From Playerist Literary Magazine No. 3, October 2013 (ISSN 2048-2515)
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© Sean Duffield and Martin Slidel, 2013. All rights reserved.
I’d like to say that the idea for this drawing came about as a moment of passionate and angry protest against what is an ugly, negative and hateful patch of humanity: the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC). But it didn’t. It was because I was amused by how ‘Pastor Phelps’ sounded like ‘Pasta Phelps’! I’m unsure why my funny-bone gets tickled by the things it does (a touch of arrested development?) but this puerile chuckle quickly led to an idea for an advert for a homophobic Pasta Sauce with ol’ Fred ‘Gramps’ Phelps’ face plastered on the label.
Illustration and text by Sean Duffield, Brighton, 2013
I have watched documentaries about Fred Phelps and his messed-up family. I saw the hurt they were causing, and the tragedy of brainwashing their own children, and I reacted with anger. Eventually, I realised that this response is what they want - and what ratings-hungry TV stations want too. Freak-shows and bogeymen that create strong reactions are always good for pulling a crowd. For a group that seems to hate most things beyond its confines, one could be forgiven for viewing WBC as a right little bunch of media whores whose members have studied the ways and loopholes of the law as well as, if not better than, any scripture. (Most of the families trained in law.) It doesn’t take Einstein to figure-out that they specialise in goading people to react before suing those who fall into their trap. Just as they’ve used religious ‘status’ for tax-avoidance or to save pennies for picketing.
There seems to be a pattern with these guys:
1) Turn up at the funerals of gay men, soldiers or whoever else the angry little voice of God (who lives inside Gramps’ head and only he can hear) is choosing to persecute that particular week.
2) Wave picket-signs with nasty and often baffling messages whilst haranguing mourners.
3) Wind up the grieving or local residents and soak-up all that confrontational hatred!
So why bother even commenting on them? Why indeed. When someone thrives on causing pain, the worst thing to do is to feed them. But like all good attention-seekers they’ll find ways to get attention whilst tabloids milk it for all it’s worth. The two need each other. Sensationalised media elements prefer extremists who stir-up blame; rather than addressing subtler problems closer to home.
This brings me back to Pasta Sauce. Advertising and self-promotion is what WBC do best and what keeps the media going, so they have that in common. To my mind, most advertising has similarities with WBC: it’s manipulative; has nothing useful to give; relies on knee-jerk reaction; preys on emotion; is materially driven. Then again, you won’t get hatred shining through TV ads for spot cream, tampons or supermarkets that opt for patronising condescension, saccharine values, and annoying jingles and catchphrases (WBC have theirs: ‘God Hates Fags’ the equivalent of ‘Beanz Meanz Heinz’). If WBC’s ‘brand marketing’ were analysed it would be like Marmite – ‘You either love it or hate it’. Of course, the only people who love it ARE the Marmite. They love to hate. They love the taste of hate.
Other family members have escaped control of their sinister patriarch. The most notable being Fred’s sixth son Nate who left at eighteen and is now a gay rights activist and founder of ‘Recovering from Religion’, a group specialising in helping victims of harmful cults. Granddaughters Megan and Grace left the church very recently. Megan wrote an eloquent, sober and encouraging Blog that is well worth checking-out. Phelps’ biggest and most bitter defeat is that his children have slipped through his grasp, found their own voice, and a more positive way to live. If only we could all just stop having our strings pulled by advertising.