John Baglow

The DawgNews interview: Fred Phelps--"We are all Shocked"

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(Ottawa, March 24) DawgNews was fortunate to catch up with the notorious Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church during a recent funeral picket, and obtain an exclusive interview. Pastor Phelps was surprisingly candid: what he had to say may startle some readers and unnerve others.

DD: Pastor Phelps, may I ask you, to begin with, what you make of the controversy over Michelle Shocked, the folksinger who caused a stir recently in San Francisco?

FP: She is indeed one of us, but the poor girl was unprepared. There was too much craft there. Nuance gets in the way.

DD: Nuance?

FP: Well, check out the transcript and the audio. Here’s the best bit.

I was in a prayer meeting yesterday. You’ve got to understand how scared folks on that side of the equation are. From their vantage point — I really shouldn’t say their, because it’s mine, too — we are near the end of time. And from our vantage point, we’re gonna be … I think maybe Chinese water torture is gonna be the means, the method. Once Prop. 8 is instated, and once preachers are held at gunpoint and forced to marry the ho-mo-sexuals, I’m pretty sure that that will be the signal for Jesus to come on back.

Then she sort of quotes me: “If someone could be so gracious to tweet out, ‘Michelle Shocked just said from stage, God hates faggots,’ would you do it now?”

But what does she mean, “vantage point?” And what’s with that “ho-mo-sexuals” riff? She says she’s neither above or beneath the conversation. So she’s, you know, engaged in it, part of it. But whose voice is coming out of her mouth at that moment? A real pro would never leave a question like that in the air. To hell with this multivocality crap. Sometimes Bakhtin is a pain in the ass, and you can quote me.

And now she’s trying to walk it all back. That’s fatal. An obvious lack of training and discipline. She should have come out with us a few times, toughen her up. She panicked when she saw her gigs go.

DD: So you see her as a kind of weak, virtual member of your congregation?

FP: You’re missing the whole point. But everybody does, when it’s kinda staring them in the face. So I’m gonna level with you. Bet nobody reads your damn blog anyway. (laughs)

Look, irony is what we do. Ever hear of Poe’s Law? He was onto something, but the lazy so-and-so didn’t push hard enough. Basically, he says that you can’t parody fundamentalism without marking it as parody—which sorta spoils the effect, right? He didn’t pick that up, and he didn’t extrapolate. Fundamentalism isn’t a religion, it’s an approach. Check out the Tea Party. Check out Sean Hannity. You got a couple of them up in Canada, too—that Ezra Levant fella. Jams it right in your face like some Aryan Brotherhood guy, and he’s Jewish! But nobody gets the joke.

That willing suspension of disbelief—or, rather, the refusal to believe that you’re being had—is the vast space in which we move, like lions.

DD: Well, like that audience member at Shocked’s performance, I’m confused.

FP: (chuckles) That’s intended. Or maybe not.

DD: Huh?

FP: Look, let’s go to the next level. We aren’t “God is rainbow love” types in disguise. The whole point about irony is that it just is. It doesn’t have to be intended. Maybe I believe that “God Hates Fags.” (winks) And maybe I don’t. The point is interpretation, the reading of the text, including our live funeral performances, which are a kind of text.

DD: But that interpretation is remarkably unanimous. People hate you!

FP: And now you’re beginning to get it. Not a lot of possible readings of “God Hates Fags.” No nonsense about “vantage points” and “they believe, well, I do too” in there. Just three words. Believe only that we mean it. (laughs)

DD: Are you saying you don’t? I mean, you used to be a great civil rights lawyer, and you were a registered Democrat…

FP: As I said, that’s immaterial. God knows some days I even hate myself. I have no real handle on belief. But as you say, it’s pretty clear that most folks believe they know what we believe.

DD: So I guess it’s possible to read “God Hates Fags” as a parodic statement—you were hinting at that earlier.

FP: Everything is its own parody. I just ask you to look at the effects. If we are homophobes in the pure state, why are we always doing stuff that bites our asses? Evangelical homo-haters hate us even more. We make ‘em look bad. We set a benchmark. We’re a living reductio ad absurdum. But people, thank God, take us seriously.

DD: What, are you saying you’re really the opposite of what you proclaim?

FP: (shakes his head) No, no, don’t be simplistic. There are no binaries here. I keep trying to get it across to you. Belief is contingent. It has no foundation. Texts have no one privileged meaning. Acts, too, are part of the great game, the endless play of signifiers. We’re performing our discourse, and getting a kick out of it.

DD: So you’re neither one nor the other?

FP: Bingo!

DD: So back to Michelle Shocked, then. Are you saying she, too, is just playing a game?

FP: Well, duh. “Truth versus reality?” Bless her, she’s pomo as all get-out. But sometimes the ironical thing is to appear non-ironic—that’s a never-realized ideal, of course, but if you really want to enjoy yourself, use the damn KISS principle, for heaven’s sake. Don’t go all this way and that, and collapse in ruins.

Look, we are all Shocked, in a way. We can never really know if we say what we mean or mean what we say. But the whole trick is to define the trouble you want to get into. She never knew what hit her, sweet ironist that she is. I’d like to buy her a beer someday.

DD: And share a few pro-tips?

FP: Lord knows she could use ‘em. She’s not having any fun at all. You can’t go through life like that.

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This page contains a single entry by John Baglow published on March 24, 2013 1:32 PM.

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