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Bewildering Stories

Bewildering Stories discusses...


with Tom Wylie

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Your recent piece “Are We Charlie?” was both informative and a bit provocative.

Informative, as you did wonderful in bringing in other viewpoints e.g. from the Globe and Mail, the Pope and others. Nice examples from among perhaps hundreds to choose.

And a bit provocative, as it is difficult to discern what “position” to take on this most telling of events that involves, from a Western perspective, what we in the U.S. accept as our First Amendment rights. Such rights are not universal in understanding or application.

I fully support what Bewildering Stories may choose with respect to the images that some find offensive, as I believe, and your publication demonstrates time and time again, that BwS won’t “knowingly give personal offense of anyone.”

Yet too, judgmentally you must and do take positions on many subjects. And that should never change!

For me the most effective demonstration of “Are We Charlie?” is the silent and collective raising of pens in the air. That gesture says everything: that we will not be intimated. And it does so without taking a position that might be viewed as insensitive. And sensibilities, including cultural awareness, is what this is really about.

Without sensibility and awareness of cultural values we risk demeaning our intentions, and perhaps ourselves, with efforts that others view as affronts to their beliefs.

Thank you for your insightful comments.

Tom Wylie

Thank you, Tom, for the kind words!

“Blurry Lines,” in issue 605, identifies where lines are being drawn, and how. It says we can’t avoid provocation; anything is going to provoke somebody, for some reason. But we can avoid ad hominem arguments and do what the Internet does best: talk about ideas.

Sensitivity to cultural values is a two-way street. Shall “Westerners” — whoever they are — repress their sense of humour for fear that someone, somewhere, might not get the joke? Shall the rest of the world do the same?

Unfortunately, some people — in any culture — have no sense of humour. They’re very insecure and take themselves entirely too seriously. And if they’re really unstable, we know what the consequences can be.

Political and religious satire has a feeble tradition in the U.S., Mark Twain and Sinclair Lewis notably excepted. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert seem new and strangely sophisticated in America. They fit easily into the French tradition.

The French language lends itself to comedy; its phonetics encourages multiple meanings, and puns are entirely too easy to make. Moreover, comedy has always been one of the strongest features of French written and oral literature, and it dates from Roman times. Pick at random: parts of the 12th-century Roman de Renart satirize the Church. And the medieval fabliaux are basically collections of what “Anglo-Saxons” (are we offended yet?) would call “dirty jokes.” Shocking, simply shocking. But funny!

“Blurry Lines” also contains a hypertext note that I expect few, if any, readers will notice. It cites the review article in issue 601, which is a buffet of ideas that are bound to provoke any number of people on grounds of politics — especially immigration and foreign policy — and religion, for starters. It even talks about “round-earth deniers,” which is obviously an oblique zinger modelled on a phrase currently in the news.

I don’t expect anyone will send a rebuttal or discussion of anything in that article, but I’ll still be disappointed. Happily, I do not expect — yet —the fateful knock on the door that Mike Florian describes in his family memoir, “Fritz,” which comes on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

As long as we have free speech, for Heaven’s sake, let’s use it — in honour of those who didn’t and don’t have it.


Copyright © 2015 by Tom Wylie
and Bewildering Stories

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