“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Thursday, April 13, 2006

the antichrist in america

Yesterday I was listening to Terri Gross, on NPR, interview a woman who has made a film about Betty Page. Betty Page, the woman said, is still alive. Page saw the film, in fact – it was screened for her by Hugh Hefner. So there was some talk about that, and then Terri Gross asked, with incredulity straining her voice, And Betty Page is still religious?

She meant that since Betty Page had been a sex industry worker, in the old days, that she couldn’t reconcile such things with being a Christian.

And I thought, wow. The stupidity. It is that shock one gets from the media, you know. The flaubertian frisson. The gross, intolerable, stupidity.

I have never, ever heard a TV or Radio journalist ask this question of or about a wealthy person. Yet, there is nothing in the Gospel about being tied up and spanked. Frankly, I don’t know what Jesus would have made of that. Or Paul. But one thing we know, at least, about the scriptures is that there is one thing that keeps you out of heaven: wealth. In fact, we have no story of a Judean version of Betty Page coming to Jesus and asking the master how to get into the Kingdom of God. We do have a clear story about a rich man coming to Jesus and asking about how to get into the Kingdom of God. And the answer was to give everything away. You can’t, really, be clearer than that. No parable here.

There is not a day that goes by that I’m not struck by the fact that the early Christian idea of the Anti-Christ, the black horizon of that apocalyptic cenacle, has been well and truly realized. The anti-Christ is mainstream American evangelical Christianity. Everything about capitalism – everything about considering the world as an occasion for profit – goes against the spirit and letter of the Gospel. There is no reconciliation, here. None. You cannot serve God and Mammon, and you certainly can’t serve Christ and the Anti-Christ. This is where sex comes in. Sex, which is much on all of our minds, wasn’t really on Jesus’ mind. No divorce, and no giving and taking of wives and husbands in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus’s ideas about sex would have either been broadened or shocked by a little visiting around the Meditteranean periphery, but he had the cosmological urge on his brain.

As in all charismatic religions, the enemy was the very idea of the world becoming monetized, so to speak. The great monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity, Islam – were all intensely suspicious of the power of money. Charisma itself – the “gift” – is what these religions, with their peasant/nomadic base, with the prophet as its poetic correspondent, aimed to preserve. What Deleuze and Guattari called the deterritorializing effects of money call up the deepest anxieties in peasant societies, for good reason. Money holds in itself the end of peasant society.

Of course, the throbs of this anxiety still exist to some extent even in American Christianity. The macro story of modernity is all about the end of peasant society, and no society went at the ending of it with such a vengeance as these here states. That is why America is a different nation, historically. (Perhaps LI should make this clear – we have no nostalgia for peasant society. Quite the contrary. These are simply historical observations.)

However, it does amaze me, sometimes, how successfully the Anti-Christ structure has replaced this with sex, as if into this empty variable you could simply slot any force.

I can’t imagine a Terri Gross figure ever asking, say, Mel Gibson in some interview, so, since you have not given everything away to the poor, how can you possibly be a Christian?

Poor Betty Page. The triumph of the Anti-Christ in America definitely calls for some mock heroic epic, some Dunciad, with Betty Page as the muse of a Christ lost and buried.


New York Pervert said...

'Everything about capitalism – everything about considering the world as an occasion for profit – goes against the spirit and letter of the Gospel. There is no reconciliation, here. None. You cannot serve God and Mammon, and you certainly can’t serve Christ and the Anti-Christ. '

I don't think that's true, nor do I think the anti-Christ can be anything but inevitable, even if it goes in the direction of the wildest of destroying scenarios. The problem is less the reaction of the anti-Christ (and all the examples you give are suitable enough, really anything is serviceable and they're all necessary). Isn't the anti-Christ the necessary stage one has to hazard oneself through, after enduring the idiocy of such tacky lines as getting into the Kingdom of Heaven is done by 'giving everything away.' When this is followed, and many psychological and guilt-oriented masochists do it, earning mostly enormous suffering in return (oh Jesu! Joy of Man's Prestigious Self-Flagellation!), it becomes quite necessary to retaliate by owning things and realizing oneself by various means. Money is but one of the 'steering media' as some Adornian,I forget who but he was writing about Habermas, Adorno and Boulez, and people usually have secret clingings to 'pure Christ-Mind' and other such crap.

Wealth is necessary for society and culture. Pretending otherwise will get no one anywhere. Of course, it is not very nice that wealthy people aren't treated the same as poor people are. But when a poor person's Christianity comes into play, it is treated with far more reverence, as when black churches are burned. Rich 'Christians' are not believed to be real Christians, and atheist intellectuals tell them their Christianity is bullshit. That they are infantilizing blacks in the black Southern churches does not often occur to them in their garden variety 'humanitarianism'. The problem is that we may agree that we want to relieve the suffering of the poor, but if Christianity is a necessary palliative which provides a sense of bonding in a community that might not have it otherwise, the poor people's Christianity (or any other ignorant religion, including the sophisticated ones) is equally as false or equally as true as the rich people's. It's completely ignorant to ignore the vast amount of human good done by both rich and poor--everyone sees it, everyone knows it, and 'pure jesus-ness' is no more pure than the plexiglas maniac kinds lots of people go for. Be kind if one can, but it doesn't have anything to do with Christ or anti-Christ, and there is either something 'better' after anti-Christ or there isn't: But there certainly isn't anything but anti-religion for as long as the religions are respected in either pure or polluted form.

roger said...

