The terrible carnage in Paris kept me up the night it happened. Tuning into BBC World or Al Jazeera just before bedtime is not good for your sleep. Like the flicker of the iPad screen or caffeinated jellybeans, it's best avoided but once engaged, it's hard to turn off. Watching breaking news actually break really makes you feel attached to the story, especially one this shocking.
But unlike the similar episode I watched just before Xmas, at the Lindt Café in Sydney, this one had mostly played out before the show started. With Sydney I watched in disbelief and with hope. Like many of us I felt connected because I have walked those streets many times, I know people there, it's almost home. But I also felt a connection with the Paris disaster. It made me feel uneasy. It made me feel mad, but also I could sense the whiff of something else. Was it cowardice? Relief? I'll get to that in a moment.
The murderous twats who gunned down the journalists, the satirists, the cartoonists, and the innocent bystanders, made their blunt point, and proved perhaps that this thing isn't just going to go away. But what exactly is this thing?
This was the thing that Derek Fox tried to grapple with on his now famous Facebook post, revealing that he is man to be reckoned with. I reckon he's a bit of a dick, though I do have a soft spot for those with the balls to rush in screaming while the angels hang back and wait for the bodies to cool down. Perhaps the victims are not to blame, the maintenance man especially so.
But what did Derek the Fox say? Was it just a silly Ring-ding-ding-ding-dingeringeding? Or was there something in his gruff discourse that's worth discussing, perhaps a few days later? Then again, will anyone listen when this all dies down? As a Maori in New Zealand I'm guessing that he would be familiar with having his own beliefs and traditions treated with a certain amount of disrespect by the Pakeha media.
I have probably been amongst them, so I kind of get where he's coming from. And, yes, it's a debate for another time, but to be fair, he wrote it on Facebook and only appeared in the media when the media rang him up and asked him to repeat the things that were making people angry in the first place.
And people are angry. On Fox News Hannity was fizzing with anti Islamic rage and was basically calling for a crusade, and as always, it was all Obama's fault. Western leaders have been united in their response, but there's a hollow ring to the rousing calls for liberté, and for freedom when drone strikes continue to create terror on a daily basis. Sure they get some bad guys but they get the maintenance men as well. And what more of an affront to freedom and justice could you conceive than Guantanamo Bay? Talking about these issues as possible provocations does not mean you are on the side of killers. So it's not black and white, it's a grey hulk of a thing.
A few years back I found myself having to consider these issues while working on a local satirical TV show The Unauthorised History of New Zealand. We had a policy of dishing out on all comers and were given a surprising amount of free rein by TVNZ who only got huffy and puffy once, forbidding us from featuring some film of Wendy Petrie dancing. "But we had Angela D'Audney with her top off", I yelled at the executive in his plush Madmen style office, causing him to put down his sherry. At that point Mr (redacted) rang a small bell that sat next to a special All Black edition Fabergé Egg on his desk. I have no memory of what happened next, but after waking up in sickbay a few hours later I dutifully removed the offending film.
Other than that, we went to town, we went for laughs, we poked and we prodded. There's always an awareness that while some will laugh, others will be offended. Letters were sent to editors. Occasionally someone would front up in person and give us an ear bashing, but there was no thought of violence, until we conceived of the character of Muhamaroo. In an episode about fame we commissioned our talented cartoonist to bring to life a script about the 'true story' of kiwi advertising icons Ches 'n' Dale (animated farmers from the Chesdale Cheese company).
In our version of their story the pair had been involved in a misguided ad campaign that also featured a character called 'Muhamaroo', a kangaroo with the "head of the prophet". The gag was that the ads were aimed at the gowning Arab market, so it was a stupendous own goal, and it lead to Ches 'n' Dale being fired and that's how they ended up making porno films in Sydney.
So there we had Ches, Dale and the kangaroo with the face of Muhammad. But when it came in I looked at it and thought again. The fallout from the Danish cartoons depicting Muhammad was still happening at the time. Violence erupted around the world and people had died. We debated the issue but made the call to blur the image, after all this was really a gag about animated cheese salesmen, and possibly not worth dying for.
It was still possible that someone may still have been outraged and come to our offices with violent intent but it felt like the odds had been reduced and it seemed the right thing to do. But I have often wondered if we made the right call. Mostly I feel relieved that nothing happened to our animator or to anyone in our office, or to the maintenance man. But part of me feels like a traitor to satire, and to the people who lie dead in Paris.
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