By Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – January 8, 2015
This morning, after a day of reading the news and world reaction to the bloody attack on the headquarters of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, my emotions as a fellow editorial cartoonist continue to be mixed with sadness, anger, and worry. France is a nation that prides itself in its history and tradition of advancing modern democratic principles. For people to be assassinated for merely expressing themselves under the basic protections enshrined in constitutions and typified in similar charters throughout the western world is jarring and worrisome to everyone in the field of producing satire.
Charlie Hebdo delivers a very different breed of satire than what audiences in the mainstream media are served up, especially here in North America. In general, the boundaries that cartoonists work with are far broader in Europe than they are here. In some respects, cartoonists working in the developing world may be forbidden to criticize their politicians, but are given more liberty to go after religion and other sacred cows that would cause tremendous outrage here in North America. At the gutsy Charlie Hebdo magazine, among many of the social targets sought after are any kind of radicalized, conservative, or orthodox religion. Many of the cartoons are illustrative of and perfectly represent the same radical oral messages everyday normal people have in everyday water cooler conversations in any western civilization, yet they’ll never make it to print.
While I worry about what happens next in a France full of tensions between free expressionist defenders and an agitated community of Muslim community and immigrants, I can’t help but think of the chilling effect this particular incident will have on worldwide satire in general. While the silver lining in this tragedy is a refresher course on the value and importance of free expression and the fraternal declaration of “Je suis Charlie”, I worry about the sustainability of my craft.
Here at the Hamilton Spectator, I’m proud to be part of a line of great editorial cartoonists, and I love what I do. However, the hard truth about mainstream media in North America is that we are NOT Charlie. While some argue that running free expressionist cartoons of any degree of offence is a representation of a mature civilized state, we have to remember that society is and always will be made up of a mix of progressive and barbaric people. Freedom of expression therefore needs to be delicately balanced, and I can only hope that eventually the barbarians get crushed. Only then, can we boldly declare, “Je suis Charlie”.