Monday, April 13, 2015

Punching Up, Punching Down

Garry Trudeau, who I have criticised roundly before, has a recent piece in the Atlantic about Charlie Hebdo magazine's staff being killed in France.  He comes pretty close to saying that they deserved it, because they were punching down against disadvantaged Muslims - and cites the general sympathy of most Muslims in France against Charlie Hebdo as evidence that they must obviously have gone too far.

There are lots of takedowns of this essay, and it will be more fun for you to discover your own.  One clever comment from the site Why Evolution Is True was noted specifically in a friend's email:
Again, the inanity of trying to arrange the world into a neat hierarchy of “privilege” or “power”, with all criticism directed “up”, is breathtaking to me. I hate to go all Goodwin (sic: Godwin) here, but there was a time when the Nazis were just powerless, downtrodden, brownshirts. Had we lived then, would the prescription have been to spare them from ridicule for the vile things they preached, because, hey, they are oppressed by Versailles, they are “powerless”? Are we only allowed to criticize dangerous, vile, and violent ideas AFTER they attain the power they clearly announce that they seek, only AFTER they are a existential threat to the rest of us? That makes no sense whatsoever.
Trudeau may have been punching up when he was a young college cartoonist and Nixon was still president - though the Democrats did take over Congress in 1958 and have seldom relinquished it, so they can't be really considered "down" - but certainly within a few years he was just punching across.  There was, and is, a liberal elite and a conservative elite, with underlings who fight their cultural battles. Who? Whom? applies in many directions.

Reading Trudeau, I think there is some of the definition of who is "down" that is just installed in our psyches and we respond to it, even when it makes no sense.  Don't hit a girl can quickly become Don't pick on a girl. It just seems wrong. Criticising a black person just feels like punching down. Yet when the examples being considered are Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, that's just silly.  It's impossible to punch down on the POTUS and his SOS.  Yet I feel it. It seems mean and low. Decent people just don't do that. It's crazy, but I understand it.

It's got a high school feel, or even younger.  If yelling at a person in school would have seemed like bullying then, it still carries a whiff of it today. It seems like Trudeau is responding in some similar fashion now. North African Muslims would have been a vulnerable minority in his town growing up.  Therefore saying bad things about them is still bullying and hate speech now, even with the recognition that they are armed and have the support of both some governments and some international organisations.


Sam L. said...

"Yet when the examples being considered are Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, that's just silly. It's impossible to punch down on the POTUS and his SOS. Yet I feel it. It seems mean and low."

I don't feel that. They have high salaries, amazing incomes, and the power of government and the major media with and behind them. I'm being picked on by them, with no remorse, no care, complete indifference, complete disdain.

They would see and treat you the same as me, if they even see either of us (refer to "complete indifference" above).

RichardJohnson said...

Re Trudeau's talking about punching up and down: he came from an upper crust background- St. Paul's would fit that definition I believe- and is wealthier than his parents were. Seems to me that from that vantage point,during his four decades as a comic strip creator, Mr. Trudeau's satire has been punching down most of the time.

Christopher B said...

I'm partial to the Instantman's take that it's sour grapes because nobody considers him relevant enough to attack anymore.