Communique No. 3: Rowling, Pussy Riot, and Political “Dafuhs”

J. K. ROWLING AND THE WRITING LIFE

Actress Kathy Bates

Kathy Bates won an Oscar for her performance in “Misery.” (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Remember the movie Misery? I confess I haven’t seen the whole thing and have only a basic idea of the plot. The most prominent thing that really comes to mind is that scene where Kathy Bates has the sledgehammer raised over head ready to bring it down on James Caan‘s ankles… yikes. For whatever reason, the gore of Lord of the Rings doesn’t bother me but stuff like that just makes my skin crawl.

Anyway, there’s another scene earlier in the movie where Bates’ character Annie, a nurse, is talking to Caan’s Paul, an author trapped in her home and injured from a car crash during a blizzard; she reveals to him that she is a huge fan of his books but, meekly (at first) and only after being coaxed by Paul, admits she isn’t the biggest fan of all the “swearing” from his characters. So awkward.

I think we all know how I feel about “swearing,” but that scene is actually not too far removed from situations that happen in real life. This will be neither the first nor the last time I tell this story, but last fall I took a creative writing class at Oral Roberts–something that ought to set off alarm bells immediately. ORU, as you probably know, is a sometimes suffocatingly-conservative (but fully accredited!) Charismatic/Pentecostal university in Tulsa which happens to be my alma mater. The thing about writing fiction is that, while fundamentally untrue, it must appear true in order to be effective–in literary terms, this is called verisimilitude. This is often a particular sticking point for some Christians who aspire to be writers, particularly the kind of Christian one bumps into at ORU. For some, creative writing is a tool for evangelism and their efforts to weave a good story are hampered by their insistence that everyone “come to Jesus” in the end. And, of course, there’s also the hesitance to make characters real, which may or may not include giving them a potty mouth. Ultimately, what happens far too often in Christian fiction is that believability and authenticity concerning the human condition (which is messy and often profoundly unholy) becomes a casualty of keeping the story Sunday School safe.

Anyway, returning to my story, one of our assignments was to write a short story. Those who wished to do so (I was not among their numbers) could read their stories aloud and get feedback from the class. One very talented classmate wrote a wonderful story and elected to read it to all of us. But, alas, one of her characters said “shit” at one point, which in turn precipitated the real shit hitting the fan. While this off-color ejaculation by a fictional personage meant little a class full of mostly open-minded creative writers, one student–a middle-aged, non-traditional one–let it be known during the feedback session that while she thought the story was “nice,” she did not approve of the “swearing.” While other students braved the waters and attempted to explain to her the concept of authenticity and that if it’s natural for a character to say something then it would be disingenuous to not write it, she grew increasingly exasperated and finally exclaimed, “Oral Roberts built this school on prayer and fasting, and NOT on cussing!” Many props to the professor, who managed to maintain some semblance of sanity. It’s now one of my life goals to build a school on cussing.

English: J.K. Rowling reads from Harry Potter ...

J. K. Rowling at the White House Easter Egg Roll. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

I’ve said this before, but it’s my belief that a writer has to find his or her own personal voice and just write, whether it lands them on a bestseller list or not. To do anything else is, quite frankly, to willingly participate in fraud and squander a valuable and unique talent. That’s not always easy, since there are always busy-bodies who feel the need to express their profound dislike for certain things and think that somehow, because they dislike them, people shouldn’t write about them–things like sex, or drugs, or divorce, or violence, or “naughty words.” A reporter for the New Yorker recently sat down with J. K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter novels, to discuss her new novel for adults, The Casual Vacancy, which includes all of the aforementioned and more. Speaking on how she felt about people who would disapprove of her style in the new book, she told the reporter, “There is no part of me that feels that I represented myself as your children’s babysitter or their teacher. I was always, I think, completely honest. I’m a writer, and I will write what I want to write.” Amen, soul sister.

UPROARIOUS ACTIVITY, OF THE FELINE VARIETY (YEAH, RIGHT)

Pussy Riot, the feminist punk rock band at the center of controversy in the Russian Federation. (Photo: Игорь Мухин at ru.wikipedia)

It shouldn’t take a genius to deduce that the allusion within the feminist Russian punk-rock band Pussy Riot‘s name is vaginal, not felid. Many will recall that several weeks ago, three members of Pussy Riot were sentenced to two years in prison for hooliganism and an outcry arose around the world in support of the band members.

This is a story that has a different kind of significance for me because of what it was exactly that the band did to elicit the charge of hooliganism. Granted, the backlash from the state was probably mostly politically motivated, but after seeing the video of their protest–even though I might even agree with them concerning the things they’re protesting–I don’t feel feel the least bit moved to come to their defense. Pussy Riot showcased in dramatic fashion how to be right and yet nullify rightness by being so incredibly inappropriate.

