I had a new thought this morning, new for me anyway. It occurred to me that the familiar use-mention distinction can and should be applied to images, including cartoons. I recently posted a pornographic Charlie Hebdo cartoon that mocks in the most vile manner imaginable the Christian Trinity. A reader suggested that I merely link to it. But I wanted people to see how vile these nihilistic Charlie Hebdo porno-punks are and why it is a mistake to stand up for free speech by lying down with them, and with other perpetual adolescents of their ilk. Those who march under the banner Je Suis Charlie (I am Charlie) are not so much defending free speech as advertising their sad lack of understanding as to why it is accorded the status of a right.
So it occurred to me that the use-mention distinction familiar to philosophers could be applied to a situation like this. To illustrate the distinction, consider the sentences
'Nigger' is disyllabic.
The use of 'nigger,' like the use of 'kike' is highly offensive.
Niggers and kikes are often at one another's throats.
In the first two sentences, 'nigger' and 'kike' are mentioned, not used; in the third sentence, 'nigger' and 'kike' are used, not mentioned.
Please note that nowhere in this post do I use 'nigger' or 'kike.'
I chose these examples to explain the use-mention distinction in order to maintain the parallel between offensive words and offensive pictures.
Suppose someone asserts the first two sentences but not the third. No reasonable person could take offense at what the person says. For what he would be saying is true. But someone who asserts the third sentence could be reasonably taken to have said something offensive.
Jerry Coyne concludes a know-nothing response to a review by Alvin Plantinga of a book by Philip Kitcher with this graphic:
Coyne added a caption: AL-vinnn! Those of a certain age will understand the caption from the old Christmas song by the fictitious group, Alvin and the Chipmunks, from 1958. ( A real period piece complete with a reference to a hula hoop.)
Here's my point. Coyne uses the image to the left to mock Plantinga whereas I merely display it, or if you will, mention it (in an extended sense of 'mention') in order to say something about the image itself, namely, that it is used by the benighted Coyne to mock Plantinga and his views.
No one could reasonably take offense at my reproduction of the image in the context of the serious points I am making.
Likewise, no one could reasonably take offense at my reproduction of the following graphic which I display here, not to mock the man Muslims consider to be a messenger of the god they call Allah, but simply to display the sort of image they find offensive, and that I too find offensive, inasmuch as it mocks religion, a thing not to be mocked, even if the religion in question is what Schopenhauer calls "the saddest and poorest form of theism."
By the way, journalists should know better than to refer to Muhammad as 'The Prophet.' Or do they also refer to Jesus as 'The Savior' or 'Our Lord' or 'Son of God'?
Ready now? This is what CNN wouldn't show you. Hardly one of the more offensive of the cartoons. They wouldn't show it lest Muslims take offense.
My point, again, is that merely showing what some benighted people take offense at is not to engage in mockery or derision or any other objectively offensive behavior.