Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Seduction of Offense

As easygoing as I am, there are still many things in the world that prompt my "offense" reflex.  I am easily offended by any kind of violence against children or people who are in any other ways vulnerable:  those with mental illnesses, the sick, aged, and infirm.  Hell, I'm even offended when people of color are shot to death by vigilantes.  (Note the sarcasm, here) Other offenses include stupidity that affects people who would, under normal circumstances, have a reasonable expectation of being treated decently as they go about their jobs.

This last includes people with compromised immune systems who must go to work and are exposed to vintage diseases like measles, mumps, or whooping cough by anti-vaxxers.  Or people drawing distasteful cartoons who get killed in murderous attacks.  Or people in schools in Pakistan or here or anywhere else in the world going about their business of teaching children and get fire-bombed or gunned down.

Those things are just damned fucking offensive.  Oh-is the use of the word "fucking" offensive?  Well.  That begs a question.

I may decide to use that word for emphasis, for underscoring an emotion, to shock, or just to let the reader know that the level of offense I feel is of a much greater degree than than the type of offense I may experience in a different situation.  That's my business and I have learned as time has gone by I am just not concerned at all how you might cringe when you read that word.  As some wise person
somewhere, once said, "What you think of me is none of my business."

Things you say may offend me, too...You may say a woman wearing a short skirt deserved to be cat-called (say, what?) or that a Charlie Hebdo cartoonist should have stopped making cartoons of Mohammed in order to stay below the terrorists' radar.

That's all right.  It's truly all right if you are offended or I am offended or if some guy half a world away or down the street is offended.  You, I, and he have the right to be offended.  BUT, here's what we don't have the right to do:

We don't have the right to harm one another over what we've said, thought, written, filmed, taken pictures of, blogged, debated, or sneezed.  We are a world full of people, many of whom don't think like we do, who draw things,say things, think things, write things, film things, take pictures of things, and sneezed at things which offend SOMEONE. It stands to reason that at some point, each of us will be heartily offended at SOMETHING.  It would be impossible not to run across such things.

Sigh.  Whatever shall we do.  (You have to imagine this being said in the voice of the heroine in the old melodramas, as Sweet Nell is presented with the foreclosure notice by the evil villain landlord)

What.  Shall.  We do.

Jesus, (in whom many people don't believe and that is not relevant here-believe or don't) once said something to the effect "If someone slaps your face, turn your head and offer them the other side too."*  What he didn't say was that the shame falls to the attacker, as has happened in the court of world opinion as the outcome of the Charlie Hebdo attack.  Oh, my.

He was saying, "Look.  We can decide how we want to respond.  For my money, show the other guy that you aren't going to rise to the bait.  Back away and let the tension fall off."   All right, that's not precisely what he said, but he might have.  Had he spoken English, I bet he would've put it that way.

And here's what he definitely didn't say but if he were the central character in a distasteful cartoon or something he just might, "Chill the fuck out.  It's all about HIM, not about YOU.  Don't sweat it." Not impossible to imagine.  So think about it....

I can get as offended as I want to about things, and there are times when I do.  I can't always offer the other cheek unconcernedly but I know you can't either.

But we don't murder people over it.  We don't attack each other's villages, we don't burn newspapers, shoot up schools, lynch people, or car bomb over it.  You still get to say as much as you fucking want, and I get to say as much as I fucking want.

We could wish that the other one would simply shut the fuck up.  But there's something better, something that's easier to do, than to try to shut each other the fuck up.

Turn the other cheek.  It's our right, it's our right to turn that cheek and walk away EVERY BIT AS MUCH as saying the offensive thing, drawing the offensive cartoon, writing the offensive blog, showing the offensive film, or any of the rest of it.  Are you offended?  You have the right to walk away and let the universe (God, Ka, the Higher Power, whatever) absorb that awful feeling.  It leaves us free to respond intelligently, humorously, tenderly, gently, broad-mindedly, and any other way we may care to.  We have that freedom.

We give ourselves more freedom if we resist the seduction of offense.


Matthew 5:38-42New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Concerning Retaliation

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40 and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42 Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

There Is No Freedom Without Freedom of the Press

"Cut Short"

Today I pray for those wounded and the families of those murdered in Paris.

In case you missed it, there was another act of jihadist terrorism in the world today.  It was a cowardly attack against the satirical newspaper 'Charlie Hebdo' in Paris.  You can read the news story here.  This blog is not about news; it is about the particular brand of insane courage it takes to be a political cartoonist in this world. 

In a time when language itself is being pushed and manipulated into increasingly hyperbolic levels of dualism, there are often times when only an image can cross ideological divides.  Cartoons do this sharply and viscerally.  Satirical pieces often are poignant, provocative, irreverent, and candid.  

Some are biased.  Some are distasteful.  Some are mean-spirited.  Some are not.

So, in a country which defends the freedom of the individual's right to speak and the press' right to publish, many of us, myself included, sometimes question the wisdom of spouting off some of the opinions and judgments we see.  BUT it is still the right and responsibility of free people everywhere to support the right of all people to express, publish, draw, write, Tweet, etc.

Cartoonists are vulnerable because they put their images, in a few strokes of the pen, right up in the face of the entire world.  Once a piece is in the newspaper or on the internet, it's no-holds-barred from that point forward, and the piece stands alone to be interpreted by every individual viewer who runs across it.  The cartoonist doesn't have the luxury of seven inches of column space or any other forum to explain or unpack what s/he was thinking when s/he drew the thing.  The gift they give us is letting us view and cogitate on an image and make up our minds for ourselves what we think about the subject.  

We respond with anything ranging from nasty Tweets to letters to the editor to death threats.  

This time criminals sought to silence the writers and cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo with automatic weapons.  They sought to frighten off others who might share their opinions.  

This will not succeed.  It will not succeed because there are pencils, pens, markers, drawing programs, photo illustration apps, and the artists who wield them.  Allons-y.  Grab a tool!  Whether your expression is a quick sketch, a photo, a letter to the editor, or baking a pie, won't you join me in lifting up artists of courage everywhere in love and light?

 Il n'y a pas de liberte sans liberte de la presse.