Punching up, punching down

February 6, 2015 at 11:20 am (Free Speech, islamism, Rosie B, wankers)

Re Charlie Hebdo:-

“The point of satire is to attack the powerful, to expose their hypocrisy and absurdity, and of course to be funny. If satire is directed downwards it is not satire, it’s bullying.

So doubly wrong there Tim Sanders at the Socialist Review. (H/T Tendance Coatesy – do read his whole piece)

Two elementary objections:-

1. Mohammad and Islam are very powerful to a gruesome degree in some places;
2. It’s not the point of satire to attack the powerful. The point of satire is to ridicule absurdities. It’s not just the powerful that are absurd.

Tim Sanders belongs to some left wing groupuscule. I suppose he’d admit that left wing groupuscules are (sadly) not powerful. They had the piss gloriously taken out of them in The Life of Brian with the The People’s Front of Judaea vs the Judaean People’s Front.

Here’s a video clip to refute his argument:-

1. It’s funny – one of the funniest scenes in one of the funniest films
2. It attacks the powerless – who happen to be absurd in this instance. In fact their powerlessness is part of their being ridiculous.

However word seems to be getting about that satire MUST attack the powerful otherwise it isn’t really satire – punching up against punching down. Will Self said something incoherent about this on Channel 4 (both he and Martin Rowson are purgative – see them fisked here.)

“You always have to ask with something that purports to be satire, who is it attacking? Are they people in a position of power? And if it’s attacking people in a position of power, is it giving comfort to people who are powerless and who are assaulted in some sense by those powerful people? This is not the dynamic with Islamist terrorists, they are not in power in our society, and it is not comforting the people who look at these cartoons whether in Charlie Hebdo or in newspapers here, they don’t feel better about themselves or about life to see Islamist terrorists mocked or the beliefs of Muslims in general mocked – why does it make anybody feel better?”

Islamists do have power within our society. In that interview the cartoonist Rowson said he wouldn’t draw Mohammad in case staff at newspapers got killed, i.e. he obeys the assassins’ veto.  Pissing off Islamists and their followers seems as morally imperative as pissing off David Cameron and his – except that David Cameron won’t execute you out of hand.

When Rageboy was in one of his fits about a crappy film, – those fits which would be funny if they weren’t sinister, it made me feel better to knock this cartoon up. Caption:- Film Critics Revolt









Self teaches contemporary thought at Brunel University but his notions of satire seemed to have stopped at Spitting Image. One thing to notice about modern culture, as I thought last night when watching Charlie Brooker’s Screen Wipes, which twists the tail of the ordinary glazed-eyed citizen as well as world leaders, is how it is flooded with satire, with piss-taking, with smart-arsery, with Reddit, and Cracked and Weird Al Y?Yankovic . It’s the modern idiom. Selfie, with his natural tone of sneering contempt and his ultra-punnable surname, is evidently the fish who doesn’t know it’s water he’s swimming in as he hasn’t noticed that early twenty first culture in the anglophone world is satirical to the point of misanthropy, which makes our politicians despised to an unhealthy degree, because, they, poor buggers, have to talk in the language of hope and belief, and it’s as if they’re speaking Victorian Uplift, while we their voters speak Modern Cynic.

However Self may have been doing a piece of satire of his own – perhaps a subtle reference to the English academic in David Lodge’s Changing Places (a satire against the not very powerful) who boasts he’s never read Hamlet.

Satire can be cruel, or it can be gentle. Goodness Gracious Me was rather gentle about its crass whites, its social climbers the Coopers and the bloke who says Indian about every invention (who should be resurrected as a Muslim saying, “It’s in the Qu’ran” about genetics, embryology and thermodynamics.)

Jonathan Swift punched up at politicians in Lilliput and Brobdignag, and scientists in Laputa, but come the fourth voyage he was punching downwards at grovelling humankind. The Simpsons punches down at America’s blue-collar class. Shameless punched down at the British underclass. The Royle Family punched down at the British working class and Rab C Nesbit punched down at the Scottish schemey.

