A couple of nights ago, at the Grammy Awards, under the pall of Whitney’s passing, we were all “treated” with Nicki Minaj’s dreadful performance, which included a red carpet walk accompanied by a faux Pope and a stage show which included a fake exorcism, altar boys kneeling in genuflection face first into the crotches of pseudo nude women and her typical stage histrionics. While some were turned off by the garish performance, others were genuinely offended at having their faith used as a prop for some pop rapper. In entertainment, particularly music, nothing is sacred, but would you ever imagine an award show featuring rapping irreverent rabbis?
It ain’t cool to be Catholic these days. From the ongoing embarrassment provided by the Papal hierarchy to the Penn State horror the Vatican has certainly enjoyed finer moments. That said, aside from the acts of a few monsters and even the system that perpetuates that behavior, we’re dealing with people’s’ faith. Just this week, Newsweek magazine ran a cover story regarding the under-reported persecution of Christians around the world, including the torching of Nigerian churches, the Islamic Oppression of Christians in Egypt during the Arab Spring, which led to scores of thousands of Christians to flee for their safety. America, and the media specifically have gone overboard in broadcasting anti Muslim sentiment while ignoring the global souring of the cross.
So what does this have to do with Nicki Minaj? What makes this more than just a desperate attempt by the only commercially viable female rapper to gain a higher visibility? Was it really that deep? To answer that question you have to see the issue from many levels. There were many elements that spoke directly to Catholicism specifically. Because of their own negligence and their arrogant refusal to deal with the issues of pedophilia and rape within its ranks, it has become the face of why people decry religion, no matter how many Eddie Longs get outed for behavior that contradicts their role as spiritual leader. the sheer number of cases has earned Catholicism the vitriol it gets, much to the chagrin of millions of innocent churchgoers helplessly caught in the crossfire. The situation has almost made it sexy to shit on Catholics. From that vantage point, you know that Minaj had no fear or reprisals or backlash, especially when you consider that the stage show was cleared by the Grammy handlers.
As someone who occasionally goes to Mass but is not a baptised Catholic, I was more offended by the wackness of the performance than the Religious allegory and exorcist overtones. While everyone got in an uproar over how irreverent she was, let’s not front like music, and HIp-Hop in particular has often targeted religion and its figures to show how bad they are. A few months ago, Lady Gaga cast the apostles as a biker gang and framed Jesus and Judas as opposing lovers. In his youth, Common cast himself as Petey Wheatstraw, the Devil’s Son In Law, both a reference to an old Blaxsploitation film and an assignment of his own machismo. Big L announced himself as the Devil’s son, with only those intimate with his music aremed with the knowledge that the “devil” was his own father. Nas has waived “automatic guns at nuns” while the Notorious B.I.G. threatened to screw the Virgin Mary and dump her body in the sewer.
We have come to a place where being selective about being offended is doing more harm than anything else. On one end of the spectrum, it can suck the fun out of everything and poison the spirit of satire and commentary. On the other end, we threaten to blur the lines between irreverence and blasphemy. In the context fo art. everything is subjective and left to the interpretation of the viewer. I think we can all agree that the performance was in poor taste. Whether or not it was the harbinger of the fall of civilization is another matter entirely. If we keep playing the boy who cried wolf, we’ll never be able to tell when a real threat or affront to our religious freedom or sensibility is front and center.
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