Chuck the Librarian, Charlie Hebdo! by James Christie
I surely hope that despite the slaughter on Rue Nicolas-Appert, publication of Charlie Hebdo shall not cease. The satirical magazine’s raison d’être was to challenge the powers that be, hearkening back to the grand French tradition of taking the piss out of the Establishment via graphically illustrated scandal sheets exposing all the illicit shagging going on at the Court of Versailles, for example.
In the UK, this proud and prurient tradition of holding the heads of society up to ridicule was also propagated by That Was The Week That Was in the nineteen-sixties and Spitting Image in the nineteen-eighties. Alex Salmond should consider himself lucky – one little roasting on the spit at the Lewes bonfire last year is as nothing compared to what a modern-day counterpart (now sadly lacking) of Spitting Image would have done to him – and I really liked Mike Myers’ recent comic turn as a resurrected Dr Evil on Saturday Night Live in response to the Sony hack by North Korea.
In short, for a free society to prosper, a free press must survive; and accountability can often best be forced on some of the semi-psychopaths who run our society by the sharp barbs of satirical journalists.
I’m pleased to say I once did something of the sort myself, although it was a less a time bomb dropped amidst the elite and more a follow-on to Douglas Adams’ fictional philosopher’s strike, mentioned in The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
I personally and pretty much single-handedly took the piss out of…
Wait for it… Librarianship!
For a then-undiagnosed Asperger trying to find his way in the world of employment, librarianship seemed a natural choice; but the profession of which I once tried to make myself a part turned out scarcely to have a job to its name, an obsession with pseudo-scientific waffle and a strong sprinkling of stuffed shirts in senior posts.
For example, I won letter of the month in Update (the UK library magazine) in May 2008 with a missive which went like this:
“The President of the Special Libraries Association dazzled us with words (indeed whole phrases) like ‘futurologist, micro increments, social cohesion issues, animate the space, automated tagging based on behavioural pathways, the user-endorsed ratings system, and (my personal doublespeak favourite), the negotiation of a reference question, as opposed to the communication theory of reference interview!’ … While strange people in closed committee debate ways and means of animating the space to achieve a level of automated social tagging based on behavioural pathways using a user-endorsed ratings system in order to negotiate a reference question in micro increments, Joe Public is begging for libraries dedicated to books!”
Although that temporarily sated my desire to lop librarians’ heads off, I finally decided to go for broke with an article entitled The Gordian Knot. It might seem funny now, but back then I had no idea Dear Miss Landau lay in my future, I was one of only 15% of Aspergers in a job, my prospects were dire and I knew with quiet clarity that I was probably guillotining my already slim chances of landing even a part-time library assistant’s post.
I considered Knot’s first paragraph to be a career suicide note:
It’s not often I start to write an article intending to crucify myself, commit professional suicide and probably get myself beaten up by a rampaging mob of respectable librarians into the bargain, but I can’t even preface the following heresies with the caveat “I’m retiring this year, so it is all academic for me”. I’ll only be forty-two years old come September but I’m now so disillusioned with the profession that I would rather fall on my sword than stagger through interviews mumbling tripe I don’t believe about metadata, revalidation, ICT, twelve-digit Dewey numbers and all the other pseudo-professional jargon we have invented.
Five satirical pages followed, Tim Coates’ Good Library Blog published them, I held my breath and waited for the chop.
And it was one of the best things I’ve ever done. Several librarians made contact on the quiet to congratulate me, I cleared a feast of festering resentment from my gut with one clear breath and went on contributing to Tim Coates’ blog for seven years, filleting the library profession (as I used to say) on a fortnightly basis. Bon mots included the observation that senior library managers should be shot (or chucked!) out of the USS Enterprise’s shuttlebay doors in their underpants and that Ed Vaizey (culture minister at the time) was as suitable for his job as Jabba the Hut would have been to run the triathlon.
But what did my insolent, provocative scurrility achieve?
Well, a lady called Amanda Field read my posts on Tim’s blog, founded Chaplin Books and discovered me!
Dear Miss Landau was published and Tim Coates was coincidentally invited onto BBC Radio 4’s A Good Read where he promptly gave my magnum opus a munificent review!
If I hadn’t acted in Charlie Hebdo’s rude, insolent and obscene manner, none of this would ever have happened and I’d now be going down to a sad and empty retirement, my promise unfulfilled and my passing forgotten.
While I doubt a hit squad of fanatical librarians will try to take me out one moonless night, this is why I think it so important that satirists continue to take the piss out of the powers that be.
For if I’d been a good little boy and sucked up to my “superiors,” not a single soupcon of success would ever have come my way.
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