Johnny Depp, Jesus and Blasphemy
I can't remember where I was last night
Think I was hanging naked off a church spire
Babybird, Jesus Stag Night Club, 2011
In that rather well minted British comedy Blackadder, an altered version of the Scrooge legend is offered. Baldrick, Ebenezer's life long and putrid dogsbody, describes a nativity scene where, because of a short supply of infants, a dog has had to sit in for the baby Jesus. The sit-in Jesus is distinctly canine in limitation, and before anyone knows it, 'he's away' doing what dogs do. 'Hardly the sort of behaviour appropriate for the Son of God', observes Ebenezer.
Blasphemy, couched in terms of sensitivity, is always demanded by the pious and devout as a formality, a means to prevent reflection. In societies past and present, where the secular is dirty, the laws of blasphemy maintain social control through both the legal brief and the despot's hand. Sensitivity entails restriction and constriction. The old argument - 'this was inappropriately expressed' - is often code for the same thing: it should never have been said at all.
Even Pope Benedict XVI, hardly a paragon of enlightenment, has drawn attention to the role blasphemy can play in various societies. (England only repealed its own blasphemy laws in 2008.) Earlier this year, he raised it in connection with the death sentence given to Aasia Bibi, a victim of the laws of blasphemy that were spiced up with the death penalty in 1986 by the vicious Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq.
Woe to the religious minority in the face of such laws, as individual groups such as that led by James Nayler found out in the seventeenth century. In 1655, the eccentric Nayler, in what must have been a rather humorous act, rode into Bristol on horseback to the tune of 'Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabaoth.' A 13-day trial followed, and a heavy sentence of whipping, branding on the forehead with the letter B, and a re-whipping, was handed down.
Johnny Depp is the latest to receive the barb of conservative groups who have given him a ticking off because of his involvement in a song, 'Jesus Stag Night Club' by the British act Babybird. The song recounts a group of teenagers who hire a person they hope to be a dead ringer for Jesus for your standard sordid stag night (read bachelor party for those in the US). Dead ringer Jesus gets paralytic and passes out only to end rather predictably: that he was, in fact, the real Jesus. The Lord (and his son) work in not so mysterious ways.
The lyrics seem to recount a John Lennon character in fancy dress more than anything else. 'Saw a man in a bar with his hair like a lady/ Bloody thorns round his ear like he was a crazy/ He had holes in his hands and a cross for a spine/ crushed a berry in his Perrier and called it wine.'
The Christian Coalition spokesman Lee Douglas was happy to offer Depp a few predictions on where his mortal being would be residing in future. 'One day, Johnny Depp and his cronies will face the judgment of our Lord and they will burn in hell for their filth.' Depp, to use an expression from George Bernard Shaw, is readying himself for a perpetual holiday. Focus on Family also released a statement, claiming it was 'sickened by Mr. Depp's behaviour. Why did he need to record this song? It's a slap in the face to Christians all over the world' (MSNBC, Dec 5).
History is filled with slaps directed at holiness, some well aimed, others shoddily directed. Reactions to the Lord's Son don't always flatter, and some are funnier than others. Those with resilience can take such responses in their stride, but the God Squad is busy in their self imposed obligation of not having fun. The Lord must be amused. Having a fish finger sandwich and holding an M coffee cup may not be an elegant way to end a party, but then again, what is?
Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: email@example.com