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Life for Paris, a group set up to support the victims and families of victims hurt or killed in the 2015 Paris attacks, is unhappy with the popular “Tough Guy Entrance” meme that’s making the rounds on Twitter.
The meme in question shows Jawad Bendaoud, the French citizen recently convicted of harboring two of the terrorists behind the attacks that left 130 people dead and over 400 injured.
On March 30, a Twitter user who goes by Mohamedjellit posted a short video of clip of Bendaoud outside the courtroom. In the clip, Bendaoud, who is a known drug dealer and was previously convicted of manslaughter, can be seen puffing his chest and trying to look menacing.
Mohamedjellit asked people to caption the video and Twitter was happy to respond. Not only has the video now been watched 167 million times, but it also turned Bendaoud into a huge meme—especially once people found other pictures of him.
When your man is yelling at you and you tryna make it look like you don’t care but you finna cry 😭 pic.twitter.com/S5GEFob6Sl— Black College Sistas 👸🏾👩🏿🎓👩🏽🔬 (@CollegeSistas) April 6, 2019
pOoja vHat iS tHiS bEhaViOur??? pic.twitter.com/iPwMy98Uly— afsheen (@d0ntruinmahm00d) April 3, 2019
Billboard: This Lil Nas X song isn’t technically country— Eugene ejay (@Ejayarrmani) April 5, 2019
Billy Ray Cyrus: pic.twitter.com/yRUvhOQIjq
Should these never end? I think so. https://t.co/s8OeiPeOz3— Paul F. Tompkins (@PFTompkins) April 10, 2019
Although the meme was never intended to glorify Bendaoud, if anything it seems to be belittling him, Life for Paris still feels that using the videos and images for comedic purposes is insensitive. It tweeted its official statement on the matter this week, saying via French translation that the use of the meme “shows that, in an unheard-of reversal of our values, our society prefers to turn a criminal and habitually offending delinquent into a star [rather] than avoid hurting the victims of the worst attacks in our history.”
The full statement is available in the tweet below.
Twitter has since begun placing warnings on the video that say “We can’t show you everything! We automatically hide video that might contain sensitive content.” Users then have to click on a “Show Media” button to view the video. Whether or not this actually addresses the concerns raised by Life for Paris is open to debate.
The larger debate is when, if ever, can tragedy be used for comedy? Following the Sept. 11 terror attacks in the United States, comedy shows, in general, were canceled all over the country. Now, 9/11 jokes have become so ubiquitous they’ve gone from taboo to hacky. It’s highly unlikely that anyone is going to get mad about a John Wilkes Booth joke in 2019, and you can probably get away with making fun of the Titanic. But is it really just about the passage of time? Or is it that most of the “Tough Guy Entrance” memes are being created by people who don’t live in France? Is it simply because Bendaoud looks so ridiculous in the video that people couldn’t resist making fun of him? Is there a bias in play that lets us laugh from a distance?
For better or worse, the meme proves that the line between comedy and tragedy remains blurry.
David Britton is a writer and comedian based in Rhinebeck, New York who focuses on internet culture, memes, and viral news stories. He also writes for the Hard Times and is the creator of StoriesAboutWizards.com.