Yes, I know this is an interesting position for me to take because I’m no prude. Even so, you just don’t march uninvited into a house of worship, regardless of the faith, and deliberately insult the entire body of believers in pursuit of political reform and expect to garner much sympathy from those believers. I mean, what kind of moronic ass wipe does that? Remember, the band members barged into the cathedral, disrespected the altar, and launched into an intentionally offensive and blasphemous performance. The things they were protesting (like a sketchy bromance between Patriach Kirill and President Putin and growing ties between Church and state in general) are serious and should be subject to public scrutiny as well as, if necessary, protest, but not in that fashion. Bear in mind, I’d be just as outraged if a Palestinian punk rock band barged into Cornerstone Church in San Antonio and started singing a “punk prayer” against John Hagee’s close relationship with Benjamin Netanyahu. Sacred spaces, no matter to whom they are sacred, are things that ought to be respected.

МОСКВА, КРЕМЛЬ. Церемония вручения государстве...

Patriarch Kirill is alleged by some to be too supportive of Vladimir Putin. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The Russian Orthodox Church has since forgiven Pussy Riot for it’s actions, but maintains that prosecution was appropriate. I’m inclined to agree. While I’m absolutely certain that their sentence of two years incarceration was disproportionate to the crime, a position the State Department has trumpeted as well, a hefty fine would have been completely in order. Maybe I’m harsh, but Pussy Riot made it clear that there are far more important things than simply having a good point to make.

On a side note, I am admittedly a little late talking about this, but, then again, my blog isn’t the place to come for moment-by-moment commentary on daily news. I prefer to take time to reflect on complicated issues like this one, and since the world is already full of people who speak first and think later, I have no desire to be counted among their numbers.

SHIT POLITICOS SAY

We all remember senate candidate Todd Akin’s comment that in cases of legitimate rape, a woman’s body has a way to prevent becoming pregnant. Akin is currently a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and is campaigning against Claire McCaskill for her seat in the Senate. But, this past week, Akin was joined by at least three new inductees to the Dumb-Ass Club, a truly bi-partisan organization. Presented here, in brief, are the top three political “dafuhs” of the past week.

English: Portrait of US Rep. Paul Broun

Broun, PaulThis U.S. Congressman from Georgia, who ironically sits on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology with none other than Todd Akin, revealed his belief in videotaped remarks at a Baptist Church that evolution, embryology, and the Big Bang Theory are “lies straight from the pit of hell” meant to convince people they “don’t need a savior,” as reported by the AP.

And everyone said, “Dafuh?”

As I said in a discussion on Facebook, I’ll do the Congressman one better: I believe that the Earth is flat, that Barack Obama is the Antichrist, and that my lawn is sparkly on some mornings because a herd of unicorns pissed on it overnight. Someone please tell me why the hell I’m not on a science committee somewhere.

List of current members of the Maryland House ...

Burns, Jr., Emmett J.: In a letter to the owner of the Baltimore Ravens, this Democratic member of the Maryland House of Delegates urged the quick muzzling of Ravens player who had spoken out in support of gay marriage.

“As a Delegate to the Maryland General Assembly and a Baltimore Ravens Football fan, I find it inconceivable that one of your players, Mr. Brendon Ayanbadejo, would publicly endorse Same-Sex marriage … Many of your fans are opposed to such a view and feel it has no place in a sport that is strictly for pride, entertainment and excitement.

“I am requesting that you take the necessary action, as a National Football Franchise Owner, to inhibit such expressions from your employee and that he be ordered to cease and desist such injurious actions.”

And everyone said, “Dafuh?”

I go could go into extended detail about what an abject moron Emmett Burns revealed himself to be, but no one, as it turns out, can do that better than Vikings team member Chris Kluwe, as he did in a letter to the Huffington Post.

Hubbard, Jon: This Arkansas state representative claimed in a new book, as the Arkansas Times reports, that slavery was actually a good thing for black people, seeing as how they got to suck the white man’s teet and all (figuratively, of course).

“… the institution of slavery that the black race has long believed to be an abomination upon its people may actually have been a blessing in disguise. The blacks who could endure those conditions and circumstances would someday be rewarded with citizenship in the greatest nation ever established upon the face of the Earth.”

Hubbard also claims that even though blacks were slaves, life in Sub-Saharan Africa would have been much worse and that integration really only succeeded in dumbing down white kids.

And everyone said, “THE FUCK?!

I have no words… just incredulity.

Ephemera

2 thoughts on “Communique No. 3: Rowling, Pussy Riot, and Political “Dafuhs”

  1. “Oral Roberts built this school on prayer and fasting, and NOT on cussing!”… It’s now one of my life goals to build a school on cussing.”

