Saturday, September 27, 2008

Blasphemy in the classroom

Sometimes I think it's good that my student can't see how my chin is hitting the ground so hard that it's practically trailing behind me.

The other day, we watched Jesus Christ Superstar to talk about stereotypes in main stream media. I had planned to use Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, mostly, because some students had repeatedly stressed how deeply meaningful this movie was to them as a faithful account of 'what really happened'... But my school owns no copy and I didn't want to enrich Mel, so I went back to an old favorite of mine, Jesus Christ Superstar:

When I walked into the room, I had a fleeting feeling that this might turn out to be a really bad idea. Sure enough, there was barely a giggle--and who could watch Herod's dance with a straight face!--and one student immediately responded: "It's blasphemy! The film maker can't have been a Christian!" So, okay, I lied and told her he was. After some hesitation, others chimed in, confirming my suspicion that at least a third of them is far less religious than they let on, and they started pointing out the priests' black clothes and outlandish headgear, the pudgy supergay Herod as a representation of Jewish power etc. Nobody, however, remarked on the most obvious problems: the choice to depict Judas as a highly sexualized black guy and Jesus as a blond, blue-eyed and well, Jesus-like (and sexless) figure. When I raised the question of Jesus as a blond man, one of the African-American students looked at me and responded: But that's how he's been presented to us. Seriously?! What do they do in their churches? Hold hands, promise abstinence, and pray for world peace?

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