Another Jerry Springer slapfight

SpringerOpera.jpgMy colleague Jeremy Lott has observed that when you argue with puppets you are bound to lose. Andy Havens of Church Marketing Sucks has argued a broader point: Never argue with a fictional character.

I’ll take the advice in a different direction: Do argue with blasphemy but do not try to silence it.

Jerry Springer: The Opera surely has welcomed hundreds more audience members in London because of the protests by a group of activists known as Christian Voice. This group recently persuaded a Scottish charity to decline the proceeds from a benefit performance of the opera. (The BBC deserves a gold star for trying to explain, however briefly, what prompts Christian Voice to do what it does.)

As reported by Jill Lawless of the Associated Press, the show includes material that Christians will find, well, provocative:

Creators of the musical, inspired by Springer’s trashy American TV talk show, say it grapples with issues of good, evil and personal responsibility. But some Christians have been angered by its hundreds of expletives, parade of lowlifes and depiction of Jesus Christ in a diaper admitting that he is a “bit gay.”

Still, should anyone expect reverence or subtlety in an opera about Jerry Springer? Remember the source material, people.

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  • Stephen A.

    Those Christians have every right to speak out against what they see as blasphemy, just like the anti-fur folks, who have been just about as effective.

    Some of those Christians may actually feel duty bound (a rare phrase, I know) by their Faith to speak out on the issue of blasphemy, just as some felt they had to speak out in the 60s against segregation, even if speaking out on some issues like this was, and is, often unpopular.

    As for your colleague’s rule, that was asked and answered in the response to that post. Liberals aren’t allowed to make criticism-proof statements, even through the arts. Sorry.

    Hiding behind fictional creatures or fictionalized TV characters to take crude, immature pot shots or to advocate a radical agenda, and then expressing OUTRAGE that someone’s “art” is being criticized (or to try to imply that a fictional character is being “personally” attacked) is simply pathetic.

    If Big Bird or some other character is made to say something obnoxious, the writers should face the chorus of criticism for their words, without being able to hid behind a cloth puppet.

    Conservatives need to become better adept at attacking this ruse by going after the writers, not the character the writers use to espouse the nonsense, something that makes them look as stupid as the writers (see: Murphy Brown, SpongeBob, PBS cartoon characters etc.)

  • Kathryn Joyce

    These Christians — the Christians at Christian Voice — apparently felt duty bound to release the home addresses and phone numbers of BBC executives so that similarly duty-bound individuals could help sway their opinion on whether or not the Springer show should be broadcast. I don’t think anyone’s said anything about the right to protest what a group sees as blasphemy or otherwise offensive, nor has anyone suggested that art is exempt from criticism (that’d be a funny claim to make on a media criticism site), but we’re not talking about criticism or protest here. We’re talking about an attempt at censorship — disturbing enough — and a “criticism” tactic of intimidating the BBC employees personally — more disturbing still. That seems less like the fight for civil rights than good old-fashioned bullying, and it doesn’t say much for the cause that its proponents had to resort to implicit threats.

  • Douglas LeBlanc

    {I don’t think anyone’s said anything about the right to protest what a group sees as blasphemy or otherwise offensive, nor has anyone suggested that art is exempt from criticism (that’d be a funny claim to make on a media criticism site), but we’re not talking about criticism or protest here.}


    I’m guessing you’re responding to Stephen A’s comment, but your “funny claim to make on a media criticism site” language leaves me unsure.

    For clarity’s sake, then: I intended my post entirely as a criticism of Christian Voice (with one bonus jab at Jerry Springer).

  • Stephen A.

    Doug: Your post was no such thing, unless you’re amending it. It dealt only with media coverage of the religion aspect of this issue, which was just what we should be talking about “on a media criticism site.”

    Kathryn was rather strong in her denounciation of this group, whom I have never heard of before and who, if they’re using the tactics she describes, justly deserves condemntation for using harassment as a tactic.

    (Now, do we want to talk about ACT UP’s antics in churches?)

    The original posting went into none of this information, and I don’t feel I should be excoriated for not knowing all the background here, if the facts are exactly as Kathryn says they are.

    The original post was simply a call to discussion about the wisdom of protesting fictional characters, since it often blows up in the protesters’ faces — courtesy of helpful media types who find protests against slime “disgraceful” while heaping praise on the slime itself as “courageous.” This play is a case in point, it seems.

    The Left needs to get over the idea that any criticism is an attempt to “censor” artists. This is what’s actually rather funny, coming from those who tell kids who want to pray on school property they’re somehow doing something “unconstitutional” and are forced to take their faith underground.

