As press releases go, at least it's an attention-grabber.
Never ones for subtlety, Fred Phelps and his merry band of lunatic
minstrels at the Westboro Baptist Church are making sure their opinion
of Heath Ledger -- or lack thereof -- won't be misconstrued by even
the densest among us. It was pretty much a given that a guy who rose
to critical acclaim playing a gay cowboy would draw the hyperbolic
wrath of America's most vocal homophobes, but it's nevertheless
shocking the speed with which Phelps and company have gingerly begun
proclaiming Ledger's demise and, of course, descension into hell.
This morning, Phelps -- "Phelpsy" as I like to call him in those
intimate moments -- rushed to circulation a bombastic press release
announcing the intention of he and his traveling roadshow to protest
at Ledger's funeral. Their message, as far as I can tell, is that God
took time out of his busy schedule striking down average folks by the
thousands in Kenya to teach America a lesson about the evils of
homosexuality by offing the Joker. According to the press release:
"God hates the sordid, tacky bucket of slime seasoned with vomit known
as Brokeback Mountain, and he hates all persons having anything
whatsoever to do with it."
This is why God was passed over to fill in on Ebert & Roeper while
Roger Ebert recovering from surgery -- even Rex Reed isn't as brutal
when he doesn't like a movie.
For some time I've held fast to a rather unpopular, if not entirely
outlandish opinion: I think Phelps and company are making this crap
up. In fact, if it weren't for the fact that they've caused a lot of
very real hurt to the families of fallen U.S. soldiers and the victims
of assorted other tragedies, I'd probably be one of their biggest
There's simply no way that this level of crazy can be for real.
The antics of the WBC have always been so completely over-the-top, so
laugh-out-loud absurd, such a brilliantly ironic indictment of
everything its more sophisticated brethren in the Fundamentalist
Christian movement stands for that they can't possibly be anything other
than Andy Kaufmanesque performance art at its most sublime.
Watching America's garden variety intolerant jackasses
stumble and stammer as if Darryl Revok somehow got inside their
brains, trying to find a way to simultaneously shun Phelps's
psychopathic hostility without dismissing the belief system
behind it -- trying to kill only the messenger, as it were
-- is just priceless. (If you're looking for a perfect example of this
impossible tap-dance, check out the Phelps write-up in
Conservapedia.com, in which he's cast as a tool of the
Democrats -- as if the Westboro Baptists are so far to the Right
that they've gone all the way around and come back on the Left.)
The reality of course -- and I'd love to believe that proving this is
secretly their intention -- is that Crazy Fred and his acolytes are
doing nothing more than what the Bible instructs. In an admittedly
very sick sense, they're people of faith such as even the most ardent
Sunday morning church goers will never be. In the same way that a
suicide bomber is really little more than an absolute dogmatist -- a
believer who has truly done as his sacred text demands by
abandoning all rationality to his god -- Fred Phelps has just taken
what the Bible itself says and ran with it.
If you've got an issue with him and his "church," then maybe it's time
to evoke the sage words of that great religious philosopher, Ice-T:
Don't hate the playa, hate the game.
Because Phelps damn sure isn't the only Fundamentalist Christian who
called Heath Ledger a sodomite in the wake of "Brokeback Mountain,"
he's just the only one willing to take his righteous indignation to
the next level.
For the record though, practical joke or not, the Westboro Baptists'
first foray into the world of celebrity funeral protest
should be interesting. They're going to be far away from their home
turf and likely walking right into the San Fernando Valley of Death.
God help them.