Symbols used in the wake of tragedy can be powerful tools. They can bring a group of people together or drive them apart. They can convey a message of strength and solidarity. In the wake of the terror attacks in Paris on Friday night, there is a collective misconception about one such symbol.
An image combining the Eiffel Tower with the peace symbol by illustrator and graphic designer Jean Jullien has been spreading online, through social and Web media, as a representative symbol of solidarity with Paris. It’s being uploaded on Facebook as a profile picture and posted in news feeds.
“Peace for Paris,” Jullien captioned the image on his Instagram account, where the brush-stroked painting appeared. It has since garnered more than 160,000 likes on his account alone, as well as more than 59,000 retweets, and has become the viral representation of choice for those looking for a way to share their grief and support for the people in Paris.
That intention is noble, and one certainly cannot argue with the integrity of the designer. “I was trying to look for a symbol of Paris, and obviously the Eiffel Tower was the first thing that sprang to my mind” Jullien explained in an interview with Wired. “I just connected both of them. You know, there wasn’t much work process behind that. It was more an instinctive, human reaction than an illustrator’s reaction.”
The problem with such an image is that beyond acting as a temporary balm to people’s feelings, it stands for almost nothing the terror attacks in Paris are actually about. Spreading a cool graphic can bring a moment of comfort, but it also assists in placating the masses to the point where they do not acknowledge or address the cause of the attacks. The image simply becomes a trendy symbol that people share in the interest of fitting in.
“The first thing I could come up with was a need for peace in reaction to this horrible violence,” Jullien told the New York Times. “It was a very raw, spontaneous reaction. I didn’t sketch anything before.” The desire for peace is understandable, and visceral reactions are unavoidable, but this wasn’t a battlefield between two opposing armies.
What happened last week was a brutal assault by determined terrorists on innocent people at their most vulnerable: at cafes, a sporting event, and a concert hall. The victims were already being peaceful. There is no need to lecture Parisians about the need for peace in the aftershock of these attacks. The 129 murdered and the many more injured or terrified were helpless to defend themselves. They were not promoting a cause or war. They were not soldiers. They were unarmed.
#related#Part of the problem is simply the evolution of how our culture interacts with symbols and media. As we become more obsessed with using emojis and Facebook filters to express our feelings or support, any nuance is lost. It’s much easier to post a Vine video than to develop a solution. It’s easier to change a Twitter avatar than it is to examine the root causes of the problem we’re responding to. It’s much easier to declare “I care” than it is “I care about a strategy for responding.”
Of course we want peace for Paris. The problem is that radical Islamists do not. They won’t be stopped by memes calling for peace. They will be stopped by collective action.
The morning after the attacks, an unnamed musician pulled a piano up outside the Bataclan theater, where the majority of people killed in the attacks were murdered while attending an Eagles of Death Metal concert.
He began playing John Lennon’s “Imagine” to a gathering crowd of mourners and photographers, and much like “Peace for Paris,” the song, however good the intentions of the musician, diluted the evil ideology behind the attacks. Lennon’s lyrics in “Imagine” do not describe an already-peaceful society, coexisting together, ripped apart by radical Islamist fundamentalists.
Artistic expression in the wake of an attack by those attempting to silence it is important. This was evident in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attacks. But when the flood of emotions subsided, our culture and media slid back into a protective shell of political correctness, refusing to draw or display images of Mohammed.
#share#After the Charlie Hebdo massacre, David Burge (@Iowahawkblog on Twitter) noted that “everybody wants to march in maudlin Princess Di–style candlelight vigils with ‘Je Suis Charlie’ signs, nobody wants to be Charlie Hebdo.” And that statement is still true, eleven months and a second attack later.
Jullien has said he doesn’t intend to profit from the use of the image (although it’s almost certain others will), and he has asked that any funds collected through sales of reproductions of the image go to victims’ families or charities in their names. That’s a concrete way that symbols can help us cope with the devastation of another terror attack. But simply wanting peace will not stop ISIS from carrying out future attacks.