The Playgoer: Free $peech?

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Friday, April 14, 2006

Free $peech?

The press must be jonesin' for a South Park fight if they're going to Catholic League's William Donohue for a quote. Of course he delivers another classic:

"Like little whores, they'll [Parker and Stone] sit there and grab the bucks. They'll sit there and they'll whine and they'll take their shot at Jesus."

It's amazing this man is allowed to speak for good Christians everywhere. Then again, while the AP could go to more respected clergymen or theologians, those guys probably wouldn't supply nearly as funny copy.

What's interesting to me is not just the inevitable sexual imagery we've come to expect from Donohue. (Fight smut with smut!) Equally inevitable when artists are attacked for what they say, is the assumption that it's all for the money. Forget for the moment that these accusers usually defend with equal vigor the rewards of our capitalist economy--so that they should celebrate any artist who makes a buck as an entrepreneur and sparing the taxpayer of any "subsidy." But does anyone think any of what we would count as the most controversial cultural works of recent times have been done primarily for the money? To take three other Jesus examples: it's clear that neither Martin Scorsese or Terrence McNally is any less inclined to whore themselves for a paycheck than is Mel Gibson. But each surely could have designed better cash-cows than Last Temptation, Corpus Christi, and The Passion. The fact that each ultimately profited (I assume?) from their controversies was not necessarily bankable at first.

(For instance, by insisting on foreign language, originally with no subtitles, Gibson's film--which I hated, btw--clearly defied basic rules of how to sell a movie. I really believe he did the movie because he's a crazy anti-semite, not because he's greedy.)

Make no mistake. Parker and Stone are now rich, enjoy being rich, to be sure. But given they have a better chance of getting richer by just coasting and going along with Comedy Central/Viacom's wishes, is portraying Jesus defecating on the Stars & Stripes really what their agents would advise? Don't have to call them heroes. But surely there are more risk-averse ways of cashing in.

Admittedly, the full context of Donohue's statement is his challenge for Parker and Stone to resign and walk away from their multi-million contract with Comedy Central. Fair enough. Personally I hope they do, and pull a Howard Stern by moving to some new media outlet for direct distribution and expose the bankruptcy of the commercial FCC-regulated media. But for now, I don't think it's just "whining" to keep challenging the network to show things they don't want to show and thus expose the faultlines.

What this has to do with theatre....well, fortunately plays rarely see that much cash. So those who accuse Alan Rickman, for instance, of rigging a "Rachel Corrie" spat to fuel box office and thus make thousands of dollars of nonprofit box office receipts... need to get some perspective.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Lol. Someone actually accused Rickman of that? Please, please tell me that (a)no one was dumb enough to attempt that and (b)no one was dumb enough to accuse someone of attempting that.