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No Stranger to Fiction: The Westboro Baptist Church and Realworlds

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Thursday, Jul 15, 2010
An open letter to Fred Phelps, regarding his plan to picket ComicCon 2010 on grounds that comicbook superheroes promote idolatry.

Have you ever seen the coyote in the desert? Watching, tuned in, completely aware. Christ on the cross, the coyote in the desert — it’s the same thing, man. The coyote is beautiful. He moves through the desert delicately, aware of everything, looking around. He hears every sound, smells every smell, sees everything that moves. He’s in a state of total paranoia, and total paranoia is total awareness.
—Charles Milles Manson (1934-present)


I believe that Providence would never have allowed us to see the victory of the Movement if it had the intention after all to destroy us at the end.
—Adolf Hitler (1889-1945)


“God hates fags! God hates America! Thank God for dead soldiers! You’re going to Hell!”
—Fred Phelps (1929-present)


Dear Mr. Phelps,


I was born and raised in the United States of America over twenty-five years ago. I have traveled all over the world, having visited nations on nearly every continent. I have stood up for what I believe in against all odds, fighting for the people who deserve to be fought for. I have stood up for causes I believe in. As your Bible says, “I have fought the good fight. I have finished the course. I have kept the faith.”


My faith, Mr. Phelps, is not in any deity; not really, anyway. My faith, as I’ve repeated ad nauseaum in this very column, is in the goodness and decency of the human race. Although a steady childhood diet of science-fiction and an urban, liberal upbringing surely helped matters, these values and my faith stem mostly from the pages of the comicbooks you are so quick to write off as idolatry.
  


Last I checked, Mr. Phelps, idolatry, at least in the Biblical sense, referred to the worship of beings or fictional creations who were not Yahweh. To say that the comicbook fans you plan to picket at the San Diego Comic Con later this month are idolaters seems to counteract that. Of the thousands of comicbook fans I’ve met and interacted with, not one of them has built a shrine to Superman. Not one of them prays to Batman. I do not recall a single one of them offering their undying souls to Captain America, Spider-Man, Wonder Woman or The Flash. Last I checked, I myself have never thought, when confronted with a potential life-threatening situation, that the divine hands of the Fantastic Four would get me out of it without question.


Like most forms of thought-provoking and life-affirming storytelling, comicbooks have long been about hope (Midnight Nation), love (Blankets, Y:The Last Man), politics (Ex Machina), life (Young Liars), responsibility (Mice Templar), culpability (Watchmen), acceptance (Uncanny X-Men) and, yes, faith (A Contract with God).


I’ve followed you and your “family” for a long time now; long enough to know that, were you to actually complete reading even one of the tomes listed above, your exact reaction. I know how you feel about the type of “sodomites” you’d find in Watchmen, how you’d feel about the premarital sex depicted in Blankets, your thoughts on anthropomorphosis as seen in Mice Templar.


Moreover, I don’t care. I stopped caring about your personal beliefs long, long ago, and instead focused all my personal feelings toward you on exactly how you expressed your beliefs.


I’ve never been one for censorship, so I would never presume to tell you that you don’t have a right to speak your mind (however, as you seem to hate the country that gives you the right you so readily abuse, I may want to rethink that stance), but I have always been one to enjoy theatre. Whether you know it or not, and whether or not you want to admit it, your repetitive, harmful and, yes, hate-filled protests are theatre. Unlike, say, the protest work of The Living Theater or Shakespeare’s original staging of Macbeth, I’m not sure of your actual goals.  You seem to believe that God hates soldiers, homosexuals, most of the world’s nations, stand-up comedians and children’s entertainers. Now, apparently, God hates comicbook fans. To me, this is, quite frankly, a ridiculous belief. Unless you’re a parody artist, your theatre is very flawed, and even if you are, it’s flawed on the basic principle that your theatrical goals are unidentifiable.


For the most part, comicbook fans do not bicker over religion, politics or sexuality.  They argue over whether a character acted contrary to his established persona. They discuss their different opinions of various storylines. They peacefully debate the morals of certain storylines and attempt to peace together long-term mysteries of any given series.


