If done correctly, mockery and humor are powerful ways to deliver a message. Artists throughout the ages are no strangers to these tools, as it allows them to bring awareness to issues many people are too afraid to talk about such as: war, repression and corrupt politics.
Rauschenberg’s Minimalist White Paintings are as controversial today as they were back in the 1950’s. He painted them when McCarthyism was at its height. As noted on glbtq Encyclopedia:
“McCarthyism is the term applied to the attempts in the late 1940s and early 1950s to expunge Communists and fellow travelers (often identified as homosexual) from American public life…For gay men and lesbians, the period was one of police harassment, witch hunts, suspicions of disloyalty, and dismissals from jobs…”
Rauschenberg’s monochromatic, white-washed canvases look innocent. Yet they challenge the viewer on so many levels, as to what the paintings and art are all about. You could argue that these paintings are about minimalistic painting; about bringing the viewers into the painting through their cast shadow and light. Or, you could argue that these are personal paintings about McCarthyism, and the "whitewashing” of issues going on in that point in history.
Rauschenberg and Shostakovich, unlike the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo, never admitted to what their work was all about beyond the surface. Fear probably played a factor. The cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo were a different breed. They faced their fears and aggressively attacked the issues head-on with their cartoons. As noted in the article French cartoonists killed in Paris took a profane aim at the world, the magazine’s editor Stephane Charbonnier defiantly stated “but I'd rather die standing than live on my knees."
It is great that artists are brave enough to challenge the status quo, push for positive change, and want to make the world a better place. However, the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo knowingly and consciously incited the anger of Muslim extremists. They knew that they were putting their lives in danger. There are magazines like The New Yorker that prove that satire and humor don’t have to be in your face and insulting to make a point.
It’s unfortunate the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo crossed the boundary of no return. Clearly they didn’t understand that not everyone saw their humor as they did, and that they were segregating the Muslims - both moderates and extremists. Satirical artists must know the limitations of the world around them. Otherwise, they risk crossing the fine line between satire and hate. To quote Clint Eastwood, “a man’s gotta know his limitations (movie clip).”