    Meanwhile, criticism of writers with agendas is somehow off limits? That’s incredible.

  • Kathryn Joyce

    Sorry to be unclear, Doug. Yes, I was responding to Stephen’s comment, that “expressing OUTRAGE that someone’s ‘art’ is being criticized (or to try to imply that a fictional character is being ‘personally’ attacked) is simply pathetic.” I didn’t sense any great outrage in your post, nor do I think Get Religion — which does so much art and media criticism itself — would be one to suggest that art’s off-limits for criticism. Just trying to point out the irony.

    Stephen, yes Christian Voice has used those tactics on the BBC and other targets. From an article in the Times Online (,,2-1501029,00.html):

    “The group, led by Stephen Green, gained notoriety when it circulated the home addresses and telephone numbers of senior BBC figures when the musical was screened on BBC Two last month. Some people on the list received calls threatening them with bloodshed. “

  • ECJ

    It is unlikely that economic pressure is going to sway anybody in the matter of this opera. The demographic which is likely to watch the opera does not intersect with those likely to be offended by it. Not many Christians inhabit either the UK or NYC. So I think the best strategy would be to just ignore it, and thereby hope to keep it marginalized. Besides, if the producers want to mainstream this work, they will have to tame it down.

    Yet it is no accident that the Lord Jesus was considered worthy of vulgar humor designed to scandalize – or better, play to the predjudices of the target audience. It says much about our culture that His person is considered a free fire zone. Ridicule is a powerful weapon. Although this opera may be a primarily a satire of Jerry Springer, the secondary targets are carefully chosen.

    But the more interesting story line regarding this subject is the one that never gets told. It is an undeniable fact that there are persons and causes about which such humor could never be written – indeed would never be allowed to be written. Insert Martin Luther King into diaper and have him say “I’m a little bit gay.” See how far that story gets on Broadway. That’s why the story never gets told. It can never happen in the first place.


  • ECJ


    Censorship is endemic in this culture. It is primarily exercised through the power of editorial choice. An editor (broadly defined) exercises that choice either in service of his economic interest, or his ideological interest. This is his right. But it is also my right to attempt to influence this choice by bringing his interests under pressure. We are not talking about government restraint. We are talking about the the correlation of forces in the marketplace of ideas. Express yourself as you will. But be prepared for the cost you will incur. It is childish to expect such expression to be cost-free. That cost is why no one will produce a comedy at the expense of MLK.

    Liberals don’t tend to notice these things because they exist in a media marketplace which shares their worldview. They feel no threat that what they regard as good, right, and true will be driven out. For the editors who make the choices are in fact their ideological allies. So they don’t see the common acts censorhip which occur every day. But Stephen sees it. I see it. Can you name even one major TV show with an Evangelical character fairly portraited? But how many gay characters do you see? That is the issue of censorship we see. And that isn’t going to change anytime soon. Because people in Hollywood don’t even see it as a problem.


  • Stephen A.

    “…threatening them with bloodshed.”

    Kathryn: I’m outraged. There’s no reason for violence or threats of violence. Not only is it immoral, it simply doesn’t work. Just ask the IRA and PLO, who failed in their use of violence for decades.

    I’m also as morally outraged as that group is, however, that some groups are “safe” targets – religious people and figures – while others are deemd “off limits” – notably gays and, as ECJ brilliantly points out, MJK Jr.

    Can you imagine a play written by a racist about MLK’s supposed sexual dialiances? (If racists could write plays – go along with this analogy for a minute.)

    And what about that lead character was played for “HUMOR” as is this “kinda gay” Jesus? Frankly, I would think that MLK play would be ridiculous and something from the gutter, and I’d condemn it, too.

    But the problem here is that the Hollywood/London elites would be outraged at that topic, but not at smearing cow dung on holy objects or portraying every (non-Buddhist) religious person on film as deranged.

  • Kathryn Joyce

    Stephen, EJC:

    Once again, it seems like we’re talking about at least two separate things: first, the right — unquestioned by either Doug or myself — of a group to protest, criticize, etc. any piece of artwork, either because the group considers it a poor representation of or offensive to a certain group, or because it’s tasteless, or just crappy art; and second, big bad censorship, as in trying to disallow the public existence of said artwork because of any of the above reasons. As I said before, I _really_ don’t question anyone’s right to protest. But the catch of free speech and free protest is that you have to put up with people criticizing the protesters as well. Saying that their arguments or tactics are lousy is a far cry from silencing them. Not to make this issue any broader than it already is, but that’s something that needs to be more widely understood in general.

