A few weeks back, a friend of mine posted a link to a link to a youtube video that was a clip from one of my favorite TV shows in recent time. In fact it may be my favorite moment of that series. It is a clip from the first episode of Aaron Sorkin’s newsroom, wherein the main character is asked during a news debate to explain why America is the greatest country in the world. He flips out and explains all the reasons we aren’t. This sparked a big debate on my friends page that was blah blah blah Republicans do this and blah blah blah Democrats do this and neither is really dealing with the point of the clip. Which is that it’s not really about Democrats or Republicans, its about the state of politics in general rendering us impotent as a nation.
Maybe the reason the clip sings to me so much is because I’m in neither party. In fact, I think pretty much all of them are fuckwits. But whatever, the point is, it always gets me thinking “What does make America great?” Not the greatest… but great at all. I think I’ve figured it out. The greatest thing about America is that we protect our fuckwits.
I wonder if other people have a favorite amendment to the Constitution. I do. It’s the first one. There’s a lot I love about this country. There’s a lot I hate too. But I’m really big on the first amendment because I firmly believe that without it, pretty much the rest of democracy is useless:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
I don’t think many Americans would disagree with any of that in principle. Democrats, Republicans, whatever… pretty much everyone likes that they have the ability to say what they want. Most people seem to acknowledge that that means that from time to time other people are going to say things that you don’t like. Generally, we call this other people fuckwits and move on with our lives. That’s the American way! USA! USA! USA!
At least, until they piss us off too much…
Freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from criticism. That’s why I write as much as I do. I love that I can sit down and roll out my thoughts on why the rest of the world is full of fuckwits. The internet is the best thing ever. A whole publishing system designed for the sole purpose of me calling bullshit on the fuckwits. And of course, the fuckwits get to call bullshit on me. It really doesn’t bother me much. They’re fuckwits after all.
But it seems to bother other people.
The last seven days have been really interesting to me as someone who is addicted to watching the internet. First we had a massive backlash against the Confederate Flag which I already talked about, Then that whole controversy basically went away in the wake of the Supreme Court suddenly declaring gay marriage legal across the country. Reactions to that were about what I would expect, and pretty on par with the polling results that show about 2/3s of Americans supported gay marriage and then there are the people vehemently against it because God told them so… and then there are the people who honestly just don’t care. So I expected and saw some pushback to the decision, but it was nothing compared to the massive flood of Facebook rainbow avatars and Twitter #LoveWins hashtags. And that’s wonderful.
What I wasn’t expecting, and maybe I should have, was a dovetailing between that and how I feel about the Confederate Flag. See, if it wasn’t clear, I DON’T support banning the flag. I support removing it from government offices. I actually feel that Amazon, eBay, Apple, Walmart, etc. are on the wrong side for stopping their sales of confederate branded merchandise. I certainly don’t think anyone should be forced to sell it, but for reasons I said in the Confederate Flag article and my in defense of π!gg£® and ƒ@ggø† article, I think allowing independent individuals the ability to express their hatred (at the risk of dick punches) is extremely helpful. But, what surprised me was that I suddenly saw self-declared Christians (friends, relatives, random people) complaining not about the gays getting married, but about the imagery they were using.
The first complaints were just people getting sick of the rainbows. Whatever. There were some that I snapped at, but really that argument is just kind of silly. But it’s what happened after that I found more interesting. I saw a few people posting this pictures complaining about how the gays were sacrilegiously abusing and how dare they? I’ve seen a few of these pop up in the last couple of days but two seem to have hit the right viral makeup and really done what it takes to get passed around a lot. So those are the ones I’m going to focus on.
The first is this collection of people dressed at Jesus a what appears to be a bunch of Pride events. Clearly they’re disparaging Christ right? How dare they! Right? Well, no… not really. See, I would argue that nothing really offensive is happening in any of the four scenes that make up the image. Not one of them is “worshipping a false prophet” or “taking the Lord’s name in vain.” There’s not even anything sexual actually going on in any of them. It’s just a bunch of people being happy to be both Christian and homosexual. The first quadrant seems to show a woman dressed as a crucified Jesus (Maybe it’s a man… the pic is small, I can’t be sure). She’s not “doing” anything… she’s just being crucified. There’s nothing that even says gay about her, other than the homophobia sign above her head. She’s being sacrilegious in the exact same way Jim Caviezel was in The Passion of the Christ. The second one just has a guy kissing Jesus. On the lips, yes… but who cares? Really, Jesus kissed men in the bible all the time. It was totally his thing. It was a common greeting at the time. We just add the sexual connotation now. Number three…. ummm… these are two guys on crosses. Nothing even remotely scandalous about it… unless you have something against the crosses being pink. But really, you don’t even know that these guys are gay, except for the context. And finally the last…well, at least I’ll grant that this one is provocative. But not for a good reason. They’re two women… and they’re naked… and they’re kissing. Which makes them lesbians… and lesbians are hot… Yep… that’s it. The only thing to “not like” about that image is that maybe it turns you on… and certainly Jesus doesn’t want you to be turned on, right? That’s why Christians require their women to be clothed in form diminishing, skin covering garments from head to toe… Oh wait… maybe that’s the wrong religion… That might be someone else. More on that later.
