Sunday, January 09, 2005

Should I be more offended?

Reading some of the polemic about the BBC's screening of Jerry Springer – The Opera last night, you’d imagine that this was the most disgusting and blasphemous production imaginable, so why watching it was I not offended?

Well first off the bad language just doesn’t push my buttons – I’m pretty immune. Besides the 3000+ count quoted by certain parties is somewhat misleading. If you have a chorus of 30 people doing that opera thing of repeating lines again and again (my theory – it’s the only way the audience can make out the words properly amongst all that vibrato thingy), it adds up real quick. Besides how would you accurately represent the Springer show without such language? Can opera singers mimic the bleep machine?

Or maybe it’s the subject matter that I’m supposed to find offensive?

Well the first act is a parody of the bizarre topics on the show, which I found pretty amusing. Maybe it’s childish to find operatic renditions of phrases like “my mum was my dad”, “chick with a dick” and “three-nippled cousin fucker” amusing, but hey…

I suppose the show’s second act is potentially more troubling, but I can’t help feeling that those foaming at the mouth are looking for offence. After all it is at the end of the day a portrayal of a shot and dying Springer’s hallucination of a descent into hell, where characters from the first act’s ‘show’ take on the roles in his hallucination. So his warm-up guy becomes the devil, the guy in a nappy transforms to a guy in a loin-cloth aka Jesus and so on. Some of the protesters seem to struggle with that dramatic device though. It didn't seem to me to be in anyway suggesting that the naapy wearing coprophiliac was Jesus, but rather in Jerry's hallucination that character get's transormed into playing the Jesus role. Ok so I don’t agree with the theology portrayed in that hallucination, but why would I?

The specific lines that seem to cause offence need their full context to be understood. For example the chorus aka the show audience, pass bitchy and disparaging comments about all the ‘guests’ on the show as they walk-on; so is the ‘muttered’ phrase “raped by an angel” really so extreme when ‘Mary’ is introduced? It’s not like no one has ever speculated before on the options for the source of Mary’s pregnancy. Some have suggested rape by Roman soldiers and even if you go with the option of conception by God there is something deeply unsettling about the message from the Angel as relayed in the gospel books, where the pregnancy is announced to Mary as a statement of fact (“you will”) rather than a gaining of consent (“will you?).

Nor are the writer’s of this show the first to portray Jesus as nicey-nice and slightly weak character. In the parlance of the Springer show that get’s translated to “he’s a bit gay”, but the intended meaning is I think the equivalent of “sandle-wearing, hippy, do-gooder”. Then again I personally don’t see what is so offensive about the possibility that Jesus might have been gay so even if you take the phrase to be an ‘accusation’ of homosexuality I’m afraid I’m still not offended.

Maybe the second act doesn’t portray the Christian God in a positive light, but that’s free speech for you. More than anything, it just seemed to drag a bit to me and I lost interest (maybe if I’d listened harder I’d have found myself more offended?). But from what I took in of it, it certainly didn’t seem to me to have the aim of deliberately denigrating people’s faith position, but was more a device for discussing some questions about the confessional chat-show phenomenon.

Maybe things like this do portray Christianity in a disfavourable light and maybe I should be more concerned about the cumulative effect that has on society’s view, but I can’t help thinking that the Mary Whitehouse brigade do the faith a greater disservice still in the way they carry on.

In honesty I probably have to confess that it’s my distaste for their stance and hyperbole that predisposes me to view Jerry Springer – The Opera in a favourable manner. I get suspicous about their motivations. Phrases such as "Moslems and Sikhs can complain about what offends them, why shouldn't Christians. After all, this used to be a Christian country!" seem to betray an agenda here, a regret of loss of power and influence, a reluctance to work at what it takes to be an integrated multi-cultural and multi-faith society. Why do I suspect they are also the first to complain "it's political correctness gone mad!". Maybe without them I would be more open minded and as a result more offended. In the meantime, "cover me in chocolate and throw me to the lesbians".

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