Henry Rollins: Satire in the Crosshairs

Henry Rollins: Satire in the Crosshairs
Photo by Heidi May

[Look for your weekly fix from the one and only Henry Rollins right here every Thursday, and come back tomorrow for the awesomely annotated playlist for his Sunday KCRW broadcast.]

In the wake of the recent massacre at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a lot of interesting and frightening points of view have been circulating: everything from “Islam is a virus that must be wiped out” and “all religions are ultimately violent and intolerant” to conversations on freedom of speech and what it means to be satirical.

Merriam-Webster.com defines satire as “a way of using humor to show that someone or something is foolish, weak, bad, etc.; humor that shows the weaknesses or bad qualities of a person, government, society, etc.”

Sounds to me like an issue of Mad Magazine, a broadcast of Saturday Night Live or — at least in America — use of the First Amendment of the Constitution.

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The reaction to satire — which, as with all humor, often has a ring of truth to it — should at best be a good laugh, at worst some grumbling. That anything satirical would provoke a reaction that leads to violence is as horrifying as it is confusing and infuriating.

There is no defending the actions of the shooters who attacked in Paris. There is footage of one of the shooters saying, “We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad,” but no sane person can accept that these men were in any way protecting the sanctity of Islam by killing cartoonists.

I wonder if the depictions of Muhammad in Charlie Hebdo were merely a convenient excuse for the shooters to activate their siege. I think they were looking to kill some French citizens, and if it wasn’t going to be people at Charlie Hebdo, it was going to be someone else. An eventual attack by these men, or at least an attempt, was inevitable.

Charlie Hebdo is not a new target for violence. The paper’s offices were firebombed in November 2011. Apparently this was in response to the paper bringing on the Prophet Muhammad as “guest editor-in-chief.” For that event, the paper renamed itself Charia Hebdo and featured a supplement called Madam Sharia.

I am all for freedom of speech and, as offensive as it can be at times, I think it is absolutely necessary in a free society. I hear and see things I don’t like on a regular basis. That’s life in a free country. You are allowed not to like anything you want, all day long.

What I don’t understand is what Charlie Hebdo is trying to do with its images of Muhammad. No doubt plenty of people are offended or in some way affected, but I don’t see how it makes anyone get along any better in a country that people of many different cultures call home.

If your religion is being ridiculed in the name of satire or anything else, you might just take it in stride, believing your faith is stronger than the jabs of some small newspaper. Others might resent it and act out. In either case, is the outcome positive? Should we all just laugh and maybe even make our own cartoons of the Charlie Hebdo staff as the lonely, self-loathing alcoholics they very well may be? And then submit them to the paper for publication?

On the other hand, if you practice a religion that has fueled so many incidents of violence, murder, homophobia and misogyny, and that has a fiercely adhered-to rule of not depicting a certain image, don’t you leave yourself open to any and all ridicule in the modern world? Isn’t it a stretch to live your life based on relatively ancient values in the present day and not expect to have some of them called out as total bullshit?

It is obvious that Charlie Hebdo will not be intimidated. Wouldn’t it be great if not a single Muslim in the world acknowledged any of the cartoons and, if asked about them, answered only, “I pray for their authors,” and smiled?

That’s how I would play it. Let them do their thing and I’ll do mine.

Satire is all around. A few years ago, I was at a gun range in Texas. On my way out, one of the employees opened a large package of new targets. They depicted President Obama, with big lips and a hammer and sickle behind him.

I guess you can work on your aim by shooting the president of the United States in the face if you want. It’s freedom of speech, right? The First and Second Amendments sneaking away so they can be together! The bullets are real but the target is just a piece of paper.

One of my favorite uses of satire is a comic book that depicts me in a romantic relationship with rock vocalist Glenn Danzig. I have never opened a copy; I am happy to live the rest of my life never knowing what happens to the two of us in those pages.

I have, however, signed the covers of many copies for people. They ask me what I think about it and all I can come up with is that I don’t care, because I really don’t.

I am told that in the story, our neighbors (Mr. Danzig and I live together) are Hall and Oates! If I were to find that anything less than hilarious, then I am in the wrong business.

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