NYP, good points. I was thinking, as I wrote this, that it sounds like I am saying that Jesus's anti-wealth creed was just great. I don't think it is. But I do think it is what it is -- that is, in all fairness, a man who makes comments like these:

"Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:

But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither
moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break        through nor steal:

For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."

Is making a reasoned appeal against the fundamental principle of capitalism: accumulation. Disagreeing with it is fine with me. I figure we better reconcile ourselves to keeping our treasures on earth, because earth is all we have. In that sense, I'm a materialist. J.C. didn't think so. So be it. But what isn't acceptable is pretending that Jesus didn't say what he said, didn't lay down the emphases that he laid down, and was just sorta making with the parables, and what he really meant is that you have to have one opposite sex partner with whom you have 2.4 kids and three cars in a MacMansion, 5 bdrms, 4 bths, mod cons. The giving away of wealth and the taking out of your eye if you eye offends you are part of one serious creed, which makes pretty impossible demands, elevates a social code that would make it impossible to run a successful business on capitalist lines, and did so partly because it was unthinkable, in that peasant society, to run a business on capitalist lines (although Paul Veyne, a French hellenist, claims that the Greeks developed a proto-capitalism in the Roman era, and I tend to think he's right).

On the other hand, J.C. never said, thou shalt not spank each other for pleasure. Or, hold it there with the silken cords, bucko, cause that will send you straight to hell.

So, I can find much more coherence in Betty Page considering herself a Christian than, say, Bill O'Reilly (to use the example of another fetishist, but this one a bit ashamed of his proclivities).

New York Pervert said...

Roger--yes, and it's a definitely important point, now that I understand what you were intending better, that rich people who do insist upon what wonderful Christians they are become very aware of the paradox of their wealth + Christianity: If they were to become so, they might put an end to Christianity, since the wealth seems to be rather even more popular than the Christianity...but it's hard to know when remnants of these religions may still make subtle differences in making things definitely worse or definitely better.

In any case, I'm probably less interested in sympathizing with Betty Page's Christianity as opposed to someone like O'Reilly's than just determining that the whole package she comes up with is going to be more humane than his (although that's not too difficult.) So that her Christianity facet was in question, and I agree that does make an interesting perspective about those occasionally purely moral judgments we have to make. So that the matter of sex is indeed very important, but also full of nuance, because at a certain point, it too becomes a luxury, cultivable in certain ways only by the leisured--and, although I'm very interested in some of these refinements personally, they are obviously forms of wealth themselves: they have been in the more primitive societies, and the problem becomes untenable when it runs head-on into the matter of taste, i.e., I don't have much patience with the McMansions and dull computer-nerd mommies and daddies that my own siblings have spawned; and to be sure, they'd get rid of everything I'm up to if they ever got a photo of any of it.

roger said...

NYP, man! Don't you know that the new law of nature is: if it exists as a photograph, it will inevitably find its way to the intenet. Destroy those pics! The discovery of this law is accedited to Tanya Harding -- poor woman. Poor spousal choices and lousy contract help, it is a bummer.

New York Pervert said...

Tanya Harding--predates OJ trial and is still famous after 12 years. What a friggin' hoot! I bet she's got a raspy voice by now, gin-soaked, the whole nine yards (finally I've found a way to use that vile phrase appropriately.)

roger said...

And who remembers the gal she tried to whack. Virginia, Becky? Anyone forced to watch ice skating for a prolonged period of time (as I was forced by M. when we went to Miami Beach and she wouldn't go to a single bar with me. Sweet Memories! watching ice scating on spring break Miami Beach nights -- how low can I go?) begins to daydream about getting the crowbars out and giving certain of the gals and guys forty whacks to the knee. Of course, to the accompaniment of the theme music from Out of Africa.

New York Pervert said...

roger--Actually, I remember Nancy Kerrigan pretty well too. She had some personality, was beautiful, and skated well (although I have no interest in figure skating, and it's beautiful sets of corporate logos.) I thought it was funny that she was bitchy about what happened to her instead of being a 'good sport,' and when she had to go do ads for Disney, she said they were 'corny.' It'll come back to you. Especially under the circumstances she was whacked, her performance was pretty impressive--and then she was funny getting pissed off about only getting the 2nd place.

Totally agree with you about the shit music they use--anything from 'Themes from Star Wars' to chopped-up stuff from 'Swan Lake'. I remember the 'ice dancers' Torville and Dean, who always did 'Bolero' (with the same logos as sets.) Everybody that loved competitions and giving points for this little triple axel and low points for a slight mishap got the idea they were getting Great Art as part of the bargain. I do remember this French couple ice-dancing truly sensually and excitingly, and naturally the robotic narrator said they were 'on the wild side.' I don't bother with the Olympics, people being turned into robots and calling it excellence.