I don't think I've read "Doonesbury" since the Eighties, although I assumed it was still out there somewhere - like "Blondie", but less edgy and with worse draftsmanship and drearier characters. So I didn't pay much attention when Garry Trudeau became the first cartoonist to be awarded the George Polk Award.
The Polk Award is named after a journalist shot dead at point-blank range in 1948 while covering the Greek civil war. So you might have thought it would be in ever so mildly bad taste to use the opportunity of a Polk acceptance speech to piss on the graves of a group of journalists similarly murdered. Nevertheless, that's what Mr Trudeau did:
Charlie Hebdo, which always maintained it was attacking Islamic fanatics, not the general population, has succeeded in provoking many Muslims throughout France to make common cause with its most violent outliers. This is a bitter harvest.
Ah, so Charlie Hebdo is to blame for provoking ordinary, peaceful, moderate Muslims into supporting the Allahu Akbar guys who killed them.
Traditionally, satire has comforted the afflicted while afflicting the comfortable. Satire punches up, against authority of all kinds, the little guy against the powerful. Great French satirists like Molière and Daumier always punched up, holding up the self-satisfied and hypocritical to ridicule. Ridiculing the non-privileged is almost never funny—it's just mean.
Is Islam, which will be the world's largest religion by mid-century and already controls a 58-member voting bloc at the UN attempting to impose a global blasphemy law, really "a powerless, disenfranchised minority"? Does even someone as blinkered and parochial as Garry Trudeau think Charlie Hebdo was "punching down"?
Apparently so. At The Atlantic, David Frum has done a very thorough examination of the matter, and includes this example of what Mr Trudeau regards as "punching up":
In 2012, Garry Trudeau drew a series of strips about a Texas law requiring an ultrasound before an abortion. Trudeau's point of view was ferocious: He had one of his characters pronounce, "By the authority invested in me by the GOP base, I thee rape."
Ah, the deft satirical jest for which "Doonesbury" is renowned! But, as I've been saying for over a decade now, if you're going to be provocative, it's best to do it with people who can't be provoked. Whether or not targeting the GOP base is "punching up", they're not going to punch Garry Trudeau up, assuming he ever runs into any of them. "I thee rape" is pretty funny, huh? In Sweden, and the Netherlands, and Rotherham and Rochdale and other unlovely towns of northern England, the fellows doing the raping, and the grooming, and the sex slavery, are young Muslim men. But, if you were to essay "I thee rape" gags about them, they'd kill you.
Best to stick to that GOP base, don't you think? Garry Trudeau doesn't "afflict the comfortable". The preening twerp is "the comfortable", and he's careful to afflict only those who won't discomfort his comfort.
Still, I'm grateful to David Frum's column for drawing my attention to this passage in Trudeau's remarks:
As you know, the Muhammad cartoon controversy began eight years ago in Denmark, as a protest against "self-censorship," one editor's call to arms against what she felt was a suffocating political correctness. The idea behind the original drawings was not to entertain or to enlighten or to challenge authority—her charge to the cartoonists was specifically to provoke, and in that they were exceedingly successful. Not only was one cartoonist gunned down, but riots erupted around the world, resulting in the deaths of scores.
Aside from the other errors in that paragraph, I found myself wondering: Who is this "she" who gave "her charge" to those cartoonists? In the ten years since the cartoons were published, I've met most of the Jyllands-Posten staff involved, and I've been interviewed by the newspaper twice, first in London and then in Copenhagen. The journalist who proposed the idea was Stig Olesen, which even Garry Trudeau must recognize as a male name. The editor-in-chief at the time was Carsten Juste: Did Mr Trudeau think "Carsten" is a bit girly like "Kirsten"? The culture editor, in whose section the Motoons appeared, was Flemming Rose: Did Trudeau accidentally invert the name and think it was Miss Rose Flemming?
Or is it just that a comfortable non-afflicted American celebrity couldn't be arsed even to look up the names of fellow artists and writers living under constant death threats for a decade? It's not just locally resident fanatics: an extraordinarily wide range of persons from Chicago, Illinois to Waterford, Ireland have been arrested for plotting to kill those cartoonists and their editors. While I was in Copenhagen for that second interview with Jyllands-Posten, a one-legged Chechen jihadist prematurely self-detonated in his hotel room while en route to blow up the paper.
A "one-legged Chechen jihadist" sounds pretty funny, right? Maybe Trudeau could put one in "Doonesbury". Oh, no, wait: he's not capable of drawing a one-legged Chechen jihadist, is he? Still, you gotta admit, every one-legged Chechen is pretty much surefire comedy gold ...until one of them gets through. At which point, even as you're lying on the floor in a pool of blood, Garry Trudeau will "punch up" at you, and flatter himself that he's brave to do so.
After my battles with Canada's "human rights" commissions, I wrote a book on free speech (personally autographed copies of which, etc, etc) and its remorseless retreat across the western world. And as a result I get asked from time to time to give speeches in various parts of the Continent. After accepting one such engagement for later this year, it occurred to me upon rereading the invitation that perhaps I was not the event organizers' first choice. But that's because Charb and his Charlie Hebdo colleagues are dead. And the Swedish artist Lars Vilks is living in hiding after the most recent attempt on his life a few weeks ago. And pretty soon the Rolodex is emptying out so fast there's no one to book but some obscure Canadian...
Lars Hedegaard, my host in Copenhagen, was shot at point-blank range, but fortunately by someone far more incompetent than George Polk's killer. My friend the Norwegian comedienne Shabana Rehman had her family restaurant firebombed by pals of some dimestore imam. The Dutch cartoonist Nekschot, who could only appear with me on stage disguised in a burqa lest anybody see his face, has been forced into "retirement". The American cartoonist Molly Norris has vanished from the face of the earth. I write about her in my latest book, but I doubt Garry Trudeau even knows her name. She was a by-the-book Cascadian liberal who discovered that, when you accidentally cross Islam, Trudeau and all the other bigshot "progressives" won't be there for you.
Charlie Hebdo dead, Vilks in hiding, Hedegaard shot, Rehman firebombed, Nekschot vanished, Molly Norris fled, Kurt Westergaard attacked by an Islamic axeman... But Garry Trudeau is on stage congratulating himself on "afflicting the comfortable". You can't "punch down" much lower than sneering at the dead and those no longer able to speak, can you?
It's not often that I find myself too angry to write. But, if Trudeau were to hand, I might be minded to try a little punching up myself. But that's the point, isn't it? When you say to people you can't write, you can't draw, you can't raise certain subjects, what forms of expression are left other than physical violence?
~If Garry Trudeau wants to "afflict the comfortable", the generation that's followed him doesn't want to afflict anybody. At Cracked - which, God help us, is the American answer to Charlie Hebdo - J F Sargent tries to write about why these days everybody seems to get so offended so easily:
Now, I'm not saying that offensive jokes are okay or that we shouldn't call them out -- they're not okay and they should be called out when we hear them. Because that's how comedians learn and that's how society stays healthy.
For cryin' out loud: what kind of supposedly funny writer at an alleged humor magazine could type with a straight face such portentous tosspottery? Granted this is the age of what Kathy Shaidle calls millennial beta male faggotry, wouldn't it be quicker just to slice off your bollocks and serve them with spaghetti sauce to the first passing social justice warrior?
The aforementioned The [Un]documented Mark Steyn has a section called "Last Laughs". Because in the future these guys are building there will be no jokes.