On Charlie Hebdo’s tasteless satire of the Amatriciana for Amatrice campaign

charlie hebdo amatriciana amatriceAbove: a photograph of a dish of Amatriciana via the popular Rome-based food blog Puntarella Rossa. See its editors’ post (in Italian) for just a partial list of the many Italian restaurateurs and food producers who are raising money for victims of the August 24 earthquake in central Italy.

Across Italy, across the U.S., and even across France, restaurateurs are raising money for victims of the August 24 earthquake in central Italy by donating proceeds from every dish of Amatriciana served (see the Austin American-Statesman coverage of Austinite participation). The township of Amatrice was one of the hardest hit and its world-famous dish has become a rallying cry for relief efforts.

Late last week and over the weekend, after the French weekly magazine Charlie Hebdo published a satire of the grassroots Amatriciana for Amatrice campaign, a lot of friends and readers have asked me about the cartoon in question (you can view it here).

Beyond the natural indignation, more than one person revealed that she/he didn’t fully understand the quote-unquote humor in it.

“Earthquake Italian style,” reads the top caption. A reference to the many “Italian style” comic films of the 1960s and 70s (like “Divorce Italian Style”).

Below the leading caption, there are three figures, each with their own caption.

The first is a bloodied man. “Penne with tomato sauce,” reads the caption.

The second is a woman who appears to be burned, with her hair standing up as if it had been singed. “Baked penne,” reads the caption.

The last image depicts earthquake victims and crumbled buildings layered on one another. “Lasagne.”

The cartoon plays to commonplace French attitudes that France’s transalpine cousins are rustics and that their cuisine is unsophisticated.

For insight into why the editors would publish such an atrocious send-up, I reached out to one of my dearest friends, a Parisian woman who went to high school with the daughter of one of the higher-profile contributors to the magazine.

The magazine’s readership is very small, she told me. “We only ever pay attention to it when they make fun of something we really care about,” she said.

“And they make fun of everyone,” she noted, emphasizing everyone.

It’s not hard to imagine how Italians have reacted to the caricature. Over the weekend, I read countless news reports and social media posts by writers and social media users who expressed their dismay.

I wrote to a good friend in Italy who pointed me to a Facebook post by journalist and television executive Enrico Mentana, who wrote (translation mine):

    I’m sorry but this is what Charlie Hebdo is! When you said “Je suis Charlie,” you were expressing solidarity with people who have always published similar cartoons. They have profaned everything and everyone. The caricatures of Mohammed had the same effect on most Muslims that the cartoon about the earthquake has provoked in us. It was forty years ago that [Charlie Hebdo contributor Georges] Wolinski, one of the victims of the January 2015 terrorist attack, taught his Italian colleagues that satire could be ugly, dirty, and mean. Should we break off our relations with France after we marched in their defense? All we need to do is to say that it disgusts us. And we should do so without being self-righteous.

The vignette may be tasteless. But the dish is as tasty as ever.

Here’s a link to my post on different channels for donating to relief efforts.

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