The news from New York was obnoxiously parochial, humorless and puerile—more on that word in a moment—and completely devoid of any contextual understanding of French tradition or satire.
Charlie Hebdo is, let it be said, utterly joyous and carnal fun for anyone with an anarchic sense of mirth. It is vital and scabrous and it skewers all religious and political pieties with equal glee. Descended from the glorious genealogical tradition of Honoré Daumier and the bande dessinée, the planar blocky design is all thickened line and sensuousness. The covers are strikingly designed in a creamy pastel palette. It is true that the cartoons do range all along the spectrum in quality, but many of them are uproarious, witty, and shrewd. They characterize the convention of sublime take-no-prisoners political savagery and sexual bawdiness that has always run through French political tradition, and which simply does not exist in American politics. Many of Charlie’s targets richly deserve the mocking opprobrium. The entire project is permeated with sex and libidinous fidelity to the bodily appetites. It is earthy rather than “vulgar.”