Public Offence – What to Do?

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April 23, 2013 by lucieromarin

“Lucy…[interior sigh]…you have to practice what you preach!” Looking over a draft for this post, seeing that it was really just a diatribe against public-Rosary-pray-ers, and having a subsequent vision of myself typing the words, ‘Be good at something other than condemnation,’ I heaved the aforementioned sigh, trashed the post, and started again.

I’ve written about dealing with private, deliberate offences; what can we do about public offence? Personally, I’m opposed to anything that gives posturing faux intelligentsia the opportunity to do this:

PFI 1: So, how’s your show going?

PFI 2: Oh, I’ve got protesters. You know, people praying the Rosary outside my gallery. They’re so weird. They’re all old and ugly.

PFI 1: Ugh. They’re so bourgeouis. Their morality just makes me sick.

PFI 2: Well, what do you expect from breeders? They can’t have much time to think, with all those babies. Which reminds me, we’re getting Fifi back from the vet tomorrow. I really missing my little poochie smoochie!

PFI 1: Ooooh, our lattes!

However, the fact remains that people can respond to public offensive acts with prayer-vigils if they want to. I mean, I’m not Our Lady, so I can’t say she’s not not bringing great good out of their prayers, and there is something fitting about making public acts of reparation in response to public insults.

However, what are the options for the roadkill, those exhausted by many hours of PR on behalf of the Church amongst those secular circles in which vigils are viewed as laughable? Other kinds of roadkill are just plain worn out by conversations like these:

Pious Person: We’re going to pray the Rosary outside Offensive Thing this evening. Will you join us?

Us: I’m sorry – I can’t make it.

Pious Person: Sorry? Don’t you care about Our Lady?

What are the options for these people, who, burnout notwithstanding, are yet not indifferent to the sight of the Person(s) they love the most being publicly degraded, and are equally unenthused by the reminder that, when it comes to censorship and good taste, not all religions are equal?

I think we have two options.

1) With reference to our fellow Catholics: Realise that it’s okay to say no. Refuse to be guilted into a belief that there is only one right way to to respond to public offence, and don’t let cholerics take on a quasi-papal role for themselves by resorting to threats about your afterlife if you don’t join them. There is a positive side to this. When a work-friend teased me about a group of movie-protesters, it became apparent that she – probably like many others – believed that they had been sent there by the local ordinary. Explaining the facts not only meant that she stopped seeing the bishop as hidden and manipulative chess-master, it also made her say, “Wow. I had no idea Catholics could do their own thing. I thought you all just did what the bishop told you.” (Ha!) Yes, the protesters caused confusion, but they were also the catalyst for a lesson that would never otherwise have been learned.

2) With reference to outsiders: Tackle the underlying problem. See, no one believes that talentless hacks should be rewarded with public money. Most people secretly don’t think that posturing faux intelligentsia are society’s greatest assets. Most people know an ill-mannered drongo when they encounter one. But just as many people are wary of decrying the works of hacks, faux intelligentsia, and drongos, simply because they have no workable definition of art from which to proceed. How can they say, ‘This is not art,’ without first possessing a clear definition of it?

In other words – people get confused, and debate rages, and we fight over over public rights versus artist rights etc…because no one knows what art is, and that includes the people making the stuff in the first place.

Leaving aside the insult to God for a moment – suppose every Catholic in the world became so lukewarm that none of us cared anymore. Would it then be okay? No, it wouldn’t, because the thing still wouldn’t be art, and artists are supposed to know that. Artists are supposed to know when they’re resorting to shock tactics because they’ve got nothing worthwhile to contribute of their own, and they’re supposed to want more for their work than that. Artists are not supposed to need the public to teach them the difference between art and trash.

So, the underlying problem is that no one knows what art is, and our mission is simple: it’s to give people a definition of art, so that conversations about it can actually have a foundation. I’ve tried it; it went like this:

He: I can’t believe how many people are opposed to this.

I: Well, not everyone is okay with making people think of young teenagers as sexual objects.

He: Well, there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s art.

I: No it isn’t. Define art for me. Go on – what’s your definition of art?

He: I don’t have one.

I: Then how can you say it’s art if you don’t know what art is?

He: Well, who’s to say what art is?

I: Well, you should be able to, if you’re promoting something as art.

He: No one can define art.

I: I can. Art is the right ordering of makeables.

He: Huh?

Okay – I will admit that at that point he just kind of looked confused and went away, so the conversation didn’t end with a conversion, or a change of mind or anything to the effect of, “Oh, Lucy, you are so clever, please teach me more philosophy.” But we have to start somewhere.

Art is the right ordering of makeables. That’s what it is, people!

This is also useful when dealing with the ultimate awkwardness, which is the blasphemous art show staged by well-meaning, Mass-going, Rosary-praying, orthodox Catholics. It happens, and it is the proof that blasphemy can be completely unintentional. It happens, not because the underlying problem is that people hate God, but because the underlying problem is that people don’t know what art is, and that is why they genuinely believe themselves to be serving God while they profane His altars.

A final note: in terms of public protest, I make an exception for grannies. Protesting grannies are awesome! And this reminds me of a story: a long time ago (i.e in the 1980s) some blasphemous film or other was playing at some small independent cinema. A little group of Catholic protesters stood on one side of the street, some male movie-supporters dressed as nuns stood opposite them, and some police hung about the Catholics, assuming them more likely to get violent with their placards than the man-nuns. After few hours of mutual placard-waving, a group of tiny, elderly women (possibly Maronite) arrived on the scene. No one knew who they were, who had invited them, or what they were doing there. But when they saw the “nuns”…they broke out in a war cry! They started ululating, and, with “Holalalalalalalalala!” freezing the bones of everyone present, they rushed across to the men and tore the habits off them with their bare hands.

My friend sidled over to a policeman.

“Shouldn’t you be doing something about that?” he said.

“I can’t!” the policeman exclaimed. “I’m scared of the women!”

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