Sunday, 20 June 2010

Daddy's Girl

In honour of Father's Day, I'd like to direct you to the best father-figure in television, Mr Rupert Giles. (And if you haven't watched Buffy, really - what are you thinking? go and order the whole thing NOW.)

    (Sorry it's in Spanish! Fox are dreadful about copyright)

I love the Slayer/Watcher dynamic they have - thrown into nice relief by Wesley - not without problems and growing pains (remember her 18th birthday?), it matures into a really loving relationship of equals that still has a familial aspect. From the beginning he sees how special she is, tries to support her and guard her independence, even to the extent of becoming completely anti-institutional and losing his job for her sake. Who wouldn't want a dad like that? It's an often subversive model of fatherhood (Buffy's birth father is absent and uninterested), placing love above authoritarianism, where Buffy herself is confronted with Giles' past (as Ripper), sexuality (getting over the 'grossness' of grownup relationships) and knowing that grownups often don't get it right. He's comfortable with her sexuality (while there is never a directly sexual dynamic between them), and the show never descends into daddy-protecting-daughter's virtue nonsense. He leaves Sunnydale to let her learn to be self-reliant, but he comes back when he's really needed.

So (to change tack ever so subtly), this sort of subversion is why I think 'Father' language for God is often ok - as long as you have flexible, unessential ideas about gender. This is not to say that it's not unproblematic language, because both women and men can have damaged relationships with fathers/father-figures/priest-figures that make father language difficult if not impossible. Those of us with good relationships with our fathers/father-figures should constantly recognize that privilege and resist reifying father language in a way that is damaging for others. And it's important to remember that we all have women in our lives who display some of the best attributes of 'fathers'.

Janet Martin Soskice puts this subversive element well in her essay 'Calling God Father', where she relies on Ricoeur’s symbolic interpretation of the notion of a father as a way of reading of the biblical texts in which the flexibility of the concept of fatherhood comes to the fore:
What ‘father’ and ‘son’ mean here [in Jesus' calling God ‘Abba’] cannot be read off woodenly from normal family relationships or the Arians would have their case. Rather, ‘Father’ and ‘Son’ function as loaded ciphers, their full significance disclosed only with the unfolding of the ministry of Jesus.
Good theology starts with this, the relationship between Jesus and the 'Father', rather than legitimizing and reifying some inevitably flawed, and often essentialist notion of human fatherhood. Balthasar does this in the worst sort of conservative-bourgeois way, and it's insidious in its influence on Roman Catholic theology.

So happy Father's Day, all. Go hug your father. Or someone else's father. Or someone you love. And if you're father to someone else, remember Rupert Giles and be inspired.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Taking in the Holy

Ok, ok, you know I had to write something about it. The Alejandro video has more Catholic imagery than you can shake a thurible at.

Bill Donahue (of the Catholic League) isn't very happy. Big surprise. Though at least he grasped that the video is essentially one big Madonna homage. He claims that LG 'is treating us like Muslims'. A searing critique, really. The CL reminds me of certain other protesting priests... (Though the phrase 'manages to get raped' is less funny - nice intimation of victim-blaming, Bill).

It's no Telephone, but there's even more gender 'performance', and I like the bit where she ingests the rosary. Stephen Klein, the co-director, suggests that it's about "the desire to take in the holy." Coupled with all the sexual and S&M-y moves, the video comes across as an overwhelming and oppressive take on physicality. The nun as ascetic escape from pain/sex/embodiment?

(Katy Perry has described the video as "cheap". Ha.)

(I promise not to blog about Lady GaGa again for at least a week. Honestly.)

Thursday, 3 June 2010

I’m a free bitch, baby!

‘I am here to proclaim your liberation,’ she told us. A preacher for the night, a high priestess who couldn’t imagine any other death than one that took place in the sanctuary of the stage, a messiah sacrificing herself for our love. ‘Some say I’m an irreligious woman,’ she cried over Alejandro, ‘but tonight, let’s go to church, London!’

Such was Lady Gaga’s charisma that, right up in the gods of the O2 arena, when she lay down on the stage as if it was a psychiatrist’s couch and explained that she was nothing – nothing – without the love of her fans, that our love had spoilt her for a relationship with anyone else, I felt like I was the only one there. When she sang, ‘I’m your biggest fan, I’ll follow you until you love me’, the curious inversion of the dynamics of watcher/watched felt oddly intimate (and less manipulative than you might think).*

She hates money and plastic surgery and the fact that she loves alcohol-dependent men like her father. She loves difference. Again and again she told us to be free – free to be freaks and geeks, gay, straight or bisexual, to do what we wanted and to tell those who say we aren’t good enough, ‘Fuck you!’

She lay on her piano upside down, conducting her band and playing the piano with her stiletto. This lady is talented. Her voice is enormous. Her clothes are huge. She told us that she also has a very big penis. And her breasts actually shoot fireworks.

She was Dorothy, Tinkerbell, the Pied Piper, Mary. She was a monster-slayer who wanted us to kill our own demons. She was the Mommy to her ‘little monsters’. She very consciously sees herself (at least when she’s performing) through the eyes of her fans. It’s the love/applause of others that brings her to life. Christ or Tinkerbell?

Be free, she said. Be in the moment (we were told off for photographing her - ‘I’ll be back again!’ - a command to experience the present I wish had been emphasised when I went to mass at St Peter’s). This is no Madonna crucifying herself in the ultimate act of self-reference. Lady GaGa is something else altogether. ‘I promise I’ll be kind’, she sang to me. In the end, I believed her.

*Her tweets from the MEN Arena tonight, responding to a fan’s complaint that people weren’t being let into the venue with coke cans in their hair, are very cute. Sounds like she gave the arena staff a bollocking for being mean to her babies...
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