Mo Dawah one of the best things on Twitter aims his darts at the target of the “community leader” – who has a helluva lot more power than their victims though less power than the Government.

We must not be afraid to address the problems within our community, by introspecting fearlessly on how it is everyone else’s fault.

We have to fight the hegemony of hetero-normative racist patriarchy that tries to blame the perpetrators who are victims too #Rotherham (Now that one is savage.)

Sick of double standards of liberal fascists imposing freedom to say what I want on me, whilst denying my right to impose censorship on them

Meanwhile the Charlie Hebdo disapprovers reach for their Holocaust. What would you think if we made cartoons about Jews in gas chambers hey? Hey?

Well I’d think you were a shit of course, but I already thought that about you.

However, let’s treat this seriously for a second or two and spell out the difference between making fun of a religion with its sacred objects and a staggering, culture-breaking historic event that still has living witnesses. Here are a couple of cartoons featuring women – one semi-mythical (though admirable on the whole).


The Virgin Mary/Our Lady


A rape victim

I’m sure you Holocaust cartooners can find something absurd and ridiculous about her plight and will knock up a nifty speech bubble. As for me I never want to google “rape victim” images again.

Actually if I was Charlie Hebdo I’d do a caption like “Her skirt must have been too short” which, to explain to those who are slow on the uptake, would be a satire against rape-victim-blamers. But I haven’t got the heart or stomach.

My satire is constrained by my own boundaries and a shared culture is one where we judge what is outside of enough. We can judge satire as good or bad in all sorts of ways, but not that it only should attack the powerful and that cartoonists laying into a religion should think again, except for the prudential reasons that now are forcing us to mind our manners or else.


  1. Andrew Coates said,

    Thanks Rosie, you’ve got the definitions I was looking for, “The point of satire is to ridicule absurdities. It’s not just the powerful that are absurd.” “Satire can be cruel, or it can be gentle.”

    There’s been some really good articles, of which this is one, on what is at stake here, and about satire generally.

    Jamie’s post, Charlie Hebdo: Free Speech and its Enemies. Reflections on the Right to Blaspheme, is great as well.


  2. Jim Denham said,

    Thanks for a superb piece, Rosie. And I’d urge all readers to follow the link to the fisking of Self and Rowson – glorious stuff!

  3. Glesga Keeping Scotland Free From Loonies said,

    We do not need satire to portray that islam is a vile violent fascist cult. The actions all over the globe by violent islam is proof enough.

  4. flyingrodent said,

    (This isn’t particularly directed at Rosie, but I do like a sounding board and this is certainly one, and the comment is deliberately long because I found it humorous to make it so, even if nobody else does)

    I’d like to ask:

    – If you do insist on using racist caricatures, however ironically, can you really be surprised if people who don’t speak your language or live in your particular political milieu get the wrong idea?

    That is, even if we maximally assume that Charlie Hebdo never once put out anything that a reasonable person could consider racist, can’t we still consider the freak possibility that it might be possible for decent people to see some of their more outre efforts and think, Yowza, that looks a wee bit dodgy?

    I stress at this point that, regardless of what anyone thinks of cartoons, nobody deserves to get killed for them. I stress this specifically because there are quite a lot of people around insisting that anyone who quibbles with this or that cartoon, must logically be saying that people who draw cartoons deserve to be killed. I am not saying that people who draw cartoons deserve to be killed. I actively oppose that standpoint, as it happens! Cartoonists shouldn’t be killed for drawing cartoons.

    And, to reiterate for people who might put a lot of effort into pretending that I did say that I think cartoonists deserve to be shot, I strongly state that no, I do not think even the most outrageous, Islam-spearing cartoonist deserves to be shot.

    And while it might seem a bit odd that a random person might take what was deliberately intended to be openly racist and stupid imagery – even if it’s used to subvert and mock open racism and stupidity – to actually be openly racist and stupid imagery, without grasping the ironic, subversive content, can we not understand why people might misconstrue the meaning, if you know what I’m saying?

