Australia is unscathed. Unfortunately, radiation is drifting into the Southern hemisphere and Australia waits to see if it will survive. It doesn’t. Everybody dies.

Waltzing Matilda threads its way through the soundtrack, in many different tones and arrangements, as a haunting refrain to the inevitable death of the human race. Here’s the opening scene.

And here’s the final scene.

What’s more sad than a song with no-one left to sing or dance to it?

Al Murray Demonstrates That Britain Is Best

While I’m thinking about stand-up comics, here’s another of my favourites. Al Murray, in his character as the Pub Landlord, perfectly channels the outer reaches of the Faragiste, right wing mentality. Murray gives the rest of the world a well-deserved kicking in this video, all you’ll ever need to know about Johnny Foreigner and Abroad.

Red in Tooth and Claw

Tuesday will be television day. Here are songs from the best satirical puppet show since Spitting Image. Come to think of it, probably the only satirical puppet show since Spitting Image, at least on British television.

Mongrels was a production of BBC Three, a ghetto in which the Corporation exiled the worse dregs of its unreality shows and the best of its innovative new comedies and controversial dramas. Schizophrenic doesn’t come close to describing it. Unfortunately the BBC is now in a moral funk, and all the good stuff has gone.

So welcome to the world of Mongrels, and meet Nelson (a metrosexual fox), Vince (his unregenerate, racist cousin), Marion (a very stupid cat), Destiny (a spoiled Afghan hound), and Kali (an aggressive pigeon). They all live behind a pub in the East End.