Is depicting the prophet Mohammed with a bomb in his turban, or a Muslim kissing another man, or victims of Boko Haram as pre teen pregnant welfare scroungers satire? Is the portrayal of a Jew with an exaggerated hook nose, or an African American as a golly*** humour? Or how should we take drawing the black Justice Minister of France as a monkey, and a cartoon depicting an act of sodomy as a comment on gay marriage?
All these are examples of cartoons which claim to be satire but it could be argued veer into just hatred. Satire is a powerful weapon to check power, as is done brilliantly and consistently well by Ian Hislop’s Private Eye.
Satire at its best pushes at the boundaries of taste. There was uproar when Chris Morris satirised the media coverage of child abuse in his TV show Brass Eye back in 2002. The point was that Morris was taking on the power of the media to set the agenda as to how people should feel about such a contentious issue. Private Eye has a regular piece where Israel’s random destruction of lives and property in Gaza is commented on in Biblical style as “The Book of Ehud”, the satire being aimed directly at the powerful Israeli Government who seem beyond the reach of international law.
But when “satire” is aimed at the weak and powerless who have no means to defend themselves then it crosses the line into hate filled bile which simply perpetuates stereotypes about members of society who have no voice.
A simple trawl through the internet produces grotesque images of Jews from the 1930’s German media. Similarly there exist cartoons from the ‘sixties which depict Martin Luther King and his followers in a way that is done to promote racial hatred.
A few notches down on the scale the ‘seventies Saturday TV staple The Black and White Minstrel show was, at the best crass and insensitive; a fact that was recognised and the programme was axed. Benny Hill’s depiction of women was in a similar ball park. The point is that these groups in Society were not the ones with the whip hand in the media and it took years of hard slog and campaigning to secure the ideal of equality via the Callaghan Governments Sex and Race Discrimination Acts.
When one section of society is under the pump from the powerful interests of the ruling class then it is important that we come together in solidarity and with an ethos of protecting the powerless. Cartoons such as some of those produced by Charlie Hebdo do nothing to aid the powerless, and can actually promote the stereotypes that make the divide and rule agenda work well for the ruling class by giving credence to what is depicted.