Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The Hullabaloo Over the Cartoons

I hadn't posted on the conflict over the Danish cartoons yet (although I have seen them).

If anybody is wondering, I agree with Tristero on the subject. Freedom of speech is vital, and a part of that is understanding what exactly that speech entails. In the case of the Danish cartoons, many call them satire; as Tristero points out, however, satire is used as a means of speaking truth to power. Since Muslims are for all intents and purposes powerless in Denmark and in Europe in general, and as they are seen as the encroaching "Other" by many in Europe, it isn't really satire. It's merely harsh mockery and ridicule intended to more precisely define the line between Us and Them.

This isn't to say that one can't satirize those that you disagree with; far from it. At some point, though, there has to be a point of shared agreement or belief. When Jon Stewart is satirizing the media, he's recognizing that there is value in the media's job, while simultaneously showing that they are doing it badly. When the Simpsons satirizes American society, they (at least when it works) demonstrate their empathy towards it.

Hence the reason, for example, that Ned Flanders is such a brilliant character. Yes, he's an object of satire, but they recognize that he is at his core a fundamentally good person, and extend the satire to people's reactions to him. Homer is another good example: he's somewhat dumb, but he reflects the foibles of all Americans, and the best episodes are the ones where the satire is done with the lightest and deftest touch.

There is nothing "deft" about the Danish cartoons, however. There's no respect, no acknowledgement of the positives in the mockery of the negatives. Heck, most of them barely make sense. They're just mockery and ridicule from an artist's pen.

Are they protected speech? I think so. Do they in turn, however, deserve scorn? I think so too.

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