    In conclusion, I’m saying that I’m not very surprised that some people found Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons dodgy, but I’m willing to go to very extreme lengths to clarify that I don’t think that observing this very obvious and non-controversial fact is in any way an endorsement of Islamist idiots shooting cartoonists, nor do I think other people doing so is an endorsement of the same.


    Apologies for the extreme length of the comment but I get the feeling that these categorical renunciations appear now to be the basic requirement to acquire an entry fee for comment.

    (And to reiterate for Jim, who is frequently baffled by my comments, this was the question – – If you do insist on using racist caricatures, however ironically, can you really be surprised if people who don’t speak your language or live in your particular political milieu get the wrong idea?)

    • Jim Denham said,

      What do you think of this, Mr Rodent?

      Many of the people who insist that e.g., pictures of black people with exaggeratedly thick lips or any visual reference to black people and monkeys is racist, regardless of the context or intent, have approvingly shared Joe Sacco’s strip, which includes a picture of a black man with exaggeratedly thick lips falling out of a tree while eating a banana.

      Sacco’s point (I think; I can’t really tell), is that yes, you should be able to draw images like that if you want to, but why would you want to? Fair enough, I guess, but it does rather speak to the hypocrisy of the “CH is a racist publication” crowd that they will insist, on the one hand, that context and intent is completely irrelevant for CH, but for Joe Sacco it’s everything.

      (The Sacco piece is here, for people who haven’t seen it: http://www.theguardian.com/world/ng-interactive/2015/jan/09/joe-sacco-on-satire-a-response-to-the-attacks)

    • s4r4hbrown said,

      Belatedly, yes I entirely accept that it is reasonable to see some CH cartoons as racist without the fuller context which makes it clear that they are satirising racism.

  5. flyingrodent said,

    I’ll get into Joe Sacco’s point – which I’m not that sure of myself, and I’m not very certain the author himself is – after a cursory answer to mine, Jim:

    – If you do insist on using racist caricatures, however ironically, can you really be surprised if people who don’t speak your language or live in your particular political milieu get the wrong idea?

    • Jim Denham said,

      Tell that to Steve Bell.
      Now answer the point about Joe Sacco.

  6. flyingrodent said,

    I can’t answer the point about Joe Sacco, Jim. I don’t really understand the point he’s making and I’m not certain that Joe Sacco himself does, if I’m being honest.

    Nonetheless, here’s my point.

    – If you do insist on using racist caricatures, however ironically, can you really be surprised if people who don’t speak your language or live in your particular political milieu get the wrong idea?

    I don’t think it’s an especially difficult one.

    • Jim Denham said,

      So, goodbye to any form of satire: it might be misunderstood.

      And Dave Allen, who took the piss out of the Catholic church, was really insulting ordinary Catholic believers, most of whom were poor and ill-educated?

      • flyingrodent said,

        This comment by Jim is a later addition, after he deleted one of his own that he liked less.

      • Jim Denham said,

        That is bollocks, Rodent: I honestly don’t know what you’re on (about), but I can simply state nthat I’ve not deleted any comments, either from you or, indeed, myself.

  7. flyingrodent said,

    You deleted the comment where you demanded that I answer for Joe Sacco’s opinion on Charlie Hebdo. Now it looks completely bizarre, like I started off on some cartoonist for no reason.

    • Jim Denham said,

      I’m not aware of any deletion, and looking at the comments now, my “demand” is still there. So I’m not sure what’s going on, Mr Rodent.

  8. flyingrodent said,

    For God’s sake, If what you’re seriously after here is a sequence where you say

    “Now answer the point about Joe Sacco”

    and I say

    “I can’t answer the point about Joe Sacco, Jim”, then you have it now. It’s your website, you can rewrite my comments to say anything you want me to say.

    Enjoy it, geezer.

    • Jim Denham said,

      I haven’t rewritten anything from you: what the fuck are you on, Mr Rodent?

