Free Speech Hypocrites

Does anyone else remember the Chocolate Jesus? Back in 2007 the artist Cosimo Cavallaro sculpted a crucified Jesus out of 200 pounds of milk chocolate, and the piece was displayed in a Manhattan gallery. There was a huge hue and cry about it, mostly because Cavallaro left out a loincloth. You might remember that Little Lulu threw a fit over this affront to Christianity (Jesus had a weenie? Who knew?), and the sculpture was removed.

It seemed obvious to me that the nudity was not just for shock value but added to the poignancy and vulnerability of the image of the crucified Christ, and the medium was a powerful statement on the commercialization — and trivialization — of Easter. But American righties argued that in the U.S. only satire poking at Christianity is allowed, but that satire of, say, Islam is not, and that’s not fair.

And I say satire by definition requires that the target be something that is established, powerful and privileged.  Ridicule of a relatively powerless minority group, which Islam is in the West, is not satire, but “bullying.” See also “When Operas Attack,” and don’t forget the many efforts by the American Right to shut down performances of Terrence McNally’s play Corpus Christi.  Yes, in the U.S. the Left tends to push back against expressions of racism and sexism, but the Right has a long record of attempting to shut down genuine artistic expression that it finds offensive.

I’d never heard of Charlie Hebdo before this week, and I only know it from the cover images and cartoons that have been reproduced on the Web. (Oddly, if you go to the Charlie Hebdo site now you can’t get to the back issues but can see only a “Je suis Charlie” statement. Keeping the content available would have been gutsier.) But what I’ve seen reminds me of the old underground comix that were popular in the 1960s counterculture — a lot of vulgarity and shock for the sake of shock. Which is not necessarily bad; some of those comix were brilliant, as I remember. And who didn’t love Mr. Natural?

But what happened to them? The 1970s happened, and then the 1980s. The country got more conservative. IMO it wasn’t primarily “political correctness” that killed them, as Alice Robb claims, but prudery.

It’s interesting to me that one of the few people to recognize the Right’s hypocrisy is Bill Donohue of the Catholic League, one of the people who led the charge against the Chocolate Jesus. Donohue is opposed to free expression, but at least he’s consistent about it and not calling for a different standard for different religions.

As a people, we’re either for freedom of expression, or we’re not. If we’re only in favor of allowing expression with which we agree, we’re not.

Update: One of the best responses to the Paris massacre I’ve seen so far.

15 thoughts on “Free Speech Hypocrites

  1. Frankly, I find the notion a six-foot tall sculpture of a nude, anatomically correct, milk chocolate Jesus to be disgusting and sacrilegious, and certainly I don’t blame people for being outraged. From a spiritual and aesthetic (not to mention gastronomic) perspective, bittersweet dark is the ONLY way to go!

  2. Dukhha Earl,
    Every good American Evangelical Christian knows that that sculpture should have been made out of WHITE chocolate!
    With a codpiece on it similar to the one W wore when he was parading around on that aircraft carrier, announcing his mission in Iraq was accomplished.

    And the Virgin Mary must only be portrayed with a chastity-belt. One to which only God has the key!

    Is it getting warm in here?
    Is someone lighting a match? It smells like sulfur.

  3. We can be for freedom of expression without agreeing with what’s being expressed.

    And no one says that you have to repeat or display someone else’s freedom of expression.
    There’s also a freedom not to further display or spread things that you may think are in bad taste.
    One person’s idea of what’s funny, is certainly not necessarily everyone’s.

    And I remember seeing some of this magazine’s cartoons when that Danish cartoonist was killed a few years back, and they ran some of his old ones. And I looked at some of their own originals.
    Imo – a lot of them were sophomoric, jejune, and could be considered in-your-face offensive to people of the Muslim faith. They were gross-funny in a kind of “National Lampoon” meets “Mad Magazine” – but with and even more absurd and obscene twist.
    But, that’s my opinion.
    And no one should ever lose their life over an opinion.

