Carlow Town shop assistant Gavin Lynam has admitted having second thoughts about his new Facebook cover photo today after learning that ‘Je suis Charlie’, as well as meaning ‘I am Charlie’, can also mean ‘I follow Charlie’.
“I wouldn’t want random demented homicidal people coming to my house because they were angry about me following – in inverted commas – Charlie in any real sense”, he said.
“I mean, it just wouldn’t be my style to go around riling up people who are already excitable to start with.”
On Wednesday, 12 people were fatally shot at satire magazine Charlie Hebdo’s Paris headquarters, with the deed quickly denounced by several media outlets as a clear cut attack on press freedom.
But among non-journalists too, gestures of public solidarity with the dead, such as Lynam’s, have been visibly evident in the past days across Social Media channels.
“I had figured ‘I am Charlie’ was vague enough to be able to get behind without any danger of being singled out by some space cadet packing a rocket launcher, no matter how seemingly flimsy a pretext he might need to deploy it.”
“But (Lynam’s sister – ed.) Gemma’s taking French for her Junior Cert, and she happened to mention the whole am-follow thing”, he continued.
“She also said it wasn’t like a Twitter follow, either. Kind of more… solid?
Suivre is the French verb ‘to follow’ and its first-person-singular iteration, je suis, is famously identical on paper to the first-person-singular of être, ‘to be’.
“Like, I just can’t see an ‘I am Charlie’ Facebook cover photo giving anyone enough justification to hunt down that Facebook profile’s owner. Even the most literal-minded person would grasp the non-literal nature of a statement like that. I mean, we can’t all be Charlie, right?”
“‘I follow Charlie’ just seems a touch more… what’s the word? Confrontational? Whatever, I’m not as comfortable with it as I was with ‘I am Charlie’.
Placing himself in the attackers’ notional shoes, Lynam was concerned that this ambiguity of meaning might be a cause of potential misunderstanding.
“Put it this way, if machine gunning an entire office full of people for the crime, as I might see it, of continuously provoking me with cartoons that they knew I was somehow obliged to find unfunny was something I was of a mind to plan and carry out, and I wasn’t caught or killed in the process, then I’d probably be looking to go after their followers next. Assuming I still had ammunition.”
“Especially if followers were giving up their whereabouts on Facebook.”
“I could be scrolling through random profiles, and then I see somebody shouting up from the screen at me, ‘Je suis Charlie’. I’d be like, ‘You? You follow Charlie? Okay, that’s good to know. Maybe I’ll send you a Friend request’.”
“But I’d be saying it in this darkly sarcastic, menacing tone”.
“I suppose what I’m saying is I just hope the attackers and any other like-minded spirits out there would understand I was saying ‘I am Charlie’, and not ‘I follow Charlie’.”
While accepting that there was no single model of freedom in any facet of life that did not also factor in at least a remote possibility of undesired consequences directly attaching to the exercising of said freedom, Lynam said it seemed clear from most newspaper reports he had read that satire was a special case.
“Either way, this is the middle of Paris, not Kabul, or Baga or somewhere. You can’t just arrive at somebody’s workplace, open fire on them, and think it’s going to go largely unreported”.
He went on. “Especially not if the victims’ particular line of work allows any TV anchor reporting it to see not just the dead, but by tenuous association themselves somehow as agents in the crusade against mindless acts of terrorism.”
“Though in fairness, I suppose satire is a kind of journalism, so what else is a journalist going to want to talk about this week? 15,000 civilians killed in Iraq last year? Bewley’s shutting? A suicide bombing at a police station in Istanbul? Reboot Ireland? Boko Haram? Hardly.”
In conclusion, Lynam said he was probably going to quietly switch his ‘Je suis Charlie’ cover photo over the weekend to the less ambiguous yet also somehow cloudier ‘Nous sommes Charlie’.
“Saying ‘We are Charlie’ is better all round. Nobody’s showing up at your front door with murderous intent to avenge a statement as abstract as ‘We are Charlie’.”
“Let me be clear on this – I want to send out a message. But I do also want to stay under the crazy people’s radar.”
His sister was reported as saying she found “any version in French kind of pretentious.”
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