Satire is everywhere. The great variety of mediums through which it’s expressed is indicative of the wide range of subject matter to which it’s applied. Topics of satire range from celebrities to religion, politics to blockbuster movies.
To many, satire is finding humor in the humiliation of others. Politician Jerry Falwell of the 1987 Hustler vs. Falwell case is an example of a victim of satirical commentary—Hustler Magazine jokingly implied that he had been in an incestuous relationship with his mother. Hustler Magazine firmly defended itself with the First Amendment of the Constitution, which provides the right to freedom of speech. Ultimately, Hustler won unanimously, setting a precedent of legislation supporting satire.
Several other countries have laws similar to the United States’ first amendment, protecting satire as a citizen’s right. However, this right is not as readily acknowledged by the world as a whole. Weekly French newspaper Charlie Hebdo published a comedic cartoon of the prophet Muhammad, which reached the Islamic terrorist group Al Qaeda. This portrayal led to great controversy, which resulted in an attack on January 7, 2015, when two Al Qaeda members broke into the Charlie Hebdo headquarters and shot twenty-three people, twelve of whom died from their wounds.
After the attack, many countries came together to argue that no amount of mocking justifies murder. These people believe that freedom of speech must be defended as the right of all people, regardless of what is being said. To defend these values, relatives of the victims organized a rally of unity after the shooting, where citizens and world leaders alike linked arms to show solidarity. Rallies have taken place in Berlin, London, and New York City as well.
This attack also reignited an antipathetic outlook on satire in various parts of the world, particularly the Islamic centers. Riots broke out in the Islamic world when Charlie Hebdo published a new edition that once again portrayed and mocked Muhammad. These protesters argue that freedom of speech has surpassed its boundaries.
Some assert that Charlie Hebdo contributors had the right to express themselves, and others say they went too far. Satire continues to tread the line between humor and harm, and ultimately it all comes down to point of view.