Fiction And Hate: Why Charlie Hebdo Is Not The Extent Of This Atrocity, And How We All Play A Part

Posted January 7, 2015 by Ben Ecker in Comic Books

As I’m sure most readers will be aware, on the morning of the 7th, 12 people were murdered at the French headquarters of Charlie Hebdo magazine. Charlie Hebdo has received numerous death threats in the past, attributed to their publishing of cartoons depicting Muhammad. Given details of the attack, it’s currently hard to come to any conclusion other than that being the motive for these murders. 12 people were murdered because of drawings.

I don’t want to focus on the tragedy of this crime. 12 people were murdered; I don’t feel that I could possibly hope to add anything of value to the societal mourning process related to that that couldn’t be carried out more effectively elsewhere. I also have no intention of going the route that some are undoubtedly still intent on sticking to and attempting to villainize an entire religious group for the actions of a relative few extremists. I don’t even want to focus on the current climate surrounding freedom of expression.

Instead, I feel that I need to ask myself and all of you a couple questions: why is this something we have inside of us? Why do we have such huge issues, as a species, with fiction?

Because, when I heard about this, my thoughts immediately went to recent events such as the hacking of Sony in relation to The Interview (whether North Korea was the actual source of that or not). I thought of the death threats that Dan Slott received for daring to “kill” the character of Peter Parker. I thought of all of the rage I’ve witnessed on the internet over things like casting choices in movies or the very idea that certain films would be remade or given sequels or that this trailer or that wasn’t quite impressive enough. I thought of all the vitriol aimed at choices such as having Sam Wilson take over the mantle of Captain America and the outrage at that Spider-Woman cover. I thought back to all the times that I’ve read comments where people wished death (in jest or otherwise) at such innocuous targets as the guy from Nickelback. All these things didn’t meld together for me devoid of the realization that they are not anywhere near the same end of the scale as murdering 12 people in cold blood, but they all currently feel like they stem from the same prehistoric, horrible section of our lizard brains. Our actions may vary, but it all comes from an angry, spiteful place. We may be able to find justification for our anger, there are obviously versions of this tale that are draped in very real motivations toward progress, but I’m sure that today’s murderers will offer up justifications of their own for murdering 12 people as well. This isn’t a religious failing, or an extremist failing, or a conservative failing, or a progressive failing; it’s a human failing.

So, again, what is our huge issue with fiction?

Stories teach. They have power. It’s hard to even attempt to deny this, and to deny it is to completely remove the value of art. The next logical step is to say that, since we can take value from fiction, that everything fiction does has power. Is that true? I know that it doesn’t strike me as remotely true. At this point I feel it is a complete cop out to attribute fiction power over us. Being able to take a lesson, to take value, to take emotion away from stories is a far cry from using fiction as justification for actions, it’s a far cry from assigning such importance to fiction that we become incensed, it’s a far cry from murdering 12 people because they published a cartoon depicting anyone, even your prophet.

The power of fiction, of stories, is in the hands of the viewer, of the listener, of the reader. We choose what has value, and this gives us the power to say, “I don’t agree with this thing I just saw/read/listened to, and that’s okay.” This gives us the power to allow creative individuals to produce their art free from any kind of reprisal. This gives us the power to know that there is some artistic out there that we don’t like, that we don’t agree with, that we even find repugnant, and, as individuals and society, not respond in a hateful manner.

We all know how this piece of writing ends, right? This is a huge problem that exists on so many levels that I’m undoubtedly just going to point at it and offer up no solution. Except not this time. Take it or leave it, I have a solution for you. I know that just having one is very different from every individual in the world – or even just ever person who reads this – taking it to heart, but here it is:

Stop looking to fiction as the answer. Stop looking to stories for lessons. Stop expecting narrative to teach. Stop expecting art to be an activist for your cause. Stop depending on art to tell you how you should live your life. Ceasing these things does not, in turn, negate art’s ability to still do all these things. Fiction can provide answers when you’re not looking. Stories of all kinds are bursting at the seems with lessons, even if you don’t approach them expectantly. Narrative can be one of the best possible teachers there is. Art can continue to foster change in ways that few other things can, despite the fact that it shouldn’t be expected to. Altering our expectations – rather than limiting the artistic expression of others through threats, violence, and belittlement – would free us from so much of the anger that we, as a species, have spent so much time, effort, and lives on.

From here on out, when you come across some form of fiction that you happen to take issue with, talk about it without anger. There is value in discussion that is so often lost in anger. Talk to each other. Talk about why you don’t like something. Talk about the fact that it can still have value even if you dislike it on that deep, lizard brain level. Talk to someone that agrees with you. Talk to someone that wholeheartedly disagrees with you. Listen to both of them with the utmost respect. Do this instead of raging online about it, instead of sending a writer death threats, instead of writing something off before even seeing or listening to it, instead of picking up a gun. Talk to 12 people about it. Take in what they have to say. Those people aren’t your enemy, There’s no value in shunning or hating them over fiction. They’re just 12 human beings just like you.

About the Author

Ben Ecker

Recent grad, in Sacramento, California. Into comics, music, films (especially of the horror variety), books, and long walks on the beach.