    Some sub-points… EJC, personally, I wouldn’t equate editing with censorship. Maybe I’m biased because I’m trying to make a living in the field, but they seem like distinct categories to me. Surely there are overabundant, and often bad, stereotypes in the media, and some people don’t get to promote their perspective as much as some others. But, but, but. Well, for one, these stereotypes don’t just target evangelicals. As a true-believing feminist, it aggravates me to watch a cartoon that portrays feminists as man-hating, child-hating, condescending bitches. But at the end of the day, I figure that’s part of the price I pay. As a supporter of civil liberties and free speech, I’m also given pause when the ACLU correctly supports the right of the almost-infamous “Philly Four (or Five)” to interrupt a gay tolerance celebration with bullhorn-amplified announcements about how wicked all the attendees are. But again, I overcome my knee-jerk political inclination to realize: that’s part of the price I pay.

    For two, blogs, internet radio, choose-your-slant news stations like Fox, are all examples of an expanded media empire wherein it’s a lot more possible for any viewpoints to put themselves on the market. It’s harder to call lack of access censorship when there are suddenly so many more options available.

    For three, I’m a little troubled by your comment that “economic pressure” wouldn’t be enough to sway the BBC. The unspoken second clause there seems to be that more dramatic tactics (i.e., personal harrassment) are therefore in order, and are the just “cost” of expressing one’s self. I don’t think you really mean that. And while I don’t deny that the show was offensive to some, beyond that, I don’t know what to say, ECJ. It’s a tough world and we don’t all agree. Price we pay, cost of co-existing, etc.


    I’m not a Buddhist. And I wouldn’t attempt to intimidate someone making a dumb film about King’s sex life. But I probably would do my best to laugh them out of the room. That option’s always there, and I still think it’s the best one: you get to keep your principles, your intelligence, and your high ground. In any case, I never meant to “excoriate” you for not knowing the background on Christian Voice. I’d just read about them Monday and was trying to add my bit to the discussion. Peace.

  • Kathryn Joyce

    (Sorry to have mixed up your initials above)

  • Stephen A.

    Maybe we’re just speaking two different languages.

    I’m glad you don’t question someone’s right to protest, Kathryn. I wish the news media gave conservatives the right not to look foolish or petty when they protest things like screenwriters’ slanders, or artists’ attempts to gain attention by defaming their Faith.

    If nothing is out of bounds when someone labels it “art” then we have a big problem with self-control in this society, and with the way media cover this so-called art. (And we do on both counts.)

    True, laughing at, or ignoring, ridiculous art or supposed culture is one effective way of dealing with it.

    I hope you don’t think I was calling you a Buddhist. I was giving kind of a flip example of those religious groups that are *protected* apparently from liberal critique or are portrayed well in various media. Think: Richard Gere. Then think: Mel Gibson. See the difference? One’s a saint, the other’s a whacko, in the mass media’s eye.

    The evidence of bias in portraying those of conservative and/or traditional religious Faith is really overwhelming. In the case of the group you highlighted, maybe the stereotype fits the picture. Same with some Leftist groups. But we don’t hear many “exposes” about the lefties (Earth First, ActUP) for some reason.

  • ECJ


    I was using ‘editorial’ in a much broader sense than just the media. Unfortunately, I could not think of a better word. Rather I would say all of the following are exercising editorial discretion:

    1. The manager at a bookstore who decides which magazines to put on the rack for sale.
    2. The company I work for which limits its charitable gifts to non-sectarian organizations.
    3. United Way which refuses to fund abortion clinics for fear of offending half its donor base.
    4. Target which refused to let the Salvation Army collect money outside of its stores this Christmas.
    5. Marketing departments which bend their appeals to the tastes of their prospective customers.
    6. Me when I refuse to let my 9-year old daughter watch Law&Order: SVU.

    We are all showing preference for one type of information over another. And we exercise that preference within the scope of the authority that we have.

    But let’s get specific. Back in December, Nick Coleman of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune went off on a rant and incautiously suggested to his readers that they withdraw all their money from a specific bank. Said bank was a major advertisor for the Star-Trubune. Needless to say, the bank’s CEO took exception and canceled about $200,000 worth of advertising. Now I suspect that Mr Coleman got twisted around his editor’s desk lamp like a common paper clip for that occurrance. Coleman is not likely to mouth off at the hand that feeds his editors again. Is that censorship? Absolutely. And correctly so. The bank was simply protecting its interests. And the newspaper has no constitutional right to the bank’s money.