Then there’s this second image I’ve seen passing around. One withe Jesus getting his salad tossed by Satan, helpfully colored over with the lovely rainbow of queerness that has become so popular in social media this last week. Oh my god!!! How horrible! We shall all burn in hell for merely gazing upon the… wait a minute. Let’s think this through. What are we really seeing here. We’re seeing Jesus praying while the devil attempts to tempt him into sin… which is exactly what happens in the bible. Of course, the bible never implies that Satan attempt to fuck Jesus… but it doesn’t say he doesn’t either. The film The Last Temptation of Christ does this as well, albeit… not as “gay.” So, while I will agree that it is sacrilegious, I am quite curious as to specifically WHAT makes it so disagreeable to people. The fact that Jesus is a sexual being in it. Or the fact that he is gay.
Of course, there’s lots of scholarship out there currently that points to the possibility that Jesus was gay, an idea that most devout Christians reject because you know, “it’s an abomination” and all that, but more because since there’s not really conclusive proof they tend to side with the idea that he “defaulted” to straight (really, they would probably prefer to think that he was asexual… but I think most people really don’t know what that means… and if it were true, it would actually push him a lot closer to the queer community again, and that would just be so confusing that people’s heads would start exploding). And of course, a lot of atheists reject it because they doubt that a historical Jesus existed in the first place, and if he did, for the most part they don’t really care.
But lets just say he does exist. And he is as right wing conservative as they come, preaching a message straight out of Westboro… “love thy neighbor, practice charity to your fellow man, judge not lest you be judged… unless of course we’re talking about faggots… then stone the motherfuckers!” Lets even assume that that is the correct and morally upstanding position. God hates fags! Assuming that this is the message of Jesus, then sure, this image is clearly made to make fun of him. It is made to be evocative and to piss you off. Honestly, even if we don’t believe any of those things, then the simple truth is, that image is still probably made to be evocative and piss you off. And that’s a good thing!
I realize in the days of the 24-hour news cycle anything that’s been out of the headlines for more than 48 hours really doesn’t matter anymore (I’m looking at you Rachael Dolezal), so I feel like I have to remind people of the events of just shy of six months ago. On the morning of January 7th of this year, a couple of armed gunmen broke into the offices of the French Magazine Charlie Hebdo and executed a dozen people, mostly cartoonists, for the “crime” of depicting the image of Muhammad on their magazine cover. This caused an international outrage and in a heart warming show of solidarity the internet stood together in proclaiming “Je suis Charlie.”
On one hand, this was a touching show of support for the dozen people who died (plus eleven other wounded) minding their own business and trying to get through a work day. But really, at essence, what the world was doing was standing up for the basic human rights of the artist and the political activist… to relentlessly mock established hegemony, even in the case of —no, especially in the case of — religion.
Charlie Hebdo publishes comics with Muhammed in them for one reason and one reason only. To be evocative… by pissing people off. Without a doubt, the gunmen did the wrong thing by reacting violating. But they were upset, and righty so, because at the end of the day Charlie Hebdo was making fun of their religion. There’s no doubt about that. They did it to be upsetting.
That’s how art works. Art works by challenging the establishment, by making a point by taking one idea and converting it… often perverting it… to present a different idea. Does Muhammad really look like that? No. No one really looks like that. It’s a cartoon character. But the idea behind the image is to rile people up by making a statement about the hypocrisy of a religion followed by roughly a quarter of the world’s population. For the record, the quote on the cover translates to “100 lashes if you don’t die laughing!”
But apparently, that’s ok… because he’s not Jesus.
Of course, neither is the guy getting a rimjob from Satan in the picture. By any scientific modern account, Jesus was a “black man.” Or at least that’s how the headlines like to phrase it. Given the location in the world and the time period, he was almost certainly of African Jewish descent. The bible even says he had bronze skin and hair like wool. He certainly wasn’t the Aryan surfer dude that he’s generally depicted as. He probably looked a lot more Arab than anything. Basically, Jesus, if there was one, was a guy that in 2015 is never, ever, EVER going to make it on a plane in America without some serious interference from TSA. But no one really him this way. Because of artistic license. To most people the “real” Jesus is the surfer dude who literally never goes anywhere without either a halo of a crown of thorns. And the bible never really says what Satan looks like at all. In fact, the bible is pretty horrible at introducing it’s characters. The closest it ever comes with Satan is saying that he looks like an angel. It certainly never says anything about horns, a tail or batwings. That comes from other mythologies, usually Greek. It’s just a common way we’ve taken to depicting the “idea” of the devil, just like we’ve commonly decided that Jesus was a six foot, sandy blond surfer dude. In other words… the Jesus that people want to protect isn’t Jesus… it’s the cartoon character that is based on him.
