Where’s the punch line?
– Alice Cooper to jc, 9/13
There is a mural in an alleyway in the Temple Bar district of Dublin, Ireland, of Sinead O’Connor. It reads: “Sinead you were right all along, we were wrong, so sorry.” In October of 1992 the Irish singer/songwriter infamously ripped a photograph of Pope John Paul II on Saturday Night Live, proclaiming, “Fight the real enemy.” It set off a firestorm here, but in the entrenched Catholic traditions of her home country it was tantamount to treason. I would gather that in the annals of artistic protest, of which there have blessedly been thousands throughout Western civilization, this one was a doozey. Needless to say O’Connor was vilified and black-balled and even booed off the stage at, of all things, a Bob Dylan Tribute concert in friggin’ New York City a few weeks later. She never recovered professionally.
Turns out, as the mural succinctly and eloquently states, that although the performance protest was oblique and combative, her style anyway, it was a trite salvo in the war that was waged in the ensuing century against the Catholic Church for covering up the sexual abuse of children, to which we would later learn O’Connor had been a victim of; having endured such horrors, as hundreds of her fellow Irish youth, at the hands of predatory nuns, all of whom were whisked away without retribution for decades.
But long before being redeemed, O’Connor, one of my heroes, and I was honored to be able to tell her so personally when I interviewed her for a feature in this paper in 2014 just a few weeks after I took a photo of my wife standing in front of the aforementioned mural, she never apologized. Even when the torrent of hatred and professional and personal strife poured down on her. And you know why? Because right or wrong, this was her statement. And she stood by it, as all statements made by citizens or artists or politicians must; whether you are railroaded for it or not.
You would think.
I was reminded of Sinead and that mural and the night she stared into a camera on live television and tore up a photo of a revered holy representative of her church, and for the record O’Connor has never stopped being a Catholic and in fact was ordained in some radical sect of the church as a priest in the late 1990s, when comedian Kathy Griffin fecklessly apologized for what I assume was some kind of provocative performance/protest art. You’ve seen it by now. She is standing holding the bloody severed head of our president. Oh, not really the severed head, that would be bad, just an effigy.
Why is she apologizing for this?
Whether you agree with this or not or think it “goes too far”, which should not be in your lexicon if you believe in the sacred tenants of the U.S. Constitution, I think we can all agree that apologizing for something you believe makes no sense, especially when it is not off the cuff. This was a conscious free expression.
Now, we all know Griffin apologized because everyone went nuts. So she is not apologizing for her opinion or the way she chose in a very strategic way to express it. She is, of course, doing it because she got canned from CNN; that she only planned, produced, and sent the thing out all over social media to get attention to assist her flagging career but got the Sinead O’Connor shit storm instead. She was apparently wildly unfamiliar with what happens when you appear with the severed, bloody head of the president of the United States.
So it really isn’t an apology. It’s like the Anthony Weiner type apology for being caught or because things didn’t work out in her favor, not because she is sincerely sorry. Remember when Prince Harry went to a Halloween bash dressed as a Nazi? Remember everything Kanye West has done and said for the past decade-plus? Remember Congressman George Allen? Yeah, I don’t remember him, either. Still, all apologized for basically nothing but people being mad at them. Kathy Griffin is full of shit. She is sorry because she’s fucked. That is not really an apology and shouldn’t be.
Also, why would she feel the need to apologize for offending anyone? Isn’t that the point of the provocateur, whether Lenny Bruce or Thomas Paine or Salvador Dali. Not that I am comparing a woman who spends every New Year’s Eve figuring out new ways to joke about blowing Anderson Cooper in Times Square to these mighty figures, but when you swim in that pool you can’t be surprised by getting wet.
Also, let’s face it, Griffin is apologizing because she put her singular name and face to this gesture. What is the difference between this and burning the previous two presidents in effigy, which they were, over and over, in dozens and dozens of protests? Or the despicable shit people throw up on the Internet? One comes with a signature, the other is anonymous or done in a mob but they are the same thing. Different venue. But the same thing.
Now, there has been much talk about political correctness and the backlash against free speech, mainly by the Right lately. This used to be the domain of the Left. But freedom is a mighty pendulum that will swing and swing hard, and one man’s insult is another man’s right, and I support that in every possible way. But, like all things, it comes with degrees or definitions. I am not broaching parameters here, only what kind of free speech tumbles into shouting fire in a crowded theater. Or more to the point, which can be accepted as opinion versus doing what ironically has been an art form for the president in question, blatant falsehood.
For instance, when former Breitbart (The Onion of the Right), provocateur, Milo Yiannopoulos, caused riots at the formally Free Speech Center UC Berkley campus last February, I had several debates with alumni and we came to this conclusion: the protest was only justified because Yiannopoulos is the Alice Cooper of commentary and as an entertainer in this field he is virtually peerless, but should a place of higher learning be accommodating a guy espousing what amounts to flat-earth theories. This is equivalent to a medical school allowing a man touting leeches as the elixir for menstrual pain. However, a few months later when conservative Howard Stern type commentator, Ann Coulter, backed out of her appearance there due to protests, it was a tad different. Coulter is kooky, but she is not telling you the earth is flat. She is saying she thinks Mexicans are evil and Jews need to be “perfected” and that Joseph McCarthy was a hero. These are opinions. I think Ann Coulter is a stupid idiot (opinion), not a fat guy from Cleveland (falsehood).
Art, and whether you like it or not Griffin standing with the severed, bloody head of the president is art, is an extension of opinion, and like comedy, need not ever apologize. And even if you apologize, doesn’t un-paint the Mona Lisa or un-record “Anarchy in the UK”.
People who make a stand, no matter how trite or vulgar or combative, need to stop acting as if it is not when it goes bad. Going bad is the point. Did Kathy Griffin think no one would be offended by holding the severed, bleeding head of Donald Trump?
Oh, and on the flip side of all this political correctness off-shoot, Donald Trump and those who support him are not allowed to be offended by anything. Trump is the vilest human going. This is his thing. He has insulted anything and everything repeatedly to spectacular results. You can make the argument he has “normalized” this behavior, and I could not be more pleased at this. So he or anyone who has supported this act doesn’t get to whine about his 11-year-old little shit “having a hard time with this.” You think Rosie O’Donnell’s kid was digging Trump calling her a fat, disgusting pig over and over again, or the children of the disabled reporter were thrilled that the then Republican candidate for president was acting spastic in front of a capacity crowd to get laughs or the dozens of other disgusting things the president has said and done over the past two years? How do you think Barack Obama’s girls feel when this blowhard accuses their father of high crimes with no evidence after two years of saying he had evidence that didn’t exist that he wasn’t even an American?
Fuck him. Grow a pair and get a helmet.
As for Kathy Griffin, fuck off.
You are no Sinead O’Connor.
Author’s Note: I wish to apologize for anyone I offended in the previous column.
Second Author’s Note: Fuck you.
Do yourself no favors and “like” this idiot at www.facebook.com/jc.author
James Campion is the Managing Editor of The Reality Check News & Information Desk and the author of “Deep Tank Jersey”, “Fear No Art”, “Trailing Jesus”, “Midnight For Cinderella” and “Y”. and his new book, “Shout It Out Loud – The Story of KISS’s Destroyer and the Making of an American Icon”.