Lately I've been obsessing over the Westboro Baptist Church, the virulently anti-homosexual religious fringe group that has gained notoriety in the last few years for picketing the funerals of soldiers who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their thesis follows:
1. God hates "fags."
2. America accepts homosexuality.
3. Therefore, God hates America.
So, discussions about God's intention or existence aside, this argument is flawed in its assumption that America somehow accepts homosexuality. We obviously don't, not really. In fact, according to the Wikipedia article about the church, Libertarian columnist Keith R. Wood suggested that the church members are engaged in a very dense and dedicated bit of performance art and are actually using their ministry to engender sympathy for gay activism. This seems unlikely.
But we already all know that the Westboro Baptist Church believes in stupid shit. What troubles me is that they are famous.
These people are the Paris Hilton of religious groups. They aren't relevant, they have only seventy or so members, and they live in Kansas. They are famous because they're on T.V., but they're only on television because they're vulgar and lurid. They are Paris Hilton.
In fact, while I've known about these people for some time, I began thinking hard about them when I started watching this documentary (it's six parts on YouTube) by Louis Theroux, a BBC television personality and general chronicler of the weird. It struck me: these people wouldn't even exist if we didn't give them a forum for their crazy ideas. If we turned off the cameras, they'd become just another disoriented group of inbred Kansans who die off because the third iteration of their hive is not allowed to breed. But because we film them every time they hold up their signs (warning: objectionable content), they permeate our (or at least my) consciousness.
This points to a greater problem in documentary film (for purposes of this discussion I'm going to include T.V. newsmagazines and the like under this designation). It tends towards luridness, towards spectacle. That's why we watch To Catch a Predator and whatever else is on Dateline, and it's why we watch whatever show is on the History Channel about how Hitler tried to win World War II.
Now would be a good time to reiterate that I've seen quite a few episodes of To Catch a Predator and that I just spent an hour or so of my life watching The Most Hated Family in America on YouTube. Have I been defeated by the Westboro Baptist Church? I'm certainly aware of them. I'm sure that they could find this post about them and be aware that I'm in some way disseminating their message. Their tactics work because I am indiscriminate in my consumption of information and I get off a little on seeing bizarre and shocking things.
I just finished watching a documentary about Bible thumpers in Dallas, and I am currently watching one about UFO nuts. Survivalists are next. I wish I could be filled with regret about this.