Nothing is Wrong and Nothing is Right

Well, the protest emails have begun. I guess that's the price of getting good advance press coverage.

... and producing Jerry Springer the Opera.

I'll admit, I'm always baffled by the people who get so mean and so angry in the name of Jesus – though maybe that's because I'm baffled by religion and religious belief in general. It seems that for too many people, turning on Righteous Indignation also turns off the brain.

Though Jerry Springer the Opera is incredibly vulgar and obscene and blasphemous, it's also genuinely uplifting. After all, the message of the show is clear and strangely reassuring:
Energy is pure delight.
Nothing is wrong and nothing is right.
And everything that lives is holy.


Yet what's happening...? People are judging this show without seeing or reading it. They are judging without information, without understanding. They are judging out of fear (and perhaps also reflex).

This whole thing is so much like back in 2007, when the archbishop (briefly) shut down our show, Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll, simply because they could not fathom that a show about those three topics could be intelligent, thoughtful, insightful, revelatory. All they could imagine was smut, smut, and nothing but smut. So they went to court and shut our show down without seeing it or even asking any questions about it. As I wrote in a blog post about this at the time:
And I kept wondering – could all this have happened simply because certain self-appointed moral arbiters can't even conceive that intelligent discussion or serious art could ever come from as foul a well as the triplet demons of Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll? And could it be that their assumptions say far more about them than about us or our show? Here's the crux of the whole drama – in their world view these aren't cultural forces worthy of exploration; no, sex is dirty, drugs are evil, and rock & roll is the devil's music. Of course they would assume a show about these naughty things must ipso facto be a naughty show! And of course, they would assume that everyone else would assume their assumptions were entirely reasonable. Quod erat demonstrandum.

Our Springer situation is clearly parallel – maybe all attempted censorship is parallel. The folks who fear Jerry Springer the Opera cannot conceive that a subversive work of art like this might have something intelligent and worthwhile to say, that it might even have an uplifting, life-affirming message. How quickly would these tiny brains explode if I told them the point of Jerry Springer the Opera is something Jesus himself said:
"Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?" – Jesus, in Matthew 7:1-3

I think all of this is a trap laid by our very clever authors. Here is a show whose central message is Don't Judge. How do you make that message even more potent and/or funnier? Catch the audience in the act of judging and call them on it. We just didn't think people would make it so easy...

We've already gotten two protest emails, apparently from women so unsure of their faith that the mere fact of our show in their city plunges them deep into irrational fear and loathing. Here's the first one:
Good evening:
As a Catholic, I vehemently protest your hosting "Jerry Springer: The Opera." I have read a description of this play and am shocked at its blasphemous representation of things absolutely sacred to my faith and others'. Moreover, your center receives tax dollars!
This production deeply offends God and Catholics. I urge you NOT to host "Jerry Springer: The Opera" and to apologize for scheduling this terrible offense to God's honor.
This play is trash not art!
M------ D------

Speck, meet the Log Lady.

She's upset because apparently she read a blasphemous description of our show (she has antecedent trouble). It doesn't even occur to her that if she doesn't want to see this show, she doesn't have to. The solution to her upset is so simple, though the Easily Outraged never think of that. I also find it amazing that she can speak for God. I'm going to start responding to these emails by writing, "Actually, God has spoken to me about this, and she thinks the show is really funny."

Of course, I'm way more offended that her church gets subsidized by taxpayers, than she is that New Line gets government grants. And for the record, our government grants all went to Bonnie & Clyde, so no tax dollars are being spent on Jerry Springer the Opera.

I'll admit it, we're all in the same game – churches and New Line – telling stories to teach people about themselves and about life. The difference is we don't think Cry-Baby Walker and Leaf Coneybear actually lived.

I couldn't help myself – I had to write back and mock her. So I replied:
Fascinating how you can judge something without seeing or reading it. Are you magic? There's a really easy way to not be offended by it – don't go see it. However, as you know, you don't get to tell other people what they get to see. Many people actually like to think for themselves, whether that scares you or not.

Then we got our second protest email:
I feel that at this present time in our world,with the holocaust of christians,it's in poor taste to show this musical.this production will only bring heartache & financial demise to your company.bad timing,really gauche,very dissappointed [sic].

Apparently this woman is no fan of using spaces after punctuation or spell check. This one helpfully identifies herself as a wacko with the "holocaust of Christians" reference. Note to conservatives – never talk about rape, secession, Hitler, or the Holocaust. You always end up shooting yourselves in the foot. The funniest part of this one is her prediction of "financial demise" for New Line, when our tickets sales are already higher than any recent show except Rent.

Weirdly, the next day we got a third email, a word-for-word copy of the second. So we did a little Googling, and it turns out they're just copying a protest letter against a production of this show in Ohio in 2011, created by a religious group called America Needs Fatima. (No, what America obviously needs is more atheists!)

There's so much in the show that would seriously freak these women out, so I'm glad they won't be coming. Even more than the adult language, even more than the fucked-up religious symbols, I think the thing that would most mindfuck people like this is the message the show leaves us with, that "Nothing is wrong and nothing is right." It's okay to eat pork, handle leather, and pay your employees monthly, even though the Bible says those things are terrible, horrible, no good, very bad things to do.

It's also okay to be gay, which the Bible doesn't really ever address, even though the simple-minded pretend that it does.

Some religious folks will hear this lyric and think it means that there is no such thing as morality. I don't think that's what William Blake meant (in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell), and I don't think that's what the Springer authors meant when they quoted him. I think they meant that nothing is inherently wrong or right, that no single person or source can decide that for each of us. Life is way more complex than that. As much as the Religious Right rages, morality is not fixed.

In India, it's immoral to eat beef; in St. Louis it's not. In Biblical times, husbands "owned" their wives; today that would be called slavery. Even just 60-70 years ago, most American thought it was immoral to marry interracially; today only a small minority still believes that. A hundred and fifty years ago, many people believed it was not just okay but Biblical to own African Americans, and to beat them and lynch them if they misbehaved. Today, only a few dead-enders in the South and the Republican Party still believe that. And likewise, the "morality" of gay marriage has changed drastically for many Americans, just in the last 5-10 years.

Nothing is wrong and nothing is right. And everything that lives is holy.

Yes, even frightened bigots are holy. Even Jerry Springer, and all his guests. Even Satan. In other words, shut the fuck up and keep your eyes on your own paper.

Significantly, quite a few of our actors and musicians are Christians, and they grappled with all this stuff before accepting the gig. In the last couple days, several of them have written quite eloquently about why their faith is not hurt or endangered by our wacky little satire. Perhaps they're more secure in their beliefs than are our rabid email writers...

We open Springer this week and I guess we'll find out soon enough what people think about our show who have actually seen it...

The adventure continues.

Long Live the Musical!