  9. flyingrodent said,

    “I’m not aware of any deletion”

    Perhaps I’ve suddenly and unexpectedly begun to suffer from serious and previously-undiagnosed mental illnesses that cause hallucinations.

    • Jim Denham said,

      Yup: that would explain it.

      • Rosie said,

        This is a weird exchange. Maybe that it’s happening at 2am on a Saturday morning goes to explain that.

  10. Glesga Keeping Scotland Free From Loonies said,

    The Life of Brian was probably the best ever movie that although not intended! showed religion for the nonsense it is. The scene near the end where the suicide squad tanned themselves is maybe an idea the muslim nutters should adapt. We can pretend to them that the mega virgins will be available on the other side.

  11. finbar said,

    Aye,the book of their care is a book of you are not one of us you Infadels,Punch the laugh,as the pain runs your harm.

    What socialist flag is your care tied to.The wan that cries fir the lords truth control
    And what socialist care cries in your being your human your being.

  12. finbar said,

    Where do you get the guns and bullets from.This guy buys them,some i think from Israel some from those wealthy euro countries,we just get them.

  13. Rilke said,

    Some necessary points. Hebdo is not satire. It is located in cariciature and the lampoon and even carnivalesque. The sexual and political cariciatures and insults on the walls of Roman baths about the emperors and locals were not satire, Juvenal’s writings are.There are strands within parody and ridicule that can be incorporated into satire but do not determine it. Oddly, satire requires hope. Why denigrate and criticise if you do not hope for the better? You satirise from the point of view that that which is satirised is worse than what it could or should be. Pope’s and Swift’s writings on the Royal Society and so on are satire, when they write about women and sex they are grotesque parody. Satire as such, requires a degree of intellectual finesse. When I drew the colliery manager with a Thatcherite wig that was satire, when I drew him being sodomised by a donkey that was grotesque cariciacture. Both are part of the human response to degradation and have been for centuries, but they are different in political intent, the first is based on hope the latter on resentment and revenge.
    Having said this, the wilder stance of grotesque ridicule is a good thing and both have their place in hopeful and non repressive tendencies. The current crop of left Puritans and moral exhibitionists who think they have the right to limit and predetermine parody and groteque cariciature are authoritarian and repressed. They are the types who make lists of the disobedient!

    • John R said,

    • Rosie said,

      I’d agree that what I’ve seen of Hebdo is more caricature and grotesquerie than satire though some is. Eg the picture of the cartoon depicting France’s black Justice minister Christiane Taubira as a monkey was a satire against another paper which required context and culture to understand it. There was one in the post massacre edition which showed the terrorists arriving in heaven and saying, Where are the virgins? The virgins are shown in an orgy with the Hebdo cartoonists. Again, satire, not just caricature.

      I don’t agree that satire requires hope. You cite Juvenal – there’s no hope there, only contempt. One of the great satires is Animal Farm – a very elegant satire against Communism, and as hopeless and tragic as anything can be. I think you’re substituting a moral criticism for a formal criticism.

      • Rosie said,

        What with these italics?

      • Jim Denham said,

        Good question, Rosie: can you help me get rid of them?

  14. damon said,

    Interesting, but pretty impossible to get this issue worked out exactly right.
    There’s too much fundamentalism involved. I’d agree with the main post here in parts, but you’re still left with the messy business that people just aren’t all that bright and reasonable all the time.

    Maybe it’s the job of secular people to ”teach” religious people on how they are wrong, or at least to knock them into shape so that they will tolerate the kind of micky taking that secularist activists want to bait them with.
    And to do that, means a certain amount of provocation will be necessary, to help ”break in” people who overly identify with their religion, in the same way that you have to break in a wild horse.

    So for example, Muslim students at universities, need to get used to seeing Jesus and Mo images around the place. Even on T shirts worn by other students. And if there are objections, the people objecting need to be informed of why they are wrong to do so.