    Likewise, artists have no immunity from this kind of pressure. An artist may think that he has some profound thought to share, and that the public should hear it for its own good whether it wants to or not. But the public may disagree. And if a sufficient segment disagrees, the artist is going to be driven from the public square along with his artwork whether he likes it or not. There is a constitutional right to speak. But there is no constitutional right to be heard. There is no constitutional right to access. There is no constitutional right to freedom from consequence. Intellectuals tend to think this should not be the case. They are wrong.

    So say what you want, but be prepared to pay the cost. The first amendment doesn’t protect you from the legal retaliation of those whose interests you injure.


    btw, don’t worry about the initials. I am typographically challenged so I understand. :)

  • Richard Hall

    I feel obliged to comment, since I’m British, and the Jerry Springer controversy was happening in Britain.
    The British context is important to this story. Here “the Left” does not censor prayer in school, as one commenter suggested. It is the law of our land that prayer takes place in schools. Not all of us are bound by the US constitution! I found the “not many Christians live in the UK” comment very offensive. I can assure y’all that the Christian community is alive and well here. Our church going rate is much lower than for most of the USA, it’s true, but Christians are still very much here.
    I’ve heard more condemnation of “Christian Voice” from Christians than from any other quarter. Partly because of a very silly campaign to get people to complain about a show without actually seeing it, but mostly because of the bullyboy tactics they have employed. Blackmail and intimidation are strong words, but they fit the case pretty well and they aren’t consistent with any Christian gospel I know of.

  • ECJ

    “I found the “not many Christians live in the UK” comment very offensive. I can assure y’all that the Christian community is alive and well here. Our church going rate is much lower than for most of the USA, it’s true, but Christians are still very much here.”

    I guess it all depends on what you mean by Christian. My definition is much more narrow than the modern world allows, but it is consistent with the history of the Church. John Shelby Spong may call himself by the name, but he deceives only himself.

    Even so, I didn’t mean to give offense, and for that I apologize.


  • Stephen A.

    Richard: Gee, thanks for the, ah, context. I actually didn’t know that schoolchildren were required to hear prayers in the UK. Who writes these prayers, Church of England? Hmm. They must be very *interesting* and politically-correct prayers indeed.

    Regarding your comment about complaining about a show before seeing it, you may have a point. I have to harken back to the Passion of the Christ. Before many critics saw it, they were saying it would turn religious folks into raving anti-semites. Is that what you meant?

    Interesting blog comments you’re getting on, and elsewhere. We dimwitted Americans are getting a bit of a tongue lashing for lacking “context” in this matter. I suspect we’re going to get flayed alive! ;-)

    But what *context* are we missing, exactly?

    Did we misinterpret the intent of the play’s writers to be blasphemous, or just the reaction to it, which is a separate issue? I think it’s pretty much as I said: On cue, leftist sympathizers in various media bemoan the “intolerance” of people who don’t like to have their faith rubbished, while all along, the lefties themselves have sacred cows they squeal about whenever THEY face criticism. The “Four legs good, two legs bad” bleating can be heard loudly at Harvard right now, for example, but not so much at out in Colorado – sorry for the local examples.

    Frankly, we know the scumbag Jerry Springer a bit better than you folks, and we know how to measure the level of sewage in the loo whenever he is the subject.

    But I suppose in this “context” though, we should have stepped back and “recontextualized” the place of religion in society and had a “national conversation” about the “relevancy” of Faith, to use the jargon the left on this side of the pond uses ad nauseum. Then, we could come to realize, as Europe has, that religion is irrelevent, old fashioned superstition we shouldn’t worry so much about.

    (To ECJ and others: Yeah, I’m being facetious. Let’s NOT do that.)

  • Richard Hall

    I’m aware that you’d know more about Jerry Springer than we do here. As a foul, depraved citizen of pagan Europe I thank you for exporting him to us and enabling us to sink further into the squalor of our godlessness. We like it that way.

    But “Jerry Springer the Opera” was a parody, and I’m pretty certain that it wasn’t holding the man (or his show) up as any sort of paragon. But I haven’t seen it.

    I can only tell you, in all seriousness, that the outry against what ‘Christian Voice’ did was not “leftist sympathizers in various media bemoan the “intolerance” of people who don’t like to have their faith rubbished” as you suggested. If you’d understood the context, you’d have known that. Much of the criticism of Cristian Voice came from Christians who were appalled at the actions of a small group who claim to represent authentic Christianity but in have no mandate from anyone and used tactics which brought the gospel into disrepute. Even those who saw the show and thought it *was* blasphemous still felt that greater harm was done to the faith by CV than by JStO.

    On the question of school prayer, if you can face discussing it without sarcasm I’d be glad to!