Friday, December 07, 2007

Troubled

Santa’s butt plug and ‘back door atheism:’ when the going gets weird, the weird go pro, or at least remain firmly entrenched in the amateur ranks so as not to risk censure.

I was planning on developing a long running thesis about the decline of Lawrence, Kansas, a teaser I ran a few months ago, but recent news headlines have made me rethink this story and consider the recent news, and in the process, I would like to expound on a topic close to my own heart, fascism

Item 1: Santa’s Butt Plug.

entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment
/visual_arts/article2955473.ece

It’s not often that I get to use the term ‘butt plug,’ let alone use it multiple times in the same diatribe; in fact, the last time I seriously considered butt plugs at all is when a hair stylist friend of mine asked me if I brought her back one from a conference trip many years ago. Now, half a decade later, not only can I use ‘butt plug’ in all seriousness, I can refer to it as ‘Santa’s Butt Plug.’ I would seem that a New York artist, in the provocative ‘artist way’ has manufactured chocolate Santa Claus statuettes in time for the holiday season. Only, instead of a giant bag of toys, or say a Christmas Tree, towering over this chocolate Santa is a fully engorged Priapus disguised as giant chocolate butt plug.

Don’t get me wrong; what people do with their Santa statuettes, their chocolate, or frankly their own asses, with or without butt plug, is none of my business, and in my never ending libertarian battle against fascism, I will defend all Santa, chocolate, or butt plug activities. However, I am also a really twisted person, cynical, some might even say…evil? (whahaha). And, in my quest for betraying the clinically stupid to the righteous, I cannot let a Chocolate Santa Butt Plug pass by uncommented. Also, since I am in the midst of finishing an entire PhD on the subject of objects, agency, embodied practice and corporeality, I can’t help but wonder about the use and consumption (in the commodity sense) of a Chocolate Santa Butt Plug—and frankly, in which order. There are some mysteries in this world that I shall leave to my kinkier friends—call me prude, but I have no idea what one would do with a Chocolate Santa Butt Plug. Chocolate Santa, sure, eat it. Butt plugs, sure, the name is mostly self-evident. So, if any of my dear readers can help me on this, and you know which one’s you are, please, educate me. Oh, and if you’re really curious, they are 76% cacao and sell as objets des arts for $100, see link above for details

While we’re on the subject of butt plugs: the other story of note today is that US evangelical groups, before having seen the film, are calling for a boycott of some movie called Golden Compass, to be released on Dec. 5th. I don’t know what the film is about nor the books that inspired it. However, apparently the right wing blogo-world has their panties in twist because the books and film are said to inspire atheism—though as someone on the London Times Points out, they really can’t inspire atheism because the central plot is deicide. Any hoo, here is what Bill Donahue of the Catholic League has to say:

“‘This is pernicious,’…’this is selling atheism to kids, and it's doing it in a backdoor fashion.’ In a press release, the Catholic League president accuses the film's producers of conducting a "deceitful stealth campaign" to push the anti-Christian books.”’ (Times Film Review)

To counter, Philip Pullman (author of the books that inspired the film) says this to Al Roker on the ‘Today Show:’

‘Well, you know I always mistrust people who tell us how we should understand something. They know better than we do what the book means or what this means and how we should read it and whether we should read it or not. I don’t think that’s democratic. I prefer to trust the reader. I prefer to trust what I call the democracy of reading. When everybody has the right to form their own opinion and read what they like and come to their own conclusion about it. So I trust the reader.’


On his own website Pullman says mostly the same thing:

‘As a passionate believer in the democracy of reading, I don't think it's the task of the author of a book to tell the reader what it means. The meaning of a story emerges in the meeting between the words on the page and the thoughts in the reader's mind. So when people ask me what I meant by this story, or what was the message I was trying to convey in that one, I have to explain that I'm not going to explain. Anyway, I'm not in the message business; I'm in the “Once upon a time” business.’ (http://www.philip-pullman.com/about_the_books.asp)

He actually refuses to comment on his books preferring them to speak for themselves.

What becomes clear, in this entire unfolding narrative, is that while Pullman is not in the business of generating meanings, preferring to generate thoughts on meaning instead (epistemology if you will), is that Bill Donahue is interested in mediating thoughts on meaning, stepping in to control how his followers, and by extension how he thinks the rest of the book reading, film going public should act—a question of ontology. Donahue, the mouthpiece of The Catholic League, ‘for Religious and Civil Rights,’ is quick to cry ‘foul’ when confronted with the secularization of public space: schools, government buildings, civic centers, calling ‘Christmas Censors’ the ‘political correctness police.’ And quicker when secularization becomes popular—even though there is a cleverly worded document supporting the foundation of US republican democracy that maintains certain rights (freedoms if you will) about which Congress can and cannot make laws about.

What concerns me is the misrepresentation of ideals. By criticizing those who want to maintain secularity of public entities (government) as the pc-police, he is of course making overt references to Orwellian control—‘Big Brother,’ ‘the Thought Police’ and the dangers of allowing libertarianism to erode—effectively labeling critics ‘fascist.’ Fascism, however, will always remain fascism, regardless of how it is (re)branded. Taking Pullman to task for promoting ‘democracy through words’ only illustrates that Donahue, himself, is guilty of the same thing that he purportedly fights against by attempting to maintain control over how people think and simultaneously polarizing what they may think into rights or wrongs.

Perhaps even more worrying, is his word usage: ‘backdoor atheism’ juxtaposed with backdoor fascism. Openly critiquing two competing processes by labeling them ‘atheistic’ conflates their individual meanings into a singular catchall phrase for immorality, setting the stage for moral-absolutism and opening the front door to overt control whilst we’re watching the back. Last time I checked, there was no great ‘liberal’ conspiracy to erase God from the US. 74% of us believe in Judeo-Christianity, implying, perhaps, that the right to not believe is actually threatened, and I have yet to find the foundations for this paranoia of anti-religiosity that is has somehow infected the nation. Troublingly is that the power of the Christian Right has increased in my short time on Earth, and though I could probably make a few good arguments tying this rise and the devastating effects of predatory Capitalism together into a historical-materialist narrative, I won’t—except to say that on one side disillusionment and loss of control are progenitors for desperation that could lead to religious zealotry and on the other, legitimized self-righteousness that follows moral absolutism could be used to rationalize particular socio-economic agendas.

Most worrying of all, and the final point of this blog is that before accusing ‘atheists’ of the mortal sin of trying to get people to think about how they view the world and their cosmology, labeling them as ‘operating a stealth campaign to promote atheism in a backdoor fashion’ perhaps Bill Donahue should step back and consider the backdoor actions that his organization fronts. Indeed, ‘backdoor atheism’ certainly has to be better than the brand of backdoor Catholicism that surfaces from time to time; I’ve yet to hear anyone genuinely apologize for the actions of a growing number of ‘wayward’ clergy who use ‘backdoor tactics’ to get what they want--whatever the motivation, at least those who buy Chocolate Santa Buttplugs have a choice.

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