My french chronicles (4): Rififi in Charlieland

Remember last January 7th and the Charlie Hebdo shooting that decimated the satirist journal, boosted Hollande’s opinion ratings (for a short period), enabled that mostly irrelevant journal to go from an audience of a few tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands in addition to massive state subsidies – all in the space of a few days?

France was rolling again, fraternity was back in fashion, liberty had won the day over the barbarians and the Charlie guys were the new heroes. Yes they had dared caricature the Prophet and, yes, they had died as martyrs to the noble cause of freedom of insult speech.

That also only lasted a few days, the hawks having smelled blood and a good time to push for… well, less freedom (of anything) under the black and white banner of “Je suis Charlie”.

-But the idolatry is fast running out of steam. Luz, survivor of the Charlie cartoonist team murdered that fateful day, annonced last week that he quit drawing the Prophet. “He doesn’t interest me anymore” said Luz in an interview with pop journal Les Inrockuptibles. Luz had created the Charlie Hebdo front page of the first volume following the shootings, which sold over 8 million copies and led, of course, to a number of protests in the land of Islam.

This week, Luz said he was leaving Charlie Hebdo in September. He said it was too luz-bfmdifficult doing this job without his friends, asking himself all the time what they would think, what they would do.

But what got him most is probably the attacks by the self-proclaimed girlfriend of one of the most notorious murdered characters of the team, Charb. Her name is Jeannette Bougrab, and under Sarkozy she was President of the “Haute Autorité de lutte contre les discriminations et pour l’égalité“, a sort of Bureau against discrimination and for equality. bougrabShe is an integral part of the french Establishment, a more or less conservative who held a number of other positions under Sarkozy, and who is a fixture of elitist circles such as the Club du Siècle.

She said about Luz that he wasn’t killed on January 7 because he was too drunk the night before to be out of bed in time for work, what a cardbox hero this guy was, and that the least successful kind of graft was that of balls. Yeah, WTF this is Charlieland after all…

Luz said “I don’t want to reply to Bougrab, and I’m sick and tired of this asshole“. Ok he didn’t say “sick and tired”, he said more or less that he was wanking himself off this asshole, but I can’t really say that, can I… Bougrab probably wants Luz’s scalp because he declared, in his funeral speech for his friend Charb, that Charb and him were lovers (really true or not, I don’t know) and he ended that speech with “Too drunk to fuck, but too funny to die” – in English.

Bougrab is now so pissed that nobody recognises her status as the dead heroe’s (female) partner that she’s initiated a court procedure to prove it… Sounds like a failed soap opera but no, this is the epitomy of french freedom of speech culture (joke). Besides the ridicule, this also illustrates how close Charlie Hebdo really was with the Establishment, acting as a buffoon and a nostalgic reference point for what we call here “bobos”, generally middle-class, middle-age people with a social and green sensitivity who love to criticise “the system”, but are at the same time highly dependent on its comfort and stability. As an aside, let me just add that I’ve personnally never liked, never bought Charlie Hebdo before or since January 7, but I’ve always recognised its right to exist.

Money has been pouring into Charlie Hebdo’s coffers since it got a new lease of live after the shootings, About 30 million euros in fact, and this is where the real shit in the fan is coming from. Charlie Hebdo is owned 40% by Charb (now by his family, and it seem likely that this strongly motivates Bougrab’s claim to fame…), 40% by co-cartoonist Riss (who was wounded in the attack, but survived), and 20% by current general manager Eric Portheault. Al this fresh money has created tensions within what is left of the team. Fifteen employees, including Luz and other well-known figure Patrick Pelloux, have stated a claim to fair ownership of the journal and hired lawyers. They consider the journal to have become a “common good” and want the money to stay in the journal where they can keep an eye on it.

Zineb El RhazouiWhat is more, Charlie Hebdo journalist Zineb El Rhazoui, also part of the above-mentionned group, was threatened last week with being laid-off, for being “late for work”. If that was meant as a satirical move, it was visibly lost on that woman who, because of her work, lives under constant police protection, doesn’t have a place she can call home and has to try to do her job in such difficult conditions.

Tomorrow, Luz will publish a cartoon album called Catharsis in which he describes all that has happened to him since January 7, his state of mind and his thoughts about carrying on with being a cartoonist. And Charlie Hebdo will probably slowly revert to its previous state as a mostly irrelevant (except to those who do not tolerate satire or blasphemy, and they are many) and mildly comical, trashy journal to be read after dinner with a glass of wine. If your doctor thinks you’re still fit enough to drink a bit of alcohol, that is.

My previous french chronicles:

Books, Big Brother, Warplanes and Spoof

Did you say “Front National”?

After Charlie Hebdo

A propos Vincent Verschoore

Animateur de Ze Rhubarbe Blog depuis 2008.

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