A week ago, Charlie Hebdo was anything but a household name. On Wednesday, after the appalling terrorist attacks in Paris, all of that changed.
We all now have Charlie Hebdo on the tip of our tongues. We’ve seen samples of their satirical cartoons. And we’ve read about the news outlets too afraid to print them. But what do we still know about Charlie Hebdo — about the actual cartoonists who made the newspaper tick, their satirical ambitions and their creative process? Not very much.
The short documentary above, filmed at Charlie Hebdo in 2006 by Jerôme Lambert and Philippe Picard, helps fill in some of these blanks. The clip shows several of the cartoonists and editors murdered earlier this week — Jean Cabut (aka Cabu), Bernard Verlhac (aka Tignous) and Georges Wolinski — making a fateful decision: Would they put a satirical image of Muhammad on the cover of their newspaper?
The Charlie Hebdo cartoonists turned “provocation and bad taste” (to use Lambert and Picard’s words) into a particularly French form of political satire. As the French translator Arthur Goldhammer explained it earlier this week, “There is an old Parisian tradition of cheeky humour that respects nothing and no one,” which goes back to the French Revolution. “It’s an anarchic populist form of obscenity that aims to cut down anything that would erect itself as venerable, sacred or powerful,” and it is directed against “authority in general, against hierarchy and against the presumption that any individual or group has exclusive possession of the truth.” That tradition will continue next week when Charlie Hebdo and its surviving staff plan to publish one million copies of their next edition.