by Ernest Hogan
“Painting is not done to decorate apartments. It is an instrument of war for attack and defense against the enemy.” Pablo Picasso said it. The hero of my novel Cortez on Jupiter had it tattooed on his arm.
After all, art is a weapon, especially in our Information Age. The same can be said for cartooning.
As a cartoonist myself, news of the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, and the deaths of twelve people including some of the cartoonists, hit close to home. It was especially disturbing that the gunmen were offended by blasphemous cartoons.
When trying to explain what I do (it's always difficult) I like to call it creative blasphemy. Science fiction works when I try to put it into the context of our consumer society, but creative blasphemy is more accurate, and explains when I deviate from the traditional norms of sci-fi.
I'm aware of the trouble it can bring. I've got the scars. But I keep doing it. I can't help it. It's who and what I am.
I understand why the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists drew Muhammad even though Muslims consider it blasphemy. There is something about doing the forbidden. I've gone there myself.
There was an uneasy moment when I was reading the contract for the British edition of High Aztech. There was a blaphemy clause. I was supposed to assure them that the book was not blasphemous, when blasphemy was what I had in mind when I wrote it. Luckily, on closer reading I realized that they meant blasphemy against the Church of England – I never even mention the C of E in the novel! Funny how people don't care if you blaspheme against someone else's religion.
Nobody tried to kill me for writing High Aztech. They just tried to kill my career. New York still treats me like a talented leper.
I wouldn't draw a cartoon of Muhammad. Not that I'm afraid of terrorists killing me, but because I know Muslims. I help them at the library where I work, which is down the freeway from the local mosque. And on my side of town, hijabs are a common sight. I've met a lot of nice Muslims. I wouldn't want to insult them.
You have to watch out for collateral damage when weaponizing your art. As Chester Himes said “. . . all unorganized violence is like a blind man with a pistol.” We all need to keep our eyes open.
Also, since there's been a ban on images of Muhammad for centuries, nobody really knows what he looked like. My guess would be that he looked a lot like Jesus – the real one, not the blond marketing logo that the churches of Europe have sold the world. It may be the reason for the image ban.
Hell, it would make a great cartoon:
“Great Jesus T-shirt, dude!”
Wouldn't have to draw the forbidden image in either.
But I don't think The New Yorker would buy it.
When cartoonists draw Muhammad, he ends up being a typical stereotypical Arab with a beard, big nose, and a turban. Switch the turban for a sombrero, shave the beard, leave a moustache, and he become a stereotypical Mexican. I'm often mistaken for an Arab, which can be dangerous in Arizona.
But then, cartooning is all about stereotypes. The difference comes in what you do with them.
It's too easy to insult murderous fanatics. Just fling a handy cliché and run. Hope you run fast enough.
Looking at the Charlie Hebdo cartoons, dispite their professed far-left agenda, they appeal to racism and xenophobia. Are there any non-white cartoonists on their staff? Any Muslims? Or Jews?
I've heard that these days in Paris, all the service jobs are filled by black people. It must be like being on a plantation in the Deep South before the Civil War. And more and more Arabs live in the suburbs. France is turning black and brown. Afrofuturism, mes amis.
I wonder who's laughing at these cartoons? People whose Parisian apartments are decorated with Picassos?
The surviving Charlie Hebdo cartoonists would do better if they targeted the minds of terrorists, not just confirming all their fears about Western civilization. Do some trickster clown televoodoo. Can you make them laugh? Breakdown their ridgid thinking, and invade their beliefs with alien images and ideas? Let's infect them with out mind-altering viruses!
Stépane Charbonnier, (AKA “Charb”) one of the murdered cartoonists said, “I'd rather die standing up than live on my knees.” He's now being quoted all over the interwebs.
He may have been quoting Emiliano Zapata, who said, “It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.” ¡Viva la Revoluçión!
Or should I say, steal this wisdom. Which reminds me of the words of Abbie Hoffman: “Free speech means the right to shout 'theater' in a crowded fire.”
Such theater. Such a crowded fire.
Ernest Hogan is addicted to creative blasphemy. It oozes out of his works. Your preconceptions are risk.