The terrorist attack on the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo has resulted in widespread condemnation of the violent suppression of free speech, as well as general support for the concept of satire. But while it is right that our disapproval of violence be unconditional, perhaps Charlie Hebdo’s particular brand of satire should be examined before we all change our profile pictures to say “Je suis Charlie.”In other words, true satire supports the goals of progressives , while "pseudo-satire" is satire aimed at the progressives or their client interests, who are, of course, always the underdogs.
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Charlie Hebdo is a weekly paper containing cartoons and reports that is known for being very irreverent and extremely antireligious. It publishes a kind of satire, but what kind? Is it real satire, or is it pseudo-satire? And therein lies an important distinction.
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True satire, which should be healthy and beneficial, must be distinguished from what Russell Peterson terms the simple mockery of pseudo-satire. True satire never punches down—the target must always be someone in a position above the satirist, not someone less privileged. So while it might be funny, pseudo-satire lacks the social benefits of true satire, which include increased political awareness and engagement among viewers. Instead, pseudo-satire fosters cynicism, apathy, and intolerance—the very things true satire combats.
Never mind that the satire at issue here is satire aimed at the Prophet of one of the largest religions in the world, hardly someone "less privileged" than the cartoonist at Charlie Hedbo (even assuming he were alive). That hardly strikes me as a case of "punching down."