Saturday, November 3, 2007

A Media Celebrity's Price of Fame

Found in the classifieds today:

Supposedly God-fearing Bible thumper seeks media coverage. Has experience in picketing for God and has trained subordinates (family) in art of picketing as well as litigating when necessary. No ideology too sacred or ridiculous to oppose. Loves to hate. Loves being hated. Will work diligently for newsprint, radio, TV and online articles. Even youngest in group will work in 24-hour shifts, trample flags and hurl epithets. No impeding morals whatsoever. Incredible resume highlighting freedom of speech and freedom to hate anyone/anything. Reply Westboro Baptist Church, Topeka, Kansas.

A long time ago, Fred Phelps fell in love…with his own snake oil. That snake oil does not consist entirely of hate as most people would be led to believe, but instead, it’s a persona that embodies hate. Every time Fred receives media attention, he’s dazzled by his own image. And by extension, his family’s image.

You see, Fred Phelps fell under the spell of his own celebrity over thirty years ago: his legal career rose and fell during the seventies (he was disbarred in the State of Kansas), but then Phelps had an epiphany: the combination of entertainment and religion was tailor-made for him. A star was born.

He and his family latched on to the most incendiary topic of the time: homosexuality. He figured that taking his protests to extremes never even dreamt of by the Religious Right he could gain the fame (if not the fortune) he craved. He picketed EVERYONE and EVERYTHING (except, possibly, babies in strollers). He fumed against disaster victims and enlarged his fame with signs like “Thank God for 9/11.”*

When last Thursday’s $11 million decision for the plaintiff (in a veteran funeral picketing case) was announced, people across the country jubilantly chanted: “There is a God!”

But will Phelps and his Westboro Baptist clan ever wind up paying out any of it? Probably not, since the entire clan is a veritable den of lawyers who can file enough appeals to tie the case up well past Fred’s demise (unless he lives to the age of 110). Until the day when Phelps and his family go screaming into oblivion, however, America (especially American Evangelicals and Fundamentalists) will have to bear the “Mark of Fred”: an indelible tatoo that says: “God hates _______(please fill in the blank).”

*Interesting note: it took the Southern Baptist Convention 20 years to disavow Phelps’ “Baptist” standing. Another indication that when respect for human dignity goes up against respect for a title of “Rev.,” human dignity suffers. But tardiness in apologies or corrections is traditional within the bastions of the Religious Right: it took the Vatican 400 years to apologize to Galileo and the Southern Baptist Convention over 150 years to apologize for slavey.