Over at Popping Culture, Dan brings up the cover of the latest issue of The Nation. The cover shows SpongeBob Squarepants depicted as Jesus, crucified and wearing a crown of thorns. Imposed over the image is the large title, "Offended?" The accompanying article is written by Richard Goldstein and is about cartoons and how they can get under our skin.
Dan is offended by the cover and he asks for opinions in his entry. Personally, as I commented at the site, I can completely understand him being offended. The image doesn't offend me since I'm not Christian and I'm not religious. What more struck me about it was that it made no sense. I didn't understand how the image tied into the article or to the recent controversy involving SpongeBob and James Dobson, other than to intermingle the character and Dobson's religion. However, that intermingling didn't make much sense to me, either, as it has nothing to do with the controversy. It doesn't tie in with it or offer any sort of comment on what actually happened.
Thus, I read the article. It's a somewhat interesting article, though I found it disjointed and wandering, unable to make clear points. It seemed more a collection of random thoughts than a focused essay. More importantly, though, the article says nothing that would make the magazine cover relevant. Therefore, I'm left with the thought that it was created simply to be eye-catching.
Now, certainly, magazine covers are supposed to be eye catching. The obvious attempt is to create something compelling that will cause a person to take a second look, to evaluate the magazine and to consider purchasing it. The cover is part of the sell, so I can understand trying to make it stand out. However, this cover is dealing in one of the most important images in our country, in our society. It is dealing with a religious image that is of upmost importance to a large segment of our population. Jesus is the focus of Christianity and is regarded not just with great respect, but with a true reverance. Everyone knows this.
I don't believe the image of Jesus--and his crucifixion--should be off limits, but if you're going to mess with it, you better be making a good point. I wouldn't personally touch it because of the importance Jesus holds for Christians, but I don't think it should be unavailable to artists, in whatever capacity they feel the urge to use it in. I would hope, though, that anyone who plays with that image so blatantly would be attempting to make a solid point. My annoyance here is simply that this appears to have been created for nothing more than shock value. That's stupid. Worse yet, it's immature.
I love offensive humor. I love being shocked. I like it when artists throw something at me that blows me away or that leaves me with my mouth open. But when it's done simply to say, "Hey, we actually went there," then it can be boring. If it's pointless, then it's not nearly as compelling when it's done with the intent of making a point, of saying something about our culture or society or our humanity. For instance, I love South Park, a show that can be incredibly offensive. But, most of the time, that offensiveness is done in the pursuit of making a point. Typically, the show is attempting to comment on our society. You may or may not agree with it, but the attempts by the creators to shock the audience are usually in aid of an overaching theme. The South Park movie is a great example. It is terribly profane and was pretty scandalous when first released back in 1999. But all of the shocking elements of the movie--all of the extreme profanity and the sexual explicitness, the overt violence and the uses of religious figures and ideas--were all part of an overarching commentary on censorship. You could easily watch the movie and then complain that it was foul and extreme, completely unnecessary and an outrage. Indeed, it was foul and extreme, but there was a reason for it.
I can appreciate offensive material in that context. There's a point to it. When there's no point to it, though, then it often feels cheap and unnecessary. Pointless art is never much fun. And that's where my problem with this Nation cover comes in. I'm not really offended by it the way Dan is because the image of Jesus is not as crucial to me as it surely is to him. But I am kind of offended by the fact that it takes that crucial image and twists it in a manner that would be offensive to many people, and does it all without making any real point. If they wanted to play off the controversy of Dobson, why not show Spongebob as a gay caricature? It wouldn't be particularly creative, but it at least would be making a point and would be a decent jab at Dobson's ridiculous accusations. At least you would be saying something with the image.
As it is now, it's just boring. Worse, it's lazy. That's offensive enough.