OPINION

Art and the limits of satire in Greece

First of all it should be clarified that the citizen’s right to peaceful protest is unconditional. And this applies to the comedy show of Jimmy Panousis in Greek theaters as much as it applies to sketches of Muhammad in a provincial Danish newspaper. In view of this, the protest staged by a group of Orthodox faithful outside the Fix theater in Thessaloniki, where the popular comic has been performing, is perfectly legitimate and justifiable. That which cannot be justified is any attempt by authorities of any kind to censor an artist, however holy the target of his criticism may be. There is much debate of late regarding satire, art and whether there should be any limits to artistic expression. Many who do not want to be described as censors seek to discredit the show, claiming that what Panousis is doing «is not art.» Others are somewhat more open to satire but still claim that there should be certain limits imposed. And it is their right to believe this; the problem is that both these stances are rather arbitrary. First, there is no clear definition of art, with the possible exception of historian Ernst Gombrich’s maxim: «There really is no such thing as art. There are only artists.» And so, without a definition, any debate about whether a particular show has artistic content or not is futile. In this case, the argument that Panousis is not producing art and so deserves to be censored is untenable. In any case, art with limits is not really art but socialist realism. A real artist should break through established boundaries and constantly seek new approaches to reality. This is the artist’s role and what makes him or her valuable to society. Of course, attempts at creating art are not always successful, for many different reasons. But we cannot know this in advance. The works must be presented to the public first and then may acquire the status of art. The same goes for satire. Satire relies upon an element of surprise. If established opinions are not satirized, then satire is not fulfilling its true purpose. But even if there were limits to satire, who would set them? Christians have certain values that are sacred; Muslims have other values whose criticism they cannot tolerate. In view of this, satire is always going to offend somebody’s belief system and, what is worse, someone is always going to seek its censorship in the name of some higher ideal. But for this to become acceptable, one would have to impose a blanket ban on humor in society. Everyone has the right to satirize everything. And everyone also has the right to protest such satire. This is part of the dialogue that should exist in a healthy society. But this dialogue does not need, and should not have, protectors. And God forbid that the almighty Orthodox Church, with its long tradition, could be rocked by the satire of one artist.