Much has been made over the past few weeks of two of the younger, more attractive members of the Phelps clan publicly splitting with their mother and grandfather, Fred Phelps, and deciding that maybe God doesn’t hate dead soldiers and gay people so much after all. Per Westboro Baptist Church spokesman Steve Drain:
“‘We can’t control whether or not somebody decides, when they grow up, that they don’t want to be here,’ Drain said. ‘Those two girls were kind of straddling the idea that they wanted to be of the world but that they would also miss their family, the only thing they ever knew. If they continue with the position that they have, those two girls, yeah, they’re going to hell.'”
The girls, Megan and Grace, understandably take a less brimstone-oriented tone in their own statement, a blog post, natch, titled after a lovely song by earnest indie darlings the Avett Brothers, which begins with a Batman quote. Megan asserts that, “At WBC, reciting lines from pop culture is par for the course. And why not? The sentiments they express are readily identifiable by the masses – and shifting their meaning is as easy as giving them new context.”
And this brings home a long-held suspicion: the Westboro Baptist Church is performance art.
I have only one piece of evidence to support this thesis, but it’s quite compelling:
This video is amazing and amusing on multiple levels, but it’s at the 4:37 mark that the jig is up. The upside down Canadian flag. It’s too perfect, right? Think about it: if a very clever pro-equality activist were to design the most offputting, ludicrous straw man to make the opposing case, could they improve upon the Phelps family? Sure, you could make them Nazis, but having them be Baptists is just much more elegant. And for a group as media-savvy and well-funded as they are (tens of thousands of protests in dozens of cities ain’t cheap), they are cognizant of the affects of their actions, and that they are widely considered to be the most hated family in America. That’s not a title you earn by accident. I’ve encountered a number of true believers in my day who are committed enough to engage in many acts well outside of general social conditioning, like plastering graphic full-color photos of mangled fetuses on the side of their vehicle, or gleefully describing their certain doom to strangers. But the one thing that none of those diehards would ever in a million years do, is to laugh at their own beliefs. The way these WBC members are giggling at the absurdity of the lyrics as they sing them? These people are in on the joke, y’all.
Furthermore, if you take into account the degree to which gay rights have advanced since 1991, when WBC first started waving fluorescent signs reading “Fags Eat Poop,” and how they have stepped up their game at crucial moments (advancing from picketing the funerals of AIDS casualties to picketing the funerals of dead soldiers, for instance, a move both designed and guaranteed to alienate even their natural allies), it’s pretty clear that they are demonstrating the reductio ad absurdem endgame of homophobia with absolute self-knowledge and clarity of purpose. What makes it art, you ask? The little touches, as when they made a weekly target of a local hardware store which sells Swedish vacuums. The reasoning behind this choice is every bit as convoluted as you might expect, because the choice itself is completely arbitrary. The sole purpose, I believe, is to discredit a specific point of view with a scorched-earth thoroughness and a delightful soupçon of whimsy.
Have you ever seen Andy Kaufman and Shirley Phelps Roper in the same place? I REST MY CASE.
Take notes, Joaquin Phoenix: this is how it is done.