Charlie Hebdo shooting (2015)

From adopting … to adapting the slogan

Supporters of freedom of speech, freedom of the press and resistance to armed threats, adopted the slogan Je Suis Charlie (I am Charlie) as a symbol of personal identification with and support to the victims of the Charlie Hebdo shooting occurred in Paris on 7th January 2015. The slogan has a strong protest symbolic power. The personal identification of protesters with the victims of the attack conveys the idea of their personal commitment and empowerment.

However, when used in protests outside the Francophone world the meaning of the slogan formulated in French is not easily grasped (e.g. Junior doctor protest – London, UK – Apr 2016 and Stop the war coalition march – London, UK – Dec 2015).

Moreover, its non-registration allowed uncontrolled developments, twisted uses and awkward associations of the slogan.

Adopted to support a specific cause, its transformations into messages and adaptation to topics often far away from the original intent ended up cancelling out the value and meaning of this symbol.

Scroll down to learn more about strenghts and limits of this action, or discover our analysis of the other three case studies.

Original protest in January 2015

Original protest in January 2015

Adopted for the 'Junior doctor protest' - London, UK - Apr 2016

Adopted for the 'Stop the war coalition march' - London, UK - Dec 2015

Adapted: Where is Charlie? I am here

Adapted: Protest Je suis taxi legale against UBER - Torino, Italy - 2015 Feb Photo P. T. Browne

Lesson Learned

A symbol should be registered to avoid adaptations, variations and twists of its meaning that would end up cancelling out its original intent and meaning.

Following the attack on 7th January 2015 to the satirical weekly magazine Charlie Hebdo, supporters of freedom of speech, freedom of the press and resistance to armed threats adopted the slogan Je suis Charlie (I am Charlie).

 

Strengths

The slogan Je suis Charlie has a strong protest symbolic power because it conveys the idea of protesters supporting the victims of the Charlie Hebdo shooting and their close and personal identification with them. Bearers of this slogan showed their personal commitment to the cause, their empowerment in the protest, and their unity in the fight against terrorism. It soon became a meme summarising the idea of the personal identification with a cause or a social action.

 

Limits

Despite its strong protest symbolic power, its formulation in French failed to engage and empower in a similar way protesters beyond the borders of the Francophone world.

Originally adopted to support the Charlie Hebdo cause, it was then adapted to convey various message often far away from its original intent. It became ‘Je Suis Juif’ (I am Jewish), ‘Je Suis Muslim’ (I am Muslim), ‘Je Suis Chatholic’ (I am Catholic). And now? Asks the magazine Actualité Juive (picture on the right).

 

 

During the protests against UBER, the slogan took an awkward twist becoming ‘Je suis taxi’ (I am taxi) and ‘Je suis TAXI legale’, (I am a legal taxi). Protesters in Paris, France in January 2016 (left Photo Charles Platiau) and Torino, Italy – Feb 2015 (right Photo P. T. Browne) hoped to convey their strong commitment and empowerment in the fight against the car transportation and food delivery company UBER. Protesters’ commitment and support to the action is easy to grasp, but the interpretation of their personal identification (the strong symbolic power of the logo/slogan Je suis / I am) with a legal taxi is a bit of a stretch.

 

The commercial exploitation of the slogan and its various adaptations, cancelled out its original strong protest symbolic power, and undermined the original intent of the symbol of personal identification with a cause. The picture on the left says “I am not Charlie. I am not Ahmed. Who am I? I am the confusion carrying on”. The piggy bank on the rights with the slogan “I am the boss” does not need much explanation.

 

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