Ptarmigan

a grouse with completely feathered feet

1/10/2005

J=E=S=U=S

I blogged early last year about Passion of the Christ. And I'm not an expert on political psychology by any means, but in my heart of hearts, I think that the pivotal moment of the 2004 Election had to do with the release of Mel Gibson's "film". It accomplished two things quite successfully (and whether this was Gibson's attention became beside the point after its release). First it showed right-wing evangelicals that they had the economic muscle, under the radar at first, to organize through their own networks and affect a societal "blockbuster." This proved itself extremely handy for the reelection of Bush and doubtless the same networks were used. The film itself, para-cinema if anything else could be called that, seemed to fall lock-step with the early distribution methods.

Secondly, it helped exacerbate the psyche-rift that Bush had already begun rendering in this country. It was a bludgeon for those who not only didn't like it, but who simply didn't understand it; its lexicon being so alien to the "reality based" citizens of this country. The movie was indeed a blockbuster--a WWII term taken from aerial bombing campaigns. The right-wing evangelicals think of themselves as a B-17 and everyone not-them as Dresden. Chris has some good readings of seeing the movie (twice!) that are excellent. The movie, devoid of any message of Jesus' liberality (in any sense of that word), proved to be a primordial touchstone for people who were afraid and angry post-9/11 but unwilling to put it into any context except an apocalyptic one. And I think that it terrified "bluestate" people (using that term loosely) because of its hermetic visual lexicon. And I think this lexicon--placed large on the national stage through the multiplexes--added to the confusion and unreality of the national mood. These people really couldn't be making this one of the highest grossing movies ever, could they? And yet they did.

Oddly, what I think of most with the current evangelical lexicon is comparing it with Language Poetry. Evangelicalism, of course is a 1000% more virulent--and much more profitable--strain. And Language Poetry itself indeed often has an air of Trandescendence around it, Language trying to reach a supreme communication with an unreachable Other. But for evangelicals, the stakes are much higher than even the overthrow of capitalism. For radical evangelicals, God--and by proxy those elected by God to carry his mission on earth--is the only Signified that matters. Everything else is a signifier, and therefore expendable.

Ron Silliman begins his essay "Disappearance of the Word, Appearance of the World" with a quote from Sapir that ends: "The fact of the matter is that the 'real world' is to a large extent unconsciously built up on the language habits of the group." And I can think of no other more apt description of fundamentalist Christianity. To use SF terminology, the fundamental mindset is blunt, theosophic "worldbuilding" on a gigantic canvas. The bible (to use a word from writing media tie-in novels) is literally the Bible. The material structures of this mindset--easy-to-start churches, prayer groups, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Christian fiction, etc. etc.--build and interlock upon each other into a syntax. It's a very crude syntax, but it is a syntax. The fact that it disintigrates critical thinking amongst its members does not cancel out the fact that it's a grammar that people use amongst themselves with their faith. Which, again, has little to do with the humility of actual faith.

The problem is also one, as mentioned earlier, of scale: that the audience for Language poetry exists in the thousands, tops, and that of fundamentalist Christianity is the tens of millions, in this country alone. So their self-sealing thought-world is a very large one, and encroaches on other thought-worlds such as the Constitution, the rule of law, etc.

And so we get this, "a first-hand sworn Red Cross deposition of an interrogation in Abu Ghraib":
They took me inside the building and started to scream at me. They stripped me naked, they asked me, "Do you pray to Allah?" I said, "Yes." They said, "Fuck you" and "Fuck him." ... Someone else asked me, "Do you believe in anything?" I said to him, "I believe in Allah." So he said, "But I believe in torture and I will torture you. When I go home to my country, I will ask whoever comes after me to torture you." Then they handcuffed me and hung me to the bed. They ordered me to curse Islam and because they started to hit my broken leg, I cursed my religion. They ordered me to thank Jesus I am alive. And I did what they ordered me. This is against my belief. They left me hang from the bed and after a while I lost consciousness."


Other men in that prison were crucified for hours. And so, with the whips on giant screens lashing down all over America, some are baffled. Some see justification for their beliefs. And some see a toolkit.

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