The pen is mightier than the sword

Zac Garrison Senior from Franklin, Ky.

When does satire go too far? In several instances, there is a paper-thin line as to what is considered satire and what is considered just downright offensive.

I understand the unalienable right to freedom of speech, but don’t your rights end where my nose begins? For years the lines of what is acceptable satire and what is just blatant bigotry bearing the label of satire have been challenged.

One instance of this led to a terrorist attack on a French satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, on Jan. 7 after its crude portrayals of Muhammad became a satirical comic series. Is this where we draw the line at satire?

What happened at Charlie Hebdo is undeniably tragic. As a writer and a free thinker of sorts, the thought of my life being jeopardized by my words and thoughts that have been published makes me quite uneasy.

That being said, we need to take a real look at what kind of content led to this attack happening.

Since 2012, Charlie Hebdo has published several “satirical” cartoons of the prophet Muhammad, including nude caricatures that were meant to offend and incite a response within the readers.

The thing I don’t understand about the situation is that when people ridiculed them for being blatantly offensive to Muslims, they simply said that it was their right to free speech to post such things.

So this brings up a question. Is it ethical to be as offensive as you wish because you know free speech can be used as an excuse?

Satire is meant to criticize society and culture so that people become aware of the problems that lie in places they have never thought to look.

Political satire is meant to unearth the corruption that lies within the ranks of government. Societal satire is aimed at alarming people at the problems and hypocrisies that are apparent in everyday life.

So what exactly is depicting Muhammad naked supposed to accomplish? I’m sure if a newspaper depicted crude portrayals of God or Jesus Christ we wouldn’t be so quick to defend their right to free speech.

Words have more power than most realize. Wars have been started at the stroke of a pen. Rivalries have been started with the sharpening of a pencil.

The terrible thing about the attack, though, is that even though journalists and cartoonists alike are showing solidarity right now to claim that their freedom of speech hasn’t been stifled, the next newspaper or magazine that wants to depict Muhammad may think twice about it.

Fear, used as a weapon, can be just as powerful as words.

There is no wrong or right in tragic situations. Satire will continue to offend and people will continue to react to it just like they always have. Not all satire is meant to offend. Some of the greatest satire I’ve ever read is so subtle it takes you a second to understand it.

So this in-your-face type of satire is good for nothing but creating chatter, which in turn creates revenues and clicks on their websites. People are more likely to act whilst offended and angry, and any publicity is good publicity for creators of satire.

Is this where offensive satire ends? Not even close. Other satirical websites and newspapers will keep challenging the status quo on what is offensive simply because that’s what is expected of them now.

If they tone down their offensive content, it will look like the terror attack has swayed them and accomplished its original goal of stifling freedom of speech which could possibly incite future attacks based on similar occurrences. It’s a slippery slope. My thoughts go out to the Charlie Hebdo victims and their families because of this terrible attack, but this situation brings to rise larger problems in society that we need to be aware of when it comes to religion, and these problems have only been exacerbated by the current use of satire. Instead of using satire to dismantle society, why don’t we use it to build it?

Column by Zac Garrison, Senior from Franklin, Ky.