Hairless Heathen Heckles High Priest
Any Harvard student who opted to spend a nice quiet Saturday night at home two weeks ago, instead of foraying into the wild Cambridge nightlife, found that just as outrageous a time could be found in front of their television sets. But was Sinead O'Connor's appearance on "Satruday Night Live" and outrage or typical SNL outrageousness?
"Saturday Night Live," a favorite satire show for many, provided more than slapstick comedy that night. Long known for its ability to attract popular musical guests, SNL prompted high ratings by snagging O'Connor. The studio audience and the millions of viewers who watched from their living rooms got much more than they bargained for.
Following a Bob Marley cover, Sinead whipped out a picture of Pope John Paul II, barked "Here's the real enemy," and then ripped and stomped on the photo. Only after five seconds did a stunned crowd come to its senses with boos and hisses.
And so they should have. Sinead may have the right to express her political opinions, but most people would probably disagree on the setting and forum in which she chose to speak (or sing) her mind. But Sinead is not the first musician to step out of the role of singer to promote a personal cause. In the past decade, musicians have more and more sought to wield extraordinary influence over their fans in ways that go beyond the record label.
Look at the sucess Sting and others have had raising environmental awareness. By proselytizing against the dangers which threaten South America's rain forests, Sting has brought his personal crusade home to many. Michael Stipe of REM rarely lets a public opportunity go by without attempting to address gun control, abortion, or the environment. Similarly, U2 concert-goers must often wonder if they have purchased tickets to a rock concert or a Bonoled pro-Ireland rally.
The list goes on, and what all of these conscience-raisers have in common is their ability to galvanize fans to take action and improve a situation which they feel is not receiving sufficient attention.
What exactly was Sinead O'Connor trying to do? She left even her most devoted fans without much of a clue as to her motives.
She certainly left a strong impression--destroying the picture of the Pope, a figure revered since Christ made the apostle Peter the first Pope almost two thousand years ago, was guaranteed to turn heads. But she left behind an audience filled with feelings of ambiguity, trying to decipher what it had just seen.
This technique ultimately proved self-defeating. Without any explanantion, the audience's natural reaction was to disapprove of this demonstration. After all, these people had come to see a popular singer, albeit with a debatably melifluous voice. She was supposed to keep things simple and, believe it or not, just sing. These people didn't come to SNL studios to humor inexplicable political views.
This SNL appearance certainly did not mark the first time that Sinead has gotten heat for her antics. Last year, Sinead refused to have the Star Spangled Banner sung at her concert in New Jersey, because she did not support what it stood for. This move caused her to lose the support of some fans and forced her to wear disguises in public. The effects of last week's outburst have yet to be seen. Only time will tell if Sinead's latest release, "Am I Not Your Girl," will follow its initial two week trend (Billboard cites the album as falling from #27 to #32).
In the current issue of Rolling Stone, Sinead is quoted as saying: "There's no such thing as religion. There's only God...Organized religion is a lie...People must learn about the history of the Popes, the people who are running the world." Coming from a woman who says that rapper Ice Cube is "possibly the most powerful person in this country," it's hard to figure out who Sinead believes is running things.
Let's suppose Sinead was blaming the Pope for conservative Catholic views on social issues for which she has strong opinions: abortion, contraception, and homosexuality. She absolutely has the right to disagree, but by mutilating a photo of the Pope, there will not be a call for impeachment of the papacy and the overturning of hundreds of years of Catholic teachings. Singling out one person, even if he is the leader of a major religion, as the cause for our world's problems is absurd. To think that removing the Pope from the Vatican will change matters is equally ridiculous.
If Sinead O'Connor does not wave the American flag, that's her prerogative. She hails from Ireland and has no reason to particularly adore the Stars and Stripes. In fact, she left L.A. and moved back to London because she felt "there isn't any American culture." But this year's shenanigans have no justification. To point to a leader who symbolizes the Catholic Church and the values which it embodies and brand him the culprit of unfortunate social ills makes no sense. Insulting a religious group to make a political statement shows poor taste and amounts to little more than a cheap ploy for attention on Sinead's part. Sinead's Rolling Stone photo shows her in a shirt which reads "Recovering Catholic." Maybe Catholicism did not work for Sinead. But she has no excuse to defile the religion in such an offensive manner.
Madonna has seen the public's wrath brought upon her for similar reasons. Her "Like A Prayer" video, which depicts Catholic icons in a questionable light and displays a large crucifix which typically covers more of her chest than her shirt, has also led many to question her interpretation of Catholic doctrine. Both Sinead and Madonna have answered such criticism with indifference.
So who's the "real enemy"? It's people who go on tirades a la Sinead without thinking about their purposes or consequences. Spreading her personal gospel while dismissing politics as "designed to take you away from the truth," Sinead has sent mixed signals to her fans by not defining her ideology or position on matters she chooses to tackle. Without a doubt, nothing compares to you Sinead.