Sunday, April 11, 2010

Westboro Baptist Church: Hippie Street Theater 'Born Again'

As a less-than-embedded, but more than occasional member of the 'counter-culture'/anti-war demi-monde of the late 60s and early 70s, I was part of no small number of planning and strategy sessions whereby people bent on creating counter-narratives with which to unbalance the dominant ones struggled to figure out ways to capture the attention of the 'press/media' and launch our messages. A commonly suggested stratagem was 'street theater,' a kind of political activity that enacts certain narratives without any proscenium or narrator, per se, other than that which the actors create from the experiences of their audience--a populace at large.

That is, exactly what the Fred Phelps-led demonstrators perform under the banner of Westboro Baptist Church. He's just like all us other old hippies, out there flinging shit, loudly, and outrageously, and infuriatingly. But he's still no more than a stage magician, pulling toxic rabbits out of his pious hats.

It's a clever ploy. We old hippies never really got it right. But Phelps has greater protections than we did. We were, after all, mere "dope-smoking, draft-dodging, treasonous, spoiled, malcontents." Phelps and his lot are hiding behind two formidable barricades. The first is "religion." The First Amendment ramifications of endeavoring to restrain religion are manifold. Then there's the staqtus factor. Phelps and his cohorts are middle-class, well-dressed, plausible 'white people.' The "majority." They're 'entitled' to shriek hatred and defile emotional events by their status in the 'majority.' Lesser folks, such as the counter-culture of my day, and the civil rights demonstrators in theirs, never had police protection.

They're provocateurs who are very good at it. They scruple at nothing short of outright falsehoods. Nobody can say for sure that "God" does NOT "hate Fags"--notwithstanding the fact that nobody can say what such a thing as "God" would (or even could) say on such a matter, even if there were such a thing as "God," which cannot be either proven or refuted, either). You see how tricky it is. Phelps and the Westboro folks have figured out the important part of the puzzle. You're entitled to say anything to anybody, and get away with it if you're 1) religious and 2) white, as long as you don't "break the law."

They're very careful. They're inflammatory, but never START any violence. The law is on their side. There's lawyers in the group who set up confrontations that seem inevitably to engender lawsuits, and they make a living off defeating complaintants, and winning judgments. There's no way to 'persuade" 'em to stop. They have a constituency, power. They get ink/bits. Because they enact a conscious self-parody, you cannot satirize 'em. It's a living Poe, a "post-modern" production...

And I wish I/we had had the courage to be REALLY disgusting, back in the day. We tried, smearing blood on documents, and burning our cards, and marching, and burning the flag, shit like that. But I do not think any of my generation disrupted any military funerals. Was there something unspoken? I don't know. But I wouldn't have done it...And Phelps would...And there's no cops kicking his ass...

4 comments:

Mr. Pelican said...

that's because you weren't hiding behind the sanctifying cloth of a "preacher's" collar.
Fred Phillips, Jim Jones, Hoggard, they're all cut from the same cloth, the bloodstained surplice of religious fervor. Too, it seems you can do and say anything also if you claim you're protecting the Constitution, when, in reality you are using it for toilet paper.

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