Roving thoughts and provocations

My ‘Charlie Hebdo’

Philippe Lançon

Patrick Fouque/Getty Images

We were all there because we were free, or because we wanted to be as free as possible, because we wanted to laugh and face off over everything, about everything, a small Homeric band feasting on red meat, and that is exactly what the men in black, those sinister ninjas, were out to kill.

The Supreme Court’s Billion-Dollar Mistake

David Cole

Thomas Nast

The most harmful effect of the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United may have been to free up super PACs from any meaningful constraints on spending money in politics. Over the five years since Citizens United and a related decision by a federal appeals court, super PACs have spent more than one billion dollars on federal election campaigns. About 60 percent of that billion dollars has come from just 195 people.

The Passion of Marion Cotillard

J. Hoberman

Les Films du Fleuve

Featuring Marion Cotillard in what may be the most self-effacing, yet bravura performance of the year, the Dardenne brothers’ Two Days, One Night traffics in suspense and is a sort of thriller. But as a search for a lost (or stolen) livelihood, it is also a descendant of The Bicycle Thief, the neo-realist classic that implies a world in which “the poor must steal from each other to survive.”

The Limits of Satire

Tim Parks

Charlie Hebdo

Is the kind of satire that Charlie Hebdo has made its trademark—explicit, sometimes obscene images of religious figures (God the father, Son, and Holy Spirit sodomizing each other; Muhammad with a yellow star in his ass)—essentially different from mainstream satire? Is it crucial to Western culture that we be free to produce such images? Do they actually work as satire?

France: The Ground Shifts

Mark Lilla

Thibault Camus/AP Images

No one had predicted or even expected the Charlie Hebdo attacks. But already one reads and hears that “all the signs were there” and that “they”—the government, the police, multicultural journalists—refused to recognize them. It is not a hard story to sell.

They’re Watching You Read

Francine Prose

Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In an age in which our email messages can be perused by the NSA and our Facebook posts are scanned for clues to our habits and our desires, what joy and a relief it is, to escape into a book and know that no one is watching. But now it turns out that I haven’t been quite as alone as I’d imagined.

Waking Up to the New al-Qaeda

Ahmed Rashid

AP Images

Almost from the moment the massacre at Charlie Hebdo was first reported last week, there was speculation that the attack might have been tied to ISIS. But while ISIS represents an extraordinary threat of its own, the Paris attacks have demonstrated that the greatest danger to the West is al-Qaeda’s Yemen branch.

Laughter and Terror

Robert Darnton

Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris

One of the many cartoons published in homage to the cartoonists and journalists assassinated on Wednesday in the office of Charlie Hebdo showed a gravestone with the inscription “Died of Laughter.” No one is laughing these days in Paris. In fact, the massacre raises questions about laughter itself.

‘Selma’ vs. History

Elizabeth Drew

Yoichi Okamoto/LBJ Library

By distorting an essential truth about the relationship between Lyndon Johnson and Dr. Martin Luther King over the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Selma has opened a very large and overdue debate over whether and how much truth the movie industry owes to the public.

A Grande Dame in Close-Up

Jenny Uglow

Idéale Audience/Gallery Film/Zipporah Films

In Frederick Wiseman’s brilliant new three-hour documentary on the National Gallery in London, we may learn about Caravaggio, Rembrandt, or Vermeer, about Holbein and Henry VIII, about the ethos of the Counter-Reformation or Titian’s use of poesia. But we learn almost more about the varied ways that art can be brought to life today.