Wednesday, July 11, 2012

An Open Letter to Westboro Baptist Church

*Looks up* Hnn? Oh, sorry, Didn't see you, Internet. Nothing really exciting happened to me this week. No textbooks on obscure subjects or phenomenal moral outrages or fantastical adventures or anything. We've officially hit the lull of summer where you've run out of awesome stuff to do, but still have roughly half of the break left. Sorry, Internet. Want some Coke?

Don't believe what they say about Polar Bears though; they are not famous for their Coke-dispensatory properties.
Some minor cool things did happen around the internet, like some dudes buliding large swatches of Westeros  in Minecraft. I've never gotten into Game of Thrones, it's always been one of those big cultural obsession that I missed out on, but I am a seasoned Minecraft player and that is goddamn amazing. The size and complexity of the builds are staggering and if they don't wow you, then you need to consider the fact that these guys built these scenes one block at a time.

For only slightly less game-related but still fairly nerd-related news, plans for films set both in the Assassin's Creed and Deus Ex universes have been announced, both within the same week. Games do not have a stellar history as translated into movies and needless to say, I'm worried about both of these, Deus Ex because the only relevant name attached to it at the moment is a producer from the ho-hum Hitman movie and Assassin's Creed because it's such a huge franchise they'll probably make a horrible movie that will still open to a huge crowd because Assassin's Creed.

Also, remember that discussion on horror I posted a while back? Some of the fine folks at did an After Hours video about that very same thing. They take it from a different angle and really mostly cover differnt aspects of horror than what I talked about, so if want to know more about horror structure, that's a good place to go.

Now then, let us blog.

An Open Letter to Westboro Baptist Church

I love you guys. 

No, really, I mean it. A lot of people give you a lot of flak for your work and frankly, that's to be expected with the kind of material you're working with but let it be said here, out loud and unironically proud; Tom@Under_Review is a huge fan and supporter (emotionally, not financially because Tom@Under_Review is also broke) of Westboro Baptist Church. 

I'll admit; at first I wasn't a fan. Heck, at first, I didn't even get you guys. I saw your big, horrendously colored signs and hateful messages and I was ready to dismiss you as another group of crazies who would probably end up on the news one last time as a result of a mass suicide/police standoff, then be relegated to that corner of history for "People who did weird stuff, then died horribly." 

The Rednecks of Religion, basically.
Still, I remained morbidly fascinated and idly kept tabs on you, amusing myself with your antics whenever the doldrums of life affected my day. You're best known for your work with the gay right movement and indeed, that's where I first encountered you, but you really do cast a much wider net than that. Your hatred seemed to know no bounds and, indeed, no specific target as you lashed out at gays, Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, soldiers, politicians, and really just in whatever direction the breeze best suited. Seemingly, you hated and damned nearly anything and everything that wasn't Westboro Baptist Church, including the entirety of the very country you live in, as well as Sweden, curiously. To myself, I cocked my head and wondered aloud "How can such a group hate everyone who isn't them and still expect to grow?"

But grow you did; you now have a whole network of sites, each geared at one of your (sometimes oddly specific) 31 flavors of hatred. You even have a super broad "God Hates the World" site with links to ludicrously specific pages on nearly every country in the world, the only ommissions from which are, at the time of this writing, Slovenia, Latvia, Kyrgyzstan, Guinea-Bissau and a smattering of tiny islands in the Asian Pacific. Say what you will, that's dedication. Still, my question went unanswered and indeed, became even more puzzling; how does a group which not only ostracizes everything outside of it, but campaign to deny human rights based on this outsider status continue to not only grow, but be an entity at all? Nearly everyone I ever talked to about the subject either hated or, at the very least, broadly disapproved of you, so who, exactly, is joining this church?

Then it clicked. It all came together.

There's a thing on the internet called "Poe's law" which states that without some sort of obvious tell, a satire of extremism is indistinguishable from legitimate extremism. The actual quotation is "Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is impossible to create a parody of fundamentalism that someone won't mistake for the real thing." It dawned on me after reading this that maybe Westboro Baptist wasn't actually a hate group that capitalizes on their extremist views to get attention and make money. Maybe, just maybe, they were the best satirists in the world. 