    “Sacred spaces, no matter to whom they are sacred, are things that ought to be respected.”

    I think, “no matter to whom they are sacred” is far too broad of a qualifier. Under your definition, the student who feels ORU is too sacred to use the word “shit” would be entirely in the right demanding the space of ORU be respected as sacred.

    —–

    “I oppose the politicization of the Christian faith in any form and go out of my way to point out the logical inconsistencies and blundering failures of those engaged in the politicizing.”

    “The Russian Orthodox Church has since forgiven Pussy Riot for it’s actions, but maintains that prosecution was appropriate. I’m inclined to agree.”

    “The Pussy Riot case underlines the vast influence of the Russian Orthodox Church. Although church and state are formally separate, the church identifies itself as the heart of Russian national identity and critics say its strength makes it a quasi-state entity… Head of the church, Patriarch Kirill, has made no secret of his strong support for Putin, praising his leadership as ‘God’s miracle’, and describing Pussy Riot’s performance as part of an assault by ‘enemy forces’ on the church.” -DailyMail (UK)

    “The politicization of the Russian Orthodox Church has long been excessive: the Church, its patriarch, and his entourage involved themselves in the secular realm and side with the regime, trying to both serve it and demonstrate its own power and influence. Simultaneously, the Kremlin is trying to integrate Orthodoxy into its ideological framework and even turn it into a part of official ideology. The Church seeks to provide additional—one might say “religious”—legitimacy to a political power that is losing respect in society.” -Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (http://carnegieendowment.org/2012/09/03/religion-in-russia-politicization-and-disengagement/drje)

    I can’t wait to read your article pointing out the “logical inconsistencies and blundering failures” of the Russian Orthodox Church.

    • Although all of the quotes you used are dependent on their original context to convey my actual meaning, your initial point is a fair one. It actually touches on the inherent difficulty of defining what is sacred and, for that matter, what “sacred” even means. See, another instance where my logic fails is in the context of the FBI’s siege of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco. The question of what constitutes a “religion” and what constitutes “right doctrine” within that religion (and who gets to decide either) are highly subjective, to be sure. So, while I still stand by my belief that sacred spaces ought to be respected, a little more nuance in that particular statement would have been beneficial.

      That, however, is the only thing I’m obliged to concede. (And I still think that story is hilarious btw.) =)

      To compliment the ones you selected, I’ve added a couple of quotes of my own I’d like to highlight:

      “The things they [Pussy Riot] were protesting (like a sketchy bromance between Patriach Kirill and President Putin and growing ties between Church and state in general) are serious and should be subject to public scrutiny as well as, if necessary, protest, but not in that fashion.”

      “While I’m absolutely certain that their [Pussy Riot’s] sentence of two years incarceration was disproportionate to the crime, a position the State Department has trumpeted as well, a hefty fine would have been completely in order.”

      In addition to “disproportionate to the crime,” one might also add “politically-motivated” but, in Putinist Russia, that would be the understatement of the decade. I’m not sure if your impression of what I said was to the contrary, but I in no way set out to justify the deficiencies within the Russian Orthodox Church and whatever inappropriate ties it has to the Russian government. In fact, not only did I not set out to do so, I didn’t, as evidenced by Quote No. 1 above.

      The point I set out to make was that the international condemnation of this incident was a bit one-sided. Everyone was quick (and right) to condemn the Russian government’s heavy-handed response, but let’s not forget that what Pussy Riot did was wildly over-the-top. My counterexample was actually a bit inadequate to convey the sheer offensiveness of their actions. To get a better idea, take my example of a pro-Palestinian group breaking into Cornerstone Church but, to it, add them holding down John Hagee on the stage and each taking a shit in his mouth–that would be closer to how Pussy Riot’s actions were perceived by the Russian Orthodox faithful. I find John Hagee repulsive for many reasons, but I hope you’ll join me in saying that would be a little excessive.

      Protest is an art and one in which care is often needed to ensure the form doesn’t overly distract from the subject matter. It might be more difficult for non-Orthodox (and, more specifically, non-Russian Orthodox) to understand how significantly offensive the band’s actions were: not only was the location (the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour) immensely significant historically, but about the only thing that could have made it worse would have been if they had gone through the Royal Gates into the Sanctuary to do their “performance.” What’s more, these women are Russian and I’d venture to guess their being ignorant of things so highly embedded in their culture is very unlikely.

      So, in essense, the issue I take is with the form of Pussy Riot’s protest, not the message. In fact, I’d probably agree with them on a lot of what they protest. Nevertheless, there are legitimate ways to make yourself heard and this particular method does not stand among them.

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