-By Lauren Panepinto

I was going to continue my Seven Deadly (Art) Sins series, but something more important came up. Unless you’ve been hiding in a cave (a cave that has wifi strong enough to read this?) you know about the terrorist attack on the french satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. I didn’t think I had a lot to contribute to the conversation, other than to add my horror to the mass outpouring of shock and support from the art community. At least, not until I saw a few “friends” popping up on Facebook saying a magazine that existed only to offend and piss people off was asking for it and sure, freedom of speech and all, but they should have known better, they went too far. They posted covers of Charlie Hebdo that were absolutely offensive to me personally. Don’t I agree that they went too far just for the sake of going too far?


Freedom of speech is a right that we, especially in most of the first world countries, hold sacred. We think it is a god-given right. It is not. It is a precious, fragile thing that needs constant defense. I feel especially strongly about this as it applies to the art world, and I support the CBLDF (Comic Book Legal Defense Fund) every chance I get, because they remind me that even in this country our freedom to make art is threatened every day.

Freedom of speech is a right that trumps freedom from being offended. Every time.

Neil Gaiman, of course, states all this much better than I can in his 2008 blog post “Why Defend Icky Speech?”:

“If you accept — and I do — that freedom of speech is important, then you are going to have to defend the indefensible. That means you are going to be defending the right of people to read, or to write, or to say, what you don’t say or like or want said.

The Law is a huge blunt weapon that does not and will not make distinctions between what you find acceptable and what you don’t. This is how the Law is made. People making art find out where the limits of free expression are by going beyond them and getting into trouble. 

The Law is a blunt instrument. It’s not a scalpel. It’s a club. If there is something you consider indefensible, and there is something you consider defensible, and the same laws can take them both out, you are going to find yourself defending the indefensible. 

You ask, what makes it worth defending? and the only answer I can give is this: Freedom to write, freedom to read, freedom to own material that you believe is worth defending means you’re going to have to stand up for stuff you don’t believe is worth defending, even stuff you find actively distasteful, because laws are big blunt instruments that do not differentiate between what you like and what you don’t, because prosecutors are humans and bear grudges and fight for re-election, because one person’s obscenity is another person’s art.

Because if you don’t stand up for the stuff you don’t like, when they come for the stuff you do like, you’ve already lost.”

Weapons of Choice (green of course) #jesuischarlie