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.Â 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. Â 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 isÂ 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.