Monday, November 2, 2009
We're Only Human
Larry David has pissed some people off because of his namesake character’s latest awkward social fiasco on Curb Your Enthusiasm. Not familiar with the show? All you have to know is that episodes consist of David, co-creator of Seinfeld, muddling through an imbroglio that he has stirred up through some misunderstanding, and hilarity ensues.
In this case, David’s urine splatters approximations of tears onto a picture of Jesus. Others notice the droplets and think the image is weeping. The Week offers some different perspectives on the (non)controversy. As usual, the loudest and angriest pundits railing against David have neglected to really assess the facts, claiming David would never make fun of Jews or Muslims. Fact is, Curb Your Enthusiasm has always been equal opportunity when it comes to mocking organized religion. So, why all of the fuss?
The easy answer, unsurprisingly: the media. Once it, with its oh so many tentacles of dissemination, gets a hold on a story it doesn’t like to relent until all of the life has been squeezed out of the story. In the US, outlets like Fox News are prolific when it comes to this sort of inflation to the point of popping.
Sure, with the exception of bathrooms and choice plots of open ground, urine can be quite offensive should it land on you or your property. But David accidentally peeing on a towel that someone will inevitably dry their face with would not become international news. Yes, he’s having a laugh at the expense of religion. But on a Madonna of the Toast level the core criticism is of the human tendency to invest importance in the idea of a painting of Christ or Mary crying, or a Star of David bubbling up in oatmeal. Maybe it’s not even a criticism but more of a revealing of this tendency, and that’s what really rubbed people the wrong way.
No one wants to admit that they find meaning in a stain or wood grain but they are quick to congregate where Jesus has appeared in an oil stain or Mary in a panel of siding. Those inclined to act upon such visual manifestations don’t discern between the object and the image (and they sure don’t get into the semantics of worshipping, or belittling, an image of an image). David isn’t desecrating Jesus, but the way in which some people view not just Jesus but the whole of Christianity.
Of course, people who find the topic repulsive don’t have to watch the episode, the same as the people who ridicule the surprising appearance of an iconic form don’t have to pay it any attention. But in both cases, they(we) do, and that’s the point.