I suppose you could say that I was a real Looney Tunes fan when I was a kid. It came on at 7:00 a.m. on Saturday mornings, and I got up, religiously, to watch it. None of my friends did that. At best, they might catch one or two of the cartoons before it ended three hours later. Often, when I would spend the night at a friend's house, I'd be the only one up on Saturday morning, which is why I know none of my friends got up to watch cartoons that early. I'd only turn the TV on, with the sound down low, sitting close to it so that I could hear, and sit and watch Bugs, Wile E., and Yosemite Sam in someone else's still-sleeping house.
Oh, and Porky Pig. You know, the stuttering pig. Not one time in all of my childhood did I ever think that people who stutter were being made fun of because of Porky's stuttering. That did not stop a wave of protests throughout the 90s, though, against the pig and the removal (at least for a time) of Porky's famous closing line "Th-th-th-that's all folks!" Evidently, people (or pigs) who stutter were not considered good enough to be on TV. They might offend someone else with same condition. It's good no one ever told Mel Tillis.
We have become a culture too scared to give offense and too willing to be offended. Any hint of offense must be met with an immediate and very public apology. It's ridiculous and has moved into the realms of being an unhealthy obsession. This reluctance to offend has become the largest barrier to free speech in the world. We're too busy self-censoring to even know what free speech is. It's all about fear.
Maybe Porky is an extreme example but, seriously, being offended by an animated pig is pretty extreme. Probably, being offended by any cartoon is extreme. What a way to hand power over your life over to someone else. But I don't want to get side-tracked on the psychology of why people are blatantly offensive.
The actual issue is that when we all try so hard to never offend anyone and spare everyone's poor little feelings then, when there is someone who is willing to be offensive and ridicule things that probably ought to be ridiculed (because, honestly, more things probably ought to be ridiculed; anything that people treat as religion, in fact, from actual religion to money to sports teams), then that person stands out, way out, and stands out in that way can make him a target for retaliation from people who have given all of their power away.
The problem is that too many people, almost all people, just go along. It doesn't matter if it's wrong or right, they don't give things enough thought to ever get to that determination. Religious people are the worst. I say that as someone who grew up Baptist and worked in churches for years. I say that as someone who lost his first church position because he spoke out against something wrong the church leadership was doing. I say that as someone who was told, "Teenagers are not a priority for us because they don't bring in any money. Unless you can figure out how to get their parents to come to church [and tithe], we're not going to support the program [beyond being a babysitting service]." I say that as someone who is no longer associated with an organized church because every organized church I've been a part of has been more concerned with money than doing its job. No, wait, only concerned with money. The "job" was only a means to bringing in money.
But, then, churches are another of the places that are primarily concerned with taking people's power away from them. Satire, in that sense, can be a way to give that power back to the people.
Charlie Hebdo was not unknown to me before the attack on January 7. I didn't read it (because, well, French), but I agreed with its ideologies. I admired those men for continuing to publish despite the very real (as the massacre demonstrates) threat upon their lives. As Stephane Charbonnier said in 2012, "I am not afraid of retaliation. I have no children, no wife, no car, no credit. It perhaps sounds a bit pompous, but I'd rather die standing than live on my knees." That's not actually a new quote, the part about dying on one's feet. It goes back at least 200 years... to another Frenchman. People, some small group of people, have always been willing to stand up and die.
I can't say that I'm not afraid of retaliation. I have children. I have a wife. I even have a car, a house note, and a dog and a cat. But... But I would rather die standing than have my children live on their knees. The thing is, if more people would take that stance, the people who would kill wouldn't stand any kind of chance. But most people just stop at fear. And refusing to think.
Look, I get that Charlie Hebdo was irreverent, and I remember just how un-funny I found Bored of the Rings back when I was 14 or 15 and thought it would be a good idea to read it (but I was 14 or 15!), but!
When irreverence is seen as a justification for murder, there is no place left for reverence.
"I am Charlie."
"I am Ahmed."