After millions filled the streets of France to honor the victims of the Charlie Hebdo shooting, French lecturer Mark Burde delivered a lecture titled “Satire and Society in France This Week and Last” at the Residential College’s French coffee hour on Thursday.

“About four million people marched in the entirety; the most people marching for any political reason, any reason at all, any sort of gathering, since World War II. It was a huge deal,” Burde said. “So the question is, why was this so important?”

The talk centered on the Paris shootings on Jan. 7, which killed 12 people and wounded 11. The attack targeted specific cartoonists and editorial staff of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. Carried out by two French Muslim brothers, the attack was a response to the magazine’s satirical publications featuring the Islamic prophet Muhammad. Images of the Prophet Muhammad are forbidden in the religion of Islam.

The attack prompted international outcry as #JeSuisCharlie went viral. However, some have been critical of expressing total support for the publication, which many say prints satirical cartoons that are inappropriate and disrespectful.

Burde said the goal of the lecture was to clarify some aspects of French society which are lesser known to Americans and to help explain why Charlie Hebdo is so controversial as a publication. Under French law it is illegal to publish anything attacking a racial group; however, it is legal to publish attacks against ideologies such as religion.

“There are considerably stronger speech laws in France, hate speech laws, than there are in the States,” Burde said.

France has two major satirical magazines, Charlie Hebdo and Le Canard enchaîné. Hebdo publishes in a similar style to that of Mad Magazine: “male adolescent humor,” as Burde puts it, “on a very serious topic.”

“There are two essential characteristics, I think, of French society that you need to be aware of, without which you will not really fully understand why Charlie Hebdo did what they did and why so many people are so fervent in defending their value, their right to do what they did,” Burde said.

These characteristics are “la gouaille” and “laïcité.” “La gouaille” is the French tradition of satire, typically between people of different classes. Burde’s presentation exhibited examples from the late 1700s to show how embedded “la gouaille” is in French culture.

The second component, “laïcité,” is France’s separation of church and state, which extends to other aspects of life to mean a general space without religious interference.

LSA freshman Isaiah Zeavin-Moss, who is in the Residential College, said he and other students benefited from the lecture.

“I think Mark did a really great job of introducing us all to a little bit of the context of Charlie Hebdo and where they’re coming from, who they are, and what the general satirical landscape is in France, and incorporating that into how to compare it to the satirical landscape in America,” he said.

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