    But this will never work, because of the fundamentalism I mentioned.
    I saw an example or it over on Harry’s Place (where I’m banned) when they showed a YouTube of a Jewish New York City councillor ”doing a George Galloway” about a pro-Palestinian demonstration that interrupted a council session where (coincidentally I think) they were having an Auschwitz liberation commemoration.
    The Jewish woman who led the protest said that the timing had nothing to do with what the councilman said it had, but what people say seems to make no difference if you believe otherwise.

    So, punching up – punching down? it all depends on your interpretation of what you think these things mean.

  15. Jim Denham said,

  16. Rosie said,

    An interesting article on horizontal vs vertical censorship.

    Fact is, Swift today would be hounded off Twitter for “promoting child cannibalism as a solution to Irish poverty”; demagogic satire-shamers would trash Swift for “punching down, not up”—because as every social media Stalinist will tell you, “satire should punch up, not down.” And it’s all effected without the crude, violent methods used by the Kremlin censors—we do it to ourselves, thanks to our decentralized new utopia. “


  17. damon said,

    I did imagine (as that’s all I can do) what kind of censorship it would be if someone had criticised ”New York City Councilman David G. Greenfield’s reaction to “pro-Palestine” activists interrupting the council’s commemoration” over on Harry’s Place though.

    It probably would start off as horizontal (abuse), with calls for mods to step in and make it vertical.

    The way I see it, David G. Greenfield’s rant, is just a sectarian one.
    Actually, almost like Galloway in every way.


  18. Rilke said,

    True that Juvenal is full of contempt and even bile Rosie, but the fact remains that to have a position from which to satirise at all requires a vantage point of crticism that demands that things not be as they are. This is so even if the content of the satire is utterly condemnatory. As a form satire demands that we see and even ‘have’ contempt for what ‘is’ because we do not see or ‘have’ virtue. Even Animal Farm demands or hopes that we ‘understand’ or recognise the tragic nature of the failure. Else why write at all? True though that the nature of that ‘virtue’ is never politically hopeful by definition, so point taken in a way.
    I’d be interested in what you make of Apuleius’ The Golden Ass which is full of bawdy, ludicrous and comic drollery. He was a Berber and half Nubian they say, would certainly be shot either literally by the fanatics or metaphorically by the left Puritans if he published today. He also wrote a ‘correction’ of Plato’s ethics no less!
    My broader point in any case, is that part of the Hebdo aftermath could include a discussion of the limits of ‘comedy’ and the political directions of the comic traditions not simply the role and function of ‘up’ or ‘down’ ‘satire’.
    Best wishes

    • Rosie said,

      You do need a moral compass to be satirical. Someone who didn’t care whether eating babies or starving Irish was wrong couldn’t write A Modest Proposal. But that doesn’t mean that there’s any hope there. Swift’s Gulliver ends in total despair, partly because Swift had rather unreasonable expectation of brutish mankind.

      I read Apuleius many years ago & wouldn’t call him satire, just bawdy comedy. Omar Khayyam would equally have a hard time today. In some way this is hopeful, in that things do change.

      I understand that there is a lot of joking about clerics in the Middle East, as Chaucer joked about clerics in Christendom, without questioning the premises of the religion.

      I’m not sure what you mean about the limits of comedy. Comedy does what it does. It laughs at the puncture without fixing the tyre. Was it Brecht who said his words in Weimar hadn’t saved one single life?

  19. Rosie said,

    What’s this about?


    “Your offer of commemorative badges in support of journalistic freedomhighlighting “Je suis Charlie”, prompts me to suggest a degree of caution following my experience. Tongue in cheek, I asked my helpful newsagents to obtain a copy of the edition of Charlie Hebdo issued after the dreadful massacre in Paris, if indeed a copy was ever available in north Wiltshire. To my surprise, a copy arrived last Wednesday week and although the standard of content in no way matches that of the Guardian I will cherish it. However, two days later a member of Her Majesty’s police service visited said newsagent, requesting the names of the four customers who had purchased Charlie Hebdo. So beware, your badges may attract police interest in your customers.”
    Anne Keat
    Corsham, Wiltshire

