The news from Paris continues to shock and awe.
Despite losing 12 staffers to murder and terrorism, Charlie Hebdo, the satirical newspaper, has survived to publish another day. Now its latest issue is on its way to the book of records with a print run of three million copies, and two million more to follow. European newspapers have reproduced its cartoons as a gesture of solidarity.
When the issue came out on Wednesday (January14), buyers’ lines snaked for blocks as Parisians clamored for copies that sold out within minutes. Outside of France, demand for copies was equally huge, and will likely stay up until finally supplied.
Surviving staff members of the weekly worked day and night after the Jan. 7 attack to ensure that the issue would come out on time. With their offices still roped off as a crime scene, the staff worked out of a conference room at the left-wing daily Libération.
The issue did not disappoint; it had plenty to stir controversy. The 16-page edition brimmed with the sort of irreverent, off-color humor that made Charlie famous and infamous. No one is spared ridicule. Not Pope Francis, who is now in Manila; not German Chancellor Angela Merkel, not French Prime Minister Manuel Valls. There are nuns, priests, rabbis and imams sprinkled in its pages.
In one cartoon, two hooded terrorists are pictured in heaven, with one asking the other, “Where are the virgins?”
“They’re with the Charlie staff, loser,” his accomplice replies.
Another cartoon pictures a harried and exhausted cartoonist hunched over his desk, with a caption that reads, “Cartooning at Charlie Hebdo, it’s 25 years of work.” The next panel shows hooded gunmen mowing people down with a Kalashnikov, accompanied by the words, “For a terrorist, it’s 25 seconds of work.”
The conclusion: “Terrorism: A job for lazy people.”
Mother of all ironies
Atrocity is a horrible way to increase circulation, and I do not recommend it to the Manila Times as a strategy for recapturing its old pedestal as the Philippines No.1 daily newspaper.
Here’s the mother of all ironies.
The Islamic terrorists clearly meant to kill the paper by killing 12 of its staff members, including its editor. Instead it has propelled Charlie Hebdo’s circulation from 65,000 copies weekly to the stratosphere today. It will not lack of financing and advertising support from here on.
Hebdo will sire many copycats, which will strive to be as irreverent and impertinent. Which means that religious zealots will have more satirists to worry about.
This tragedy has given the profession of cartooning a big boost. More young people will henceforth take up fine arts in college. Cartooning could produce its own Michelangelo and Picasso.
With Charlie Hebdo, the goal is always to provoke, to stir debate and to make people laugh. Now, satirists may not be content with laughter. They may turn their sights on creative destruction.
The triumph of print
Here’s another great irony.
Before this tragedy, people were blithely saying that the day of print media is over. That newspapers like the Times will become extinct. That the Internet and social media, like terrorists, will kill everything in sight. That TV is supreme.
But then comes this irony.
With Charlie Hebdo, we are seeing the triumph of the press and the resurrection of print to frontline status.
People everywhere are jostling to get a physical copy of Charlie Hebdo. They’re not looking for the cartoons to be merely flashed on TV or replicated in social media in truncated form. They want the real thing.
If newspaper and magazine publishers have been totally demoralized by broadcast and social media, now is the time to rethink creatively their mission and their service to readers.
The truth is when we speak of the press, we’re really talking of print media. Broadcast media and social media have been piggybacking only on the heroism of print.
The time is coming when advertisers will realize where real journalism lives, and that they have been backing the wrong horse.
Pope Francis on free expression
Despite his busy schedule in the Philippines, Pope Francis has managed to insert a few words of comment on the Charlie Hebdo affair. He did so during his flight from Sri Lanka to Manila.
His holiness declared that there are limits to freedom of expression, especially when it insults or ridicules someone’s faith.
He dutifully defended free speech as not only a fundamental human right but a duty to speak one’s mind for the sake of the common good.
But he emphasized that there are limits.
Many people around the world have defended the right of Charlie Hebdo to publish inflammatory cartoons of the Prophet Muhammed in the wake of the attacks by Islamic extremists in Paris.
The Vatican and four prominent French imams issued a joint declaration that denounced the attacks but also urged the media to treat religions with respect.
Francis went a step further by saying that limits must be recognized when freedom of expression meets freedom of religion.
He said that it is an “aberration” to kill in the name of God and religion can never be used to justify violence.
As for potential threats to his person, in the wake of the Paris attacks, Pope Francis said he was concerned primarily for the faithful. He explained: “I am worried, but you know I have a defect: a good dose of carelessness. I’m careless about these things,” he said.
But he admitted that in his prayers, he had asked that if something were to happen to him that “it doesn’t hurt, because I’m not very courageous when it comes to pain. I’m very timid.”
He added, “I’m in God’s hands.”