If someone had painted a picture of the real Jesus, black Jesus, getting a rim job, no one would be outraged, well, no more so than they’re outraged by sex in general. They wouldn’t even recognize him as Jesus. And I bet there were random black dudes kissing at every pride event in the country this last week that probably looked more like Jesus than surfer dude or any of the six Jesuses (Jesi?) in the pride photo. But no one cares about those either. Really what bothers people is that the gay people in the pride photo have crosses.
But Jesus never said the cross really had anything to do with Christianity. They used it to kill him. He probably wasn’t even too fond of it. It was appropriated as a symbol for the movement a couple hundred years after he died. Sort of the same way some black people like to use the term “nigger” or homosexuals like the term “queer.” The same with Surfer Jesus. He’s not really historically accurate or even religiously accurate. He’s more the mascot of the religion. He’s no more Jesus than Mickey Mouse is a rodent.
But that doesn’t mean Christians own the symbol. Unlike Mickey, Jesus is public domain! Just like Muhammad. And for everything they symbol of Jesus may stand for to the 30% of the people on the planet who follow the movement, for a large portion of the other 70% he is a symbol of unimaginable cruelty and persecution. Does that mean all Christians? Of course not. Much like all Muslims don’t fly planes into buildings. But Christianity has been used as the justification for some of the most vile and unimaginable episodes of hate in this planet’s history. And so, it is only natural that in some cases, art will be used to comment on that. Why is it necessary? Because people get upset. That is reason enough.
The 30% of the Christian population of the world versus the 25% Muslim is pretty close, but in America, those numbers are 70% Christian and 1% Muslim. Even among the queer population of the US (about 2-3%) about half consider themselves Christian. Even in the posts I’ve seen of those two images, I’ve seen a lot of people saying “I’m gay, but I know that is wrong.” So, really, it’s very easy to dismiss those who might make gay Jesus imagery as fuckwits. And really, if it bothers you, that’s the stance to take.
But we must protect the fuckwits at all costs. That is the American way!
I see a lot of people saying “well, yes, I support freedom of speech and religion, but I don’t think they meant that.” Of course they did! The entire point of those protections is unpopular viewpoints. The best way I can illustrate this is with a final image. The KKK has reportedly announced plans to celebrate the Confederate Flag at a rally in South Carolina capitol because the shootings were “a good start.” I’ve seen people on both sides of the “gay issue” post this image and disparaging it. And rightly so. Well, except that the image isn’t actually from South Carolina or that event. It’s a stock photo from a Klan rally in Indiana in 1998. But it doesn’t matter, because the image is being used to tell the fuckwits why they need to stop celebrating the Confederate flag as though it isn’t a symbol of hate. But no, we must as a people tell the fuckwits that they are allowed to celebrate their symbol of “southern pride” because we protect their right to their ridiculously hateful views. But we reserve the right to take their symbol of hate and make fun of it and use it as a symbol hate because that’s what it means to us. The point is, of course we must protect unpopular speech… unpopular religious views. Popular ones don’t need our protection.
If you believe FoxNews, Christians in America are continuously under attack by the majority. That’s a fiction. They’re not. As the clip I started this article with mentions, one of the few categories that we lead the world in are number of citizens that believe in angels. They’re 70%, they’re not a minority. They’re not even close. BUT, someday, they will be. Self-identifying Christians are down over 15% in the last 25 years. They’re down 3% in the last two. Part of this is due to the strict adherence by some sects of of the religion to exclusionary views on sexuality, gender and a host of other social issues. Part of it is due to increased education meaning more people understand that the world simply isn’t 6000 years old or invented in seven days by an invisible man with the usage of magic words. Part of it is probably that in a world where global communication is the norm, the need for for culturally specific hegemonic rule is probably not very high anymore and the possibility of maintaining it almost nil. Whatever the reasons, one day… probably relatively soon, Christians will be a minority in the US. And in becoming so, it’s likely that the mascot of Surfer Jesus will have as negative a connotation as a symbol in this country as Charlie Hebdo Muhammad. One day, probably in the next 20 years, the offensive thing about the Satan and Jesus picture isn’t going to be the analingus or even the cartoon demon dude with the stylish horns. It’s going to be the oppressive symbol of Surfer Jesus that stood for the ridiculous exclusion of 3% of the nation’s population from marrying the person they love. If you’re a Christian and you feel put upon by the world when you exclaim your love of Christ now, just imagine what it will be like when you’re as much of a minority as the Muslims… or the Klan. You’ll be called fuckwits for wearing a cross on a chain around your neck much less posting torture porn pictures of a surfer on a couple planks of wood to whatever passes for Facebook in 2035.
When that day comes, I intend to defend your right to your cartoon surfer mascot. I’ll make fun of you, because that’s what I do… but I’ll defend you. Because defending fuckwits and their ability to speak through imagery is the American Way.
Je suis Charlie.