Monday, 13 April 2009

Something to Believe In...

Reading the local newspaper in the park yesterday it was interesting to see that Easter had been reduced to just a couple of articles that took up half of page three. I guess after 2000 years of reporting pretty much the same story there isn’t too much more to say; either you’re into it or you’re not and two public holidays, another speech by the Pope and some chocolate eggs aren’t going to change your mind.

Personally I quite like meeting people with beliefs, as long as they’ve got them under their own steam. It’s more interesting discussing religion with someone who believes in something than just sitting around with a bunch of people going “religion? Meh...” That’s partly why I like John Safran, who quite spectacularly made the news yesterday by electing to have himself crucified (yes, actually crucified with nails etc) in the Philippines on Friday.

Safran is a talented and interesting writer and performer and could easily have stayed in the safe waters of celebrity bating or making shows about music culture. Fortunately for us he has embraced the idea that far from being a boring topic, religion is perhaps the topic. Whatever you believe in, someone else will either ignore you, pity you, disagree with you, be embarrassed by you or in some cases hate you. Safran is fascinated by the power of religion, with its rituals, hypocrisies, insecurities, lies, consistencies, inconsistencies, historical accuracy, comforts and hatreds. It’s good that we have someone so interesting and entertaining exploring these topics, and not just leaving such discussion to late night SBS and ABC serious discussion shows.

I have no idea what motivated Safran to want to experience crucifixion, but those seeking to dismiss it as a stunt should remember that his actions are consistent with his work over the past five years, and especially the SBS show John Safran vs. God. Over eight episodes he exposed himself to the myriad of world religions, organised and clearly disorganised and for his troubles received spiritual, physical and mental pain. He tried peyote in the desert, voodoo in Haiti, joined the Klan in America (despite being Jewish), was beaten as part of Zen Buddhist meditation and memorably underwent an exorcism in front of a Pentecostal church. There are clearly dramatic and highly watchable pictures to be gained from these events, but one also feels that having experienced them Safran is a little closer to being able to understand what motivates their practitioners and therefore maybe the world that we live in. One can only imagine that the act of crucifixion, something that none of us are likely to ever go through, would be a highly personal and powerful experience.

Much like Bill Drummond, my admiration for John Safran comes from his willingness to put his credibility, time, money, legal status (and now his body) on the line in the pursuit of an idea or an artistic endeavour. Many will be quick to reduce John’s act to attention seeking, but I think we’re fortunate to have inspirational people like Drummond and Safran around, especially in an era when Jade Goody is celebrated as a celebrity.

One comment though, if I may. John, what on earth was that wig about? If you’re going to get yourself crucified, make sure your hair looks nice.

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