Sorry Volty, you've been replaced.
And just like that, all my questions vanished like fog in the midday sun. Your supporters were people who got the joke, your congregation were like people who didn't get that Larry the Cable Guy was an act, not a person, and your figureheads were master showmen, playing into the expectations of both sides of the crowd perfectly. Your image isn't one of hate, it's the logical conclusion to religious extremism; the very same thing the Puritans ran into, namely, no one was pure enough to be a Puritan. You exemplify, with startling accuracy, the image of the "Hateful Christian" that everyone fights against but fair few have seen in their day-to-day. You quote verses out of context and without historical explanation to support whatever point you might come up with, you use and abuse your stated beliefs to propose superiority and elitism over others of dissimilar faiths, you eschew passive-aggressive "I'll pray for you"s in exchange for the much more reactive street-corner bible beating that is only seen these days in other parodies and satires. You have become a better parody of life than even life can manage, and there's something to be said for that. 

What really gets me is that you guys don't drop your act, not even for a second. I don't know if you studied acting or play a lot of Role-Playing Games or what, but you've got some of the most consistent character faces I've ever seen. Even Stephen Colbert has to drop the act now and again but you guys? Never a shudder. You live your act, you are your act. You're like the Chinese magician from The Prestige, you're not crippled, the fishbowl is just always between your legs. The illusion isn't on stage, it's every day of your lives and again; that's dedication. No one looks at Stephen Colbert and goes "Now see? That's what's wrong with those crazy right-wingers these days" because Stephen's winking and nodding all through the show.

But Westboro has no winks and, indeed, is surprisingly short of nods. You rely on overloading people's bullshit detectors into disbelief and if they don't, then all the better. Your message, not unlike Johnathan Swift, relies on outrage and it's hard to generate outrage if everyone knows it's a well-meaning prank. Because you keep your true message so deeply buried, almost anyone can look at you and go "Wow, those people are nucking futs. I'm going to go support gay rights or something," and I realize that this is at great personal cost to you; Westboro has been sent innumerable death threats, moral protests, and even an actual bomb once and I'm sure it must be extremely taxing on you because of that. Normally, it's fun being the bad guy, but I can only imagine how hard it must be to be the bad guy who can never take his comical top hat off or stop twirling his moustache, even for a moment because if you do, who's going to tie Pauline to the railroad tracks? Dudley Doright would have no one to save. If it's any consolation though, look at all the good you've vicariously done: the Human Rights Campaign has made huge strides, we've got a president who officially supports gay marriage, you've rallied people around our fallen soldiers while bringing to light just how many have died in our awful war and made people just generally more aware, both of differing cultures globally, and of the internal battles we, as a country, must face. 

Hatred still exists, to be sure. I don't think even the best satirist in the world could totally eradicate it, but without someone like Fred Phelps, without an organization like Westboro Baptist to show everyone how silly all of that is and how much simpler it would be to just get along, can you imagine how far back we'd still be? You, Westboro Baptist Church, are not the bigots we deserve, but the bigots we need right now. So we'll hate you because you can take it. Because you're not silent guardians, there's nothing particularly silent about you. You're like a big, screaming caricature pushing people in the right direction by telling them not to, challenging our prejudices by painting them in gaudy colors and throwing them at people in the most uncomfortable way possible, not unlike a clown throwing water balloons filled with vinegar because you'll have the smell on you all day, no matter how many times you wash.

I feel like my metaphor might have broken down somewhere along the way. I was trying to compare you to Batman but ended up comparing you to...clowns? Try not to look too deeply into it. 

All that aside though, I am a huge fan and look forward to more of your work. You are an inspiration to me, as a writer, and I hope that your influence can continue to push us towards true equality and acceptance for all, despite religious intolerance.

your loving fan,

Thank you, Goodnight.


  1. I just read this aloud to some friends, and they gave you the slow clap.

  2. Now I'm concerned; is it the slow clap of astounded approval or the slow clap of massive failure?