Where on the map

Kaveh Mousavi alerted me to this explanation of the context of Charlie Hebdo’s cartoon depicting Boko Haram sex slaves as welfare queens.

Jean-Baptiste Froment, toulousain

This cover is mixing two unrelated elements which made the news at about the same time:
– Boko Haram victims likely to end up sex slaves in Nigeria
– Decrease of French welfare allocations

In France, as in probably every country who has welfare allocations, some people criticize this system because some people might try to game it (e.g., “welfare queens” idea). Note that if we didn’t had it there would probably be much more people complaining because the ones who really need it would end up in extreme poverty.

Charlie Hebdo is known for being left-wing attached and very controversial, and I think they wanted to parody people who criticize “welfare queens” by taking this point-of-view to the absurd, to show that immigrant women in France are more likely to be victims of patriarchy than evil manipulative profiteers.

And of course if we only stay on the first-degree approach, it’s a terrible racist and absurd cover.

Think The Onion. Think The Colbert Report. Think South Park, The Simpsons, Family Guy.


  1. says

    Ah, your position is starting to become more clear with this comparison. Perhaps Charlie Hebdo is a satire in the same vein as Colbert, South Park, and Family Guy. But I personally have stopped watching those because of their racism, misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia. And the other two face their share of criticism as well.

    Certainly the French satirists don’t deserve death any more than the American satirists. But perhaps they don’t deserve my respect or patronage either.

  2. gmcard says

    I’ve been back and forth on whether the Charlie Hebdo covers under question were racist/misogynist or not. But if the cultural context of the covers is known to be “these are the stupid things right-wingers believe”, which appears to be the case, then I’m firmly in the Je Suis Charlie camp now. It’s not racist to say “right-wingers like to call black people monkeys”. It’s not misogynist to say “right-wingers think all immigrant women are welfare queens”. Doesn’t matter if it’s said with words or images.

  3. Lady Mondegreen (aka Stacy) says

    Damion Reinhardt, wrong again.

    (Hint: Ophelia’s been writing about Charlie Hebdo for days. Check it out.)

  4. Lady Mondegreen (aka Stacy) says

    gmcard, yes, exactly.

    It’s very easy to rip satire out of context and claim it stands for something it doesn’t. But if you want satire that can’t ever be misinterpreted, or satire that never offends, then you want anodyne, toothless satire.

    Satire has to be free to reflect the awfulness of what it opposes, to show up assholes for being assholes. Some faint hearts are horrified at the sight of anal orifices in any context, but they shouldn’t confuse the mirror with the reality.

  5. Arnaud says

    There is also, I think, a very strange misinterpretation of the “Je suis Charlie” phenomenon. ‘Strange’ because to me this aspect seems pretty straightforward and that only people interested in stirring up controversy for controversy’s sake would make such a glaring mistake. But anyway… “Je suis Charlie” does not means “I am Charlie Hebdo and I agree with everything it says and had said in any circumstances whatsoever”, it is much more akin to “I am Spartacus” from which it takes its inspiration in that “I do not care right now about Spartacus’ ideas on the place of women or the treatment of Nubian slaves, I care only that its enemies want to kill him.” In short it’s “If you want to kill Charlie Hebdo, you will have to kill me also!”
    It’s a pretty simple and powerful – if maybe a bit grandiloquent – statement. Powerful because it is simple and so simple that I am a bit surprised so many people seem to miss its point.

  6. says

    Think The Onion. Think The Colbert Report. Think South Park, The Simpsons, Family Guy.

    I find most of those difficult to watch. Especially the last three. They are certainly not bastions of progressive values.

  7. says

    So do I; that’s my point. I’ve been saying all along that the style of what I’ve seen of the CH cartoons doesn’t appeal to me. I’ve never been able to share the near-universal enthusiasm for The Simpsons because I don’t like to watch it because it’s so ugly and such bad animation.

  8. Lady Mondegreen (aka Stacy) says

    The Simpsons certainly is a bastion of progressive values. I don’t watch the other two.

  9. anbheal says

    While I believe that there are subtleties to both French humor and CH’s specific jibes that an Anglophone audience might not appreciate, let’s look at it through the lens of a very common meme among progressives the past couple of years: “Intent Isn’t Magic”. This massacre is appalling at various levels, and should be universally condemned, without reservation. But if wide swaths of French citizens of African descent and wide swaths of international readers think, wow, that’s offensive, then maybe we should credit the people being offended as being just as human as the people not intending to offend. Rather than telling them they don’t understand French humor. I absolutely get it, that CH is Leftist and humanist and progressive in its own way, and that its origins are in student protest movements of the late 60s. But there’s a whiff of the same Libertarian/GOP denialism that says “how dare you call my racist stuff racist !” CH may be lampooning right-wing racism, but if nobody except the French Intellectual Elite can spot the humor, with all sorts of elaborate explanations for why it’s funny, then we get back to Intent Not Being Magic.

  10. Lady Mondegreen (aka Stacy) says

    @anbheal, are “wide swaths” of French citizens of African descent saying that? I know that some are. I know that some would say the opposite–among them, presumably, Charlie Hebdo’s copy editor, Mustapha Ourrad, a Muslim immigrant from Algeria.
    He can’t say it, because he was murdered last Wednesday.

    I don’t know. I suspect that Muslim immigrants of African descent in France aren’t monolithic. I wouldn’t be surprised if they disagree on the subject.

    And you know what? Nobody is arguing that Charlie Hebdo and its creators are above reproach. What we’re arguing is that they don’t deserve to be vilified and assumed to be right-wing and dedicated to spreading racism–things I’ve seen repeated uncritically numerous times over the last few days–based on insufficient understanding of their cultural and political context.

    maybe we should credit the people being offended as being just as human as the people not intending to offend.

    FFS, Have you seen anyone here arguing that they’re not?

    intent isn’t magic

    I’m getting tired of that deepity.

  11. divaexmachina says

    Damion Reinhardt, wrong again.

    To be fair, Ophelia’s become quite unpopular with many posters at Pharyngula recently. She’s even been ‘outed’ as a ‘Slymepit hero’.

    intent isn’t magic

    ‘Intent’ and ‘context’ are two different things. Do you have any proof that ‘vast swathes’ of French people of African descent found the cartoons to be racist?

    For those interested, an article from the Daily Kos ‘On not understanding “Charlie:” Why many smart people are getting it wrong.’

    Another from the Daily Kos showing some more CH cartoons with translations which may convince some people.

  12. =8)-DX says

    Yeah, we had the same feeling watching a South Park episode last week – obviously over-the-top, offensive, vulgar and disgusting at face value, but many subtle points of satire and humour in their juxtaposition, definitely not playing into dominant narratives and stereotypes, but subverting and lampooning them.

  13. ZugTheMegasaurus says

    While I understand where they’re coming from, these reactions to Charlie Hebdo’s content strike me as similar to #notallmen-type arguments. In the face of something that should be easily and universally condemned, the response is instead to distract from the argument, to make it all about the person responding rather than what they’re responding to.

    For someone to hear “Je suis Charlie” and really think that it means “I am telling the world that every single thing this publication that I very likely haven’t been a reader of is my own true belief” is very nearly unbelievable. It seems so obvious what the message is.

    The message is, “Those same religious fanatics would do the same to me. My values, my life, my identity, those would all get me the same fate as it did the individuals killed at Charlie Hebdo. And I’m going to acknowledge that as a symbol that, like them, I am proud and resolute in my ideas, even in the face of those who resort to horrific violence to quash them.”

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