JE SUIS CHARLIE.
JE SUIS SATIRIST.
JE SUIS JESUS.
In its heyday, Columbia City Paper was like a journalistic Roman candle borne from a twisted Hunter S. Thompson dream. How to explain? Perhaps as such: once upon a time, three of us associated with this once-and-former, infamous South Carolina alt weekly paper sat at a bar with columnist Dan Savage. While we downed beers, he congratulated us on what we had been able to accomplish on a shoestring budget in a capital city where the Confederate Flag flew defiantly upon the State House grounds within our sight.
It meant a lot for someone of Savage’s caliber to pat us on the back. However, I was drinking bourbon that night, not beer. I felt so guilty when Savage picked up the tab that I later mailed a $20 bill to his editorial offices in Seattle. Scout’s honor. Those were the days.
We were engaged in such gonzo journalism at the time that I had to hide my identity. This made for some pretty fun pseudonyms. I was J. Pelikan Sarcophage—also Jaroslav Dampfstain.
Then there was my column penned by Jesus of Millwood. The premise of the column was that the “Divine Pops” had sent Jesus back to Earth (he lived in an apartment over a garage) on a “brief reconnaissance mission” to see if His Son still had what it takes to cut it as the Messiah.
The column was ridiculously irreverent. We even did a cover photo one issue with the risen Christ embracing the State House Confederate Flag. Boy, that juxtaposition opened some eyeballs.
A brief aside: the thing is, I am a Christian—a fact that surprises more than a few folks who read my Forward Progressives articles. One common comment in my articles is, “How come you guys never bash Muslims, but you’re always bashing Christians?” In fact, here is a response I provided one reader just this past weekend:
I’m a practicing Christian. I’m only interested in “bashing” the hypocrisy of the religion I hold near and dear to my heart and soul. … Sadly, practitioners of Christianity have done a pretty miserable job of following the tenets of their faith. It’s left quite the bad taste in many a’ mouth. But there is an authentic orthodoxy: follow the Golden Rule, love thy neighbor as thyself, strive for justice.
Anyway, back to Jesus Christ, Columnist. The point of the Christ Column was to try to view 21st-century ultraconservative society (Columbia, South Carolina) through the eyes of Jesus the human. At one point, Jesus even accidentally endorsed a local conservative politician for no reason other than the candidate’s hirsute appearance made it cool for Southern men to don beards again. Jesus was totally into that, of course—even if he was a little ahead of himself politically.
Then there was the time my pseudonym Jaroslav Dampfstain interviewed Jesus of Millwood—in a strip club, of all places. Now that I think of it, this piece sort of foreshadowed my scathing critique of Christianity Today’s idiotic article last year, “Would Jesus Hang Out in a Strip Club?”
Here is how I envisioned a 21st-century Gospel strip club conversation would actually play out:
Jesus Christ (for the first time really looking toward the stage, then producing a ten-dollar bill from a thin, unworn wallet): “Mr. Dampfstain, do you happen to have change for a ten? Do you see that young lady up there? Now, she’s not much to look at, with a fairly flat bust and hips which obviously have birthed several children. But you seriously have to admire any woman who is willing to get naked on a stage and suck the material marrow out of her body for the sake of her family. That takes balls, Mr. Dampfstain. Balls. And surely that is worth three or four one-dollar bills. Don’t you think?”
Jesus reached into his violet velour smoking jacket and produced a fortune cookie. Without so much as glancing at me, Christ placed the cabal cookie on my plate, took a handful of two-dollar bills up to the stage, handed them to the wide-hipped dancer, then exited the club into the famously hot Columbia afternoon heat. I did what anyone would do. I cracked open the fortune cookie and considered the message so clearly intended for me and perhaps all South Carolina residents.
Fortune Cookie: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. And don’t trust the lottery numbers on the back; they’re a load of crap.”
I remember sitting in a downtown restaurant and watching a lunching businessman read that article. He got to the end and laughed like hell. He ran his fingers along the final words a second time and mouthed The Golden Rule to himself: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”
That was one of my greatest moments as a writer. I had caused a man to laugh while reading The Golden Rule in an article about Jesus in a gentlemen’s club.
Another favorite moment was when Jesus, stuck in his garage apartment off Millwood Avenue in downtown Columbia, goes on a rant about unemployment in South Carolina:
A lot of South Carolinians have been out of work lately. Almost 12 percent. … It means a little more than one out of every 10 of you might have a taste of what it’s been like for me 2,000 years between jobs. You think you have it bad: A pink slip and a private escort from the factory by Roger the security guard while you cradle your personal items in a cardboard box.
Why don’t you try crucifixion on for size? Now that’s a way to get laid off! Then again, the compensation package wasn’t too bad. Eternity at the right hand of the Father.
I know, totally inappropriate—except that it kind of makes you think. Or at least it makes me think. So I assumed it might make readers think, too.
All to say, the tragedy of the Charlie Hebdo massacre hit me squarely in the gut. I know what it’s like to look over your shoulder after taking on religious fundamentalism and ruthless politicians—and wondering whether “being funny” is seriously worth it.
When I started writing for Forward Progressives nearly two years ago, I recognized that I was going to have a much broader audience to continue this little “minor prophet” mission of tackling the Christian Right in the best way I know how: with a pinch of satire, a Howitzer of facts, and a Taser blast of humor. I also needed to decide whether or not to use my real name.
JE SUIS CHARLIE. JE SUIS PASTOR PILLOW. JE SUIS ARIK BJORN.
And I stand alongside the satirists of Charlie Hedbo and support fully one’s right to expose the horrors of fundamentalism by drastic comic measures. (Also, I like to laugh. So up yours and may your asses plop on Whoopee cushions, fundies of all flavors.)
In conclusion, I would like to refer you to an article I wrote that takes you a bit inside my childhood—which shows you know why I am so outspokenly opposed to religious fundamentalism. I write a weekly Sunday column for Forward Progressives called “The Christian Right Weekly Round-Up.” The column features a fictional megachurch charlatan named Pastor Pillow. This, from the article, “Pastor Pillow Lives Inside Me”:
I didn’t just buy into the fundamentalist worldview. I was training to become a Radical Right banner waver.
I grew up in non-denominational, charismatic Christian churches. I attended private Christian schools, one of which was operated by what today a person would call a “Prosperity Gospel” church. We believed and did some pretty weird things. We spoke in tongues. We were convinced demons controlled everything from sex drives to carburetors. Also, we thought there was a satanic conspiracy behind Wonder Bread. (Actually, there probably is.) Certain types of rock music beats made you pee uncontrollably. Noah had sauropods on the ark. And on and on.” …
I love letting Pastor Pillow out of his cage once per week. In the context of the “Christian Right Weekly Round-Up,” it’s so much easier to identify the insanity of fundamentalist Christianity, from its Mammon worship to its screwball biblical interpretations. Yet it makes me shiver to realize how close I was to becoming him.
The major dilemma of the 21st century is FUNDAMENTALISM.
Through our mighty pens, we can—and will—defeat FUNDAMENTALISM.
RIP to the daring staff of Charlie Hedbo, who gave their lives for meaningful laughter.
As for me and my house: Satire matters.
Latest posts by Arik Bjorn (see all)
- Puerto Rican Paper Towels to Buchenwald Bread Crumbs: #RESIST, While You Still Have Time - October 6, 2017
- “So I Ran for Congress”: Sneak Preview Redux - August 22, 2017
- “So I Ran for Congress”: A Sneak Preview - August 4, 2017