    I agree with maha’s excerpt from Juan Cole’s piece.
    These terrorists were created and nurtured by America’s invasion of Iraq, and the horrors that we committed on the people there.
    And that these pathetic and hate-filled saps were primed and let loose as a recruitment tool for Middle Eastern terrorist groups.

    Unfortunately, these actions are also a recruitment tool for Reich-Wing extremists in America and Europe.

    We are still playing Osama bin Laden’s game.
    And we ain’t winnin’!
    He knew that when the West started playing “Whack-a-mole,” it would create more moles. AND, more reactionary whacko’s. Which leads to more moles, which leads to more…
    You get the idea.

  4. c u n d gulag,

    Well, it sure smells like something! Anyway, here are a few verses of my take on an old classic:

    I don’t care if it rains of freezes
    ‘Long as I got my Chocolate Jesus
    Melting on the dashboard of my car.

    Through my trials and tribulations
    And my travels through the nations
    With my Chocolate Jesus I’ll go far.
    Chocolate Jesus! Chocolate Jesus,
    Melting on the dashboard of my car.

    I don’t care if it’s dark or scary
    Long as I have Caramel Mary
    Melting on the dashboard of my car

    I feel I’m protected amply
    I’ve got the whole damn Holy Family
    Melting on the dashboard of my car

    Yummmmy and Amen!

  5. Dukkha,

    And a great take on something Don Imus wrote (or, Charles – or, was it someone else?), back when he was (sorta) funny!

  6. Well, I suppose someone should post this:

    I also found the work In “Charlie Hebdo” on the puerile side, but if that were a crime, who among us would see daylight again? There is also a markedly different cultural tradition of humor and satire, which I can’t pretend to understand. But, I can just imagine what might have happened if “Charlie weekly” had been published here in the good old USA. “Charb” was a supporter of the French Communist Party. If a similar paper, edited by someone who supported the CPUSA or CPM&L, (do they even exist aujourd’hui?) had been attacked by, well let’s say, a member of the “faith community.” Where do you think Fox News would place the blame?

    Even Bobo Brooks got into the act. But, his work is like that wine meant for “laying down,” but not for drinking.

    I have the fear that the recent events will fuel the extreme right wing’s push for power. That, of course, would be very unfortunate.

  7. @maha,

    Show some respect, after all it’s Jesus we’re talking about. Surely you’d need something more like a stovepipe hat than a bonnet.

  8. Well, one should infiltrate most any commercial kitchen, or at least the ones I worked in years past where satire and the jejune ruled. All kinds of fare unfit for public consumption from blasephemy to dead baby jokes hit the air. Phrases like “f*ck me blind Jesus” to other sophomoric utterances were common currency. One not of the (culinary) tribe could take great offense and cut loose on those barbarian kitchen workers.
    However, in accord with the views of some from Juan Cole to Pepe Escobar, this was not an attack on faith insulted. It seems an act far more sinister than reaction to what I will dub “kitchen humor”.
    There is venting,(with words) and then there is venting (with bullets).

  9. “… a lot of vulgarity and shock for the sake of shock. Which is not necessarily bad; some of those comix were brilliant, as I remember. And who didn’t love Mr. Natural?”

    Some of these comix were indeed brilliant, just not the ones that were “shock for the sake of shock”. Not Mr. Natural, and not any of Crumb’s work, was shock for the sake of shock.

    A closer American analog to Charlie Hebdo was Paul Krassner’s The Realist. They had plenty of excellent satire, but some of their stuff was shock for the sake of shock, especially anti-Catholic. Muslims were not on the radar screen of the American Left in those days.

  10. uncledad,
    I saw Iggy in concert quite a few times from the mid/late-70’s until the early 80’s.

    ALWAYS a GREAT show!
    One time, I saw him with The Misfits, who opened for him.
    THAT, was a band which literally frightened me.
    I’d link, but it’s too early, and I hardly slept…

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