This is all, of course, courtesy of the comicbook industry, which is run by a fantastically diverse group of men and, yes, women. Whites, Asians, people of African descent, Jews, Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, magicians, Americans, Canadians, Scots, Brits, Irish, Spanish, heterosexuals, bisexuals, homosexuals, fat, thin, bald, bearded, married, unmarried, Republican, Democrat, anarchist, Communist, Socialist, conservative, liberal—they all work together, side by side, in this industry that brings just as many, if not more, different kinds of people together as fans. The result is not Sodom and Gomorrah (which, if you actually look at that story in the Bible from an objective standpoint, does not condemn any particular group in any way, save for the occasional, extremely vague and unspecific mention of “wickedness”); it’s more like a utopia of artists working together to tell stories.


So many men and women from around the globe have, in their formative years, been influenced by comics (many of which don’t tell the stories of superheroes, but rather any kind of imaginable tale; several of these stories are listed earlier) in very positive ways. No matter what you think of some of the more prominent figures who have publicly admitted to being fans, their influences are undeniable: President Barack Obama is an ardent fan of Spider-Man and Conan the Barbarian, and has name-dropped Superman, Batman and Alfred E. Neuman in public forums. Academy-Award nominated actor Samuel L. Jackson (star of Pulp Fiction and Eve’s Bayou) is a professed fan of the Avengers, now appearing in several Marvel Studios films as Nick Fury, including the two Iron Man pictures and the upcoming big-screen debuts of Captain America and, of course, The Avengers. Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy is a well-noted Batman aficionado. Sir Patrick Stewart, Sir Paul McCartney, Robin Williams, Simon Pegg, Daniel Dae Kim, Gerard Way, Walter Koenig, Lance Reddick, Gene Simmons, Jerry Lawler, Joss Whedon, Michael Chabon, Scott Ian, Neil Patrick Harris, Rob Cordry, Patton Oswalt—all famous entertainers or prominent celebrities whose affinity for comics have not only helped them connect to their fellow human beings, but have also changed the landscape of popular culture.


What I’m asking you, Mr. Phelps, is really simple. No one worships comicbook characters; they are creations of paper and ink, mind and not matter. Their fans know this. On behalf of the comicbook community, I implore you to not protest the upcoming San Diego Comic Convention. I ask you, instead, to maybe find out a little bit more about the industry you seem to despise for reasons I cannot fathom.  It is not a sin to read comics; in fact, comics have gotten a great many children over the last several decades to read in the first place. Maybe, instead of protesting, you can sit down and read, if not a product of the industry, a little about it.


They’re stories, pure and simple. No one expects people to build their lives around them; that’s when stories become dangerous. That’s when stories become totalitarian in nature. Stories shouldn’t provide belief structures; stories should provide morals, notions of right and wrong, ideas for the reader to make their life, and the lives of those around them, better. Forming a rigid belief structure out of any story at all will not only hurt the world in the long run, but hurt the story itself.


After all, if the tables were turned and someone was protesting a Bible convention you were attending, how would you feel? Defensive, yes. Offended, yes. Hurt, yes. I’m asking you to lay down your shield and sword, stand back from the front lines and breathe. Understand. You are grasping at straws and presenting yourself as foolish and goofy to the rest of the world. I’m sure that’s not something you want.


If it is what you want, by all means, go ahead. The comics creators, filmmakers, musicians and other storytellers in attendance at the Convention are certainly proponents of satire and social commentary, and they will no doubt use your under-thought “protest” (What are you really protesting, anyway? Idolatry? It’s 2010, Mr. Phelps, not 1020.) in their art down the line.


I hope my faith in humanity has not let me down, and that you have finished this letter.  If you haven’t, well, to each their own. I’ve had my say, and it’s here whenever you wish to finish it.


I have said my piece, and wish nothing but peace upon the Convention.


Please know, though, that if you and your brainwashed “family” are the root cause of any negative occurrence at this Convention, I and others like me will rain down a storm of criticism upon you so intense you’d think God Himself were responsible.


In the words of a great hero of mine, “Good night, and good luck.”


In the words of a great hero of yours, “Am I therefore your enemy, because I tell you the truth?”

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