On January 7th 2015, two Islamist extremists stormed the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical magazine headquarters and brutally gunned down eleven of the staff, including cartoonists, and then one police officer during their escape. After, the two perpetrators fled across Paris, eventually taking hostages in a signage company and were gunned down when they emerged firing. We welcomed 2015 with terror and tragedy.
Charlie Hebdo, world-renowned satirical magazine was rarely out of the press for its baiting caricatures of religious and political figures. But what really shot them into the limelight was depictions of the Prophet Muhammed. Courting threats of violence and numerous court cases, Charlie Hebdo continued publishing satirical critiques of religion and government figures. What has ensued is perhaps one of the biggest, open discussions of freedom of speech, freedom of press and tolerance. It’s Hard Being Loved By Jerks takes place during the 2007 Charlie Hebdo trial, which examines images published in their magazines. Brought to court by the Mosque of Paris on grounds that the images were insulting to Muslims, notably, an image depicting Muhammed with a bomb in his turban.
It’s Hard Being Loved by Jerks is fairly one-sided, it obviously favours the sentiment of the Charlie Hebdo ethos, but there are also compelling arguments from the Muslim side. Freedom of speech doesn’t automatically mean a free-pass to derogatory and abusive language or images. Did Charlie Hebdo improve relations between French natives and Muslims, or did it create an even greater divide between the two? I think it’s worth pointing out at this juncture that Charlie Hebdo only wished to satirise Islamist Extremists and not Muslims as a group. But that doesn’t stop the images and publications being perceived as racist. In Western society, the Muslim and the extremist are often painted in the same way, and this is precisely why I stopped reading newspapers and watching the mainstream news. If I’m offended by the representation of Muslims in the mainstream media, how must Muslims feel being bombarded with nothing but negativity? But by the same token, we ridicule most religions, outdated and archaic institutions, a reason why I don’t identify with any particular religion, why then should Muslim faith be excluded? This is the crux of the issue brought against Charlie Hebdo, is satire satirical when it’s perceived as racist? Or is racism a go-to-stock-condemnation when people see things that don’t fit in with their particular belief system? Just because you don’t like something, doesn’t mean it’s wrong.
The one thing that struck me in It’s Hard Being Loved by Jerks is that the publishers, illustrators and copywriters don’t seem to think of Charlie Hebdo as a platform to abuse, almost like the content of the images doesn’t really matter, it’s more about the effect the image has. It’s purposefully divisive. Charlie Hebdo rightfully so champions the idea of open discussion, even if it’s perhaps forced on some people. The French are particularly well-known for respecting their artists much more than many other countries, they are certainly more revered than we do in the UK (which on a totally different topic I find incredibly sad). The French push boundaries, in short, they just don’t give a shit about the chaos their ideas cause. They are filmic revolutionists, artistic pioneers, and of course if anyone was going to provide a coherent critique of religion, it would be the French. Rather than the ‘go back to your own country’ rhetoric of the racist patriarchy of Western countries, now horribly adopted in the UK by the EDL, BNP and Britain First campaigns, arguments with no grounding thinly veiled as patriotism rather than the very real rampant racism it represents. Legalised facism on a national scale.
It’s Hard Being Loved by Jerks is a funny, well made, engaging documentary, which is blatantly one-sided, not in a negative way, but the argument made for the freedom of speech is so compelling, it’s difficult to see it presented in any other way. I found it to be respectful and tasteful, the talking heads segments with the Charlie Hebdo staff are honest, we join them in their office, in court, at dinner, and this is where we understand that freedom of speech is the objective, not offense. Freedom of speech by its very nature is inflammatory, but the argument put forward is that we’ve become sanitised as a society to almost everything, the offended few outweigh the supportive many. It all boils down to satire being used as a means of inclusiveness. To not satirise would be discriminatory.
It’s difficult to review a film which basically argues one of the basic principles of existing, so I urge you to watch it. In light of the recent attacks on the Charlie Hebdo office, It’s Hard Being Loved by Jerks is perhaps more poignant than it should be. But it serves as a very real, very important reminder that free speech is vital to our society, and even more so when using it to fight out against others using their free speech too. It’s not hatred, it’s passionate discussion, something which I believe should be encouraged and should be treasured.
I watched It’s Hard Being Loved by Jerks on the My French Film Festival website. All you need to do is make an account and you can watch online for free.