HYPE: ARE YOU BEING SERVED?
1/23/15 HYPE: ARE YOU BEING SERVED? BY SONIA LINEBAUGH
“The Intellectual Situation (The Hype Phase)” is a 2008 essay by the editors of n + 1 magazine. According to the writers, the hype cycle starts when “the ginned up enthusiasm of publicists combines with word of mouth (and blog) to create so-called buzz.” After the release date, “backlash surges alongside the ongoing hype.” Then follows “backlash-to-the-backlash.”
WhenI search Amazon for novels I get 750,111 results, 6992 of them hyped as best-sellers. French author Michel Houellebecq’s (pronounced WELL-beck) “Suomission” is one of them, an instant out-of-stock bestseller at $44.96 for the paperback edition in French. The ginned up enthusiasm comes from the media in general, not a few well-connected publicists.Set in 2022 France, the novel describes the results of an election won by the leader of France’s new Islamic party. Post-election, women wear veils in public, and schools adopt an Islamic curriculum.
Ordinary hype can’t compete with that kind of synchronicity with a real-world event–the January 7 attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris for what was seen as anti-Islam profanity. “Je Suis Charlie Hebdo,” the masses proclaimed, everyone abuzz, united in righteous indignation—whether in sympathy for the free speech of the satirical newspaper (a corporation that has come to seem like a person), or against.
Like the hype cycle, backlash has its place. On January 8, David Brooks wrote in a New York Times Op-Ed, “Whatever you might have put on your Facebook page yesterday, it is inaccurate for most of us to claim, Je Suis Charlie Hebdo, or I Am Charlie Hebdo. Most of us don’t actually engage in the sort of deliberately offensive humor that that newspaper specializes in.”
Author Michel Houellebecq said in an interview while promoting “Suomission” that the 1.5 million French people who took to the streets showed less of “a desire for national unity than something simpler: The fact that the French are massively attached to the freedom of expression.” (Libération newspaper) “To become a hero, you don’t have to act heroically. Sometimes it’s enough to be pigheaded. The cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo were pigheaded.” He should know. His friend Bernard Maris was killed in the attack and Houellebecq had been caricatured several times by the magazine.
Backlash-to-the backlash comes in the form of a report that Charlie Hebdo newspaper would print three to five million copies of their post-attack issue with a tearful Muhammed on the cover–60,000 sold weekly before the attack. About $4.50 US at a Paris newsstand. Up to $100 on e-Bay.
David Brooks says, “The journalists at Charlie Hebdo are now rightly being celebrated as martyrs on behalf of freedom of expression, but let’s face it: If they had tried to publish their satirical newspaper on any American university campus over the last two decades it wouldn’t have lasted 30 seconds. Student and faculty groups would have accused them of hate speech. The administration would have cut financing and shut them down… When you are 13, it seems daring and provocative to épater la bourgeoisie, to stick a finger in the eye of authority, to ridicule other people’s religious beliefs.”
French authorities denounced support for terrorism, racism or anti-Semitism and promised a response to inflammatory acts or rhetoric. It wasn’t clear whether they were responding to the new Charlie Hebdo cover or the protests of the Muslim community.
As the furor begins to abate, we wonder whose interests are served by these acts of madness, both the mad attacks and the mad rush to chose up sides. We reclaim our normal minds and hearts, whether open, closed, wavering, or swinging wildly between extremes. Je suis Sonia Linebaugh. No one else.
Sonia L. Linebaugh is a freelance writer and artist. Her book At the Feet of Mother Meera: The Lessons of Silence goes straight to the heart of the Westerner’s dilemma: How can we live fully as both spiritual and material beings? Sonia has written three novels and numerous short stories. She’s a past president of Maryland Writers Association, and past editor of MWA’s Pen in Hand. Her recent artist’s book is “Where Did I Think I Was Going?,” a metaphorical journey in evocative images and text.