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Mocking Religion, Backing Je Suis Charlie, Silence Better?

by John on 01/12/2015

A friend at a holiday party got me thinking about what I am doing here.

This was two weeks before the Paris terror attacks but during the Sony hacking story.

The friend asked, “Did they (Sony) have to use Kim as the actual character?”

His point: why not use a fictional version of the North Korean dictator in the film The Interview? Plenty of other dictator/leaders have been portrayed or lampooned by giving them fictional characters.

He finished his thought: “It just seemed … disrespectful.”

For the record, this friend is a middle-aged man who has run a few businesses and is a born and bred Southerner. I don’t know his politics but he doesn’t seem prone to taking strong anti-American stands. And his demeanor has been pensive and open to exploring ways of looking at new ideas.

And I thought he had hit an important point – and one that grapple with here on my sites. Sure, we have freedom of speech. But do we need to antagonize someone too that could retaliate causing economic harm and danger?

Then the terror siege in Paris at the Charlie Hebdo offices led me to this article – about standing up to terror with the phrase Je Suis Charlie.

The writer — Remy Maisel — knows about satire; he has written a book about it. In the article, he covers a range of ideas about satire and social media posting in our new economy. Specifically, he challenges whether we should really be proud about Je Suis Charlie reactions to the terrorism after some of the harsh lampooning of all religions by Charlie Hebdo cartoonists and writers.

The article also made me think of my friend at the holiday party and his reaction to the Sony hacking. He and Remy would agree on things as both have a wider understanding of a changing media world: one academic; the other intuitive.

This is no black and white issue. And our technology – namely social media and the new media – is creating a lot of havoc without any real rules.

No one is saying the terrorists were justified. They should be condemned harshly. As a student of literature, I understand the history and part of the backbone satire and humor have played in Western Civilization. Is Charlie Hebdo part of that? Yes. Some of the tripe you hear on cable news or talk radio is also part of it. I would never ban that but I suggest either ignore it or deal with it armed with facts.

But where do we draw the line for all of us?

Because you are on public airwaves, are you able to more freely exercise your right to criticize or parody than the average person with a Facebook page, a Twitter account, or a blog? I preach to you: you are the most important journalist in your life. So shouldn’t you be able to go on rants?

Social media is like any new, disruptive technology. While giving many people a chance to voice our opinions, social media has also democratized loud mouths lacking knowledge and pushing personal agendas.

That’s why on my sites, I try – notice I say try – to allow discourse. But I also try to refrain from comments that might seem inflammatory (Informed Not Inflamed, duh) or provoking. For better or worse, I tend to not judge or banish people for their thoughts and comments – no matter how much they’re off base or inaccurate. Too often, we feel compelled to respond and harshly too.

I tend to go with silence.

  • First, it is an old TV interviewer trick. The key to a good interview is for the interviewer to say little or nothing. The best interviews happen when the interviewer allows silence to happen when the interview subject has finished. The interview subject most of the time will want to fill the void of silence and they will start revealing even more about themselves. The same is true on social media. Say nothing and allow the person to say it all to either clarify or reveal themselves. Telling someone they’re ignorant or an asshole doesn’t usually change them. Many times they will do it themselves.
  • Second, they may be right and you’re wrong.
  • Third, the post may have been humor that was misconstrued or worded incorrectly and they may want to take it back; give them a chance.
  • Fourth, confronting someone directly or attacking them usually leads to more heat than light. What I have noticed is many of you just post an article with an opposing thought. Bravo.

If you have any thoughts on this or how to better manage these pages, let me know.

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