In My Ohio

On the Bullets Fired in Paris

Darren C. Demaree
​Twelve ornery artists, writers, and editors are dead in Paris. They are dead because men operating war machines entered into their office building and forcibly took their lives as revenge for mocking the hypocrisy of a beautiful religion being used often as an excuse to execute terror. They took the popular stream of the Charlie Hebdo, and they flooded it with blood. Now, there is a whole ocean of anger, artistry, and actual armies they must battle. They will be killed in the process of fleeing or they will be arrested, put on trial, and killed soon after. Their lives are as effectively over as the men they left behind in that office building.
The outrage and sympathy that erupted after the initial attack was beautiful. Any time the freedom of speech is attacked, literally or through the adoption of new laws, the reaction is just as violent. We scream, we kick, we mock, we create whole tides of new art to confront our combatants. It’s a good thing that we do this, because solidarity is important. The freedom to express ourselves without retribution from the state or the church is essential to the development of a world that so often is filled with the darkness of those powerful forces that were once created to fill the world with light and order.
So, as a poet, as a person, as a father who encourages his children to be artistic and free whenever possible, I joined the chorus. “Je Suis Charlie!” I signed petitions, I re-tweeted the more articulate of statements on the subject, I read Salman Rushdie (which I rarely like to do), and then I sat down to write more domestic love poems. I suppose the adrenaline had worn off, or I had already mapped out January’s writing and I was just sticking to the schedule. I returned to my normal posture, when only hours earlier I was pacing the house, in front of the television, never giving up the idea the we are responsible to address the world we live in. That was a mistake.
The world we live in is filled with guns and bullets, and anybody willing to trade their life to end yours can do so. That is the world we live in. Nobody is safe from that, and if you’re artistically inclined and can find an audience, your name is much more likely to attract attention. Art is something personal, and something people take personally. The men that stormed the offices in Paris entered under the guise that they were defending their religion, they were not simply vicious killers bent on terrorizing a collection of unarmed people, not from their perspective. Does this mean that we should hesitate to produce art or controversial art? Absolutely not.
What failed in Paris wasn’t the artistry or the understanding of the religions being discussed. What failed were the gun laws, the policing, and the minds/spirits/hearts of the attackers. There were faulty wires all over the place, but the only one that can be addressed quickly is that of the gun states that are allowed (encouraged in our country).
Art has to speak to power. Art has to speak to hypocrisy. Art, with all of the energy and time poured into pushing every boundary, has to exceed what is socially acceptable. Art can’t play with the same old toy when something like this happens. Finally, art has to, has to, has to exist in a world where the punishment for exceeding the normal guidelines isn’t a bullet to the vital organs.
Those twelve people that died in that office should be remembered for their talent, their bravery, and ultimately for what they gave their lives for. They died because they lived to punish those that impugned the ecstatic. They could be killed because of the bullets that were brought to, carried in, and fired from weapons meant for the battlefield. The struggle now is not how can we justify that it this happened, but how can we really justify how easy it was for this to happen?