  20. Rilke said,

    Not quite total despair for old Gullible Rosie, he does want to set out again on his travels albeit laregely because the company of others has become abhorrent to him. This urge to set out again is a curisoity in the book and does not sit easilly with the otherwise gloomy surface textures.
    My broader question I suppose iabout the limits of comedy is related essentially to censorship and religious and moral impositions. From the very begining comedy rather than tragedy has attracted much more censure. I imply the comedy, carnivalesque and grotesque realist traditions that move from Euripides via Rabelais right up to Celine. Political satire as such has always drawn on different strands and as you say Animal Farm does not fit into this tradition belonging maybe to the traditions of philosophical social commentary and allegory such as More’s Utopia and Plato’s Republic and Dante’s Comedia. In any case, the censure on the former is usally religious and moral on the later nearly always downright state political and now and again even party political.
    All best,

    • Rosie said,

      Do you mean Aristophanes rather than Euripides?

      I don’t know what your former and latter refer to.

      As for Animal Farm I don’t think it’s like any of the three you mention. Are any of them allegories, ie a=b as Orwell’s is (Snowball=Trotsky)? Dante meets actual historical people.

      It’s probably more like Gulliver’s travels than the others – that is, as Gulliver is written in the convention of a traveller’s story, only in magic lands, so Animal Farm is a children’s story, only with adult implications.

  21. Rilke said,

    What I forget to add Rosie, was that with the rise in religiously and morally inflected political movements and rhetoric we now have the situation where even people on the so-called ‘left’ are keen to combine the two versions of censure (moral/religious and political/social censure) under the one banner of ‘causing offence’. This is worrying in that it represents the collapsing of the personal and political into a new discourse of outraged sensibility. The two strands have always been linked and in fact have always overlapped, of course, but not in this new total and combined way.
    As an example, I have an interest fine boxing writing by the likes of Mailer, Hemmingway and Jack London while retaining a keen sense of the macho overtones and rhetoric. I have been told a number of times by left-liberals and SWP types that this ‘interest’ is ‘wrong’ or ‘repugnant’ and so on. They do not simply state that they ‘dislike it’ or have ‘no interest in it’ but that it should somehow be stopped or deleted from life or some such. This is a very mild example, but when and how did it occur that left-wingers became moral exhibitionists in this way? It shows that the ‘party’ or the ‘ideological’ stance of the political as such now attempts to claim the right to tell others what can be read, eaten and said, a ‘total’ political vision for sure. It is not so curious then that these same ‘left-wingers’ feel an affinity with religious zealots.

    • Rosie said,

      Rilke – this is nothing new. There’s always been a streak of Victorian puritanism in the Left. The Victorians wanted their novels to be moral so adulterers and fallen women had to be punished, the Left in the 1930s did not want people to read books about the bourgeoisie and private lives when they should be reading about the working class and revolution. The theocratic nature of Communism was pointed out at the time (by Orwell at least).

      I thought this had relaxed a bit & feminists, say, would happily admit to enjoying the odd romance but from what you say it has got worse, if it’s gone to “serious minded people don’t read such pernicious frivolity” to “this stuff should be removed”. Wanting the world to be a giant Safe Space with Mailer et al No Platformed.

      do like Jack London’s Tales of the Klondike and The Sea Wolf & will spend my dotage reading Patrick O’Brian, whose ethos is highly masculine. I’ve just read with great enjoyment Surtees’ Mr Sponge’s Sporting Tour which is about fox-hunting & a bunch of ultra-masculine sportsmen who when they aren’t chasing foxes are getting drunk. All in the way it’s told & the general zest and gusto brought to it.

    • Glesga Keeping Scotland Free From Loonies said,

      It was probably the SWP that introduced the islamaphobia word to the world in an attempt to cover up the facism of islam.

  22. Rilke said,

    Got my Frogs’ names crossed again.

    • Rosie said,


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: