Passion of the Spam

I just found out about SWIL’s annual Spamageddon, and… grawr!

It was my understanding that the offensive nature of crucifying SPAM for this year’s Spamageddon was made clear by me and others at the last SWILMeeting. I am sorry I was not at today’s meeting, but had I been there, I would have done everything in my power to prevent this decision being made.

First, I will be boycotting this Spamageddon, and I encourage others to do so. Crucifying SPAM isn’t funny, it is just offensive, to me, and to other Christians. I understand the timing with Mel Gibson’s movie, but Good Friday and Easter weren’t that long ago, and they just so happen to be the most important holiday(s) of the Christian calendar.

Second, I am sad that I will not be able to experience Spamageddon. I know that in the past two years, it didn’t happen once, and the other time, I wasn’t able to go because of when it was scheduled. The fact that the content of of this year’s event is forcing me not to attend is very frustrating.

If you were in favor of this particular Spamageddon, I would like to know why you think it’s a good idea, and why you seemingly ignored the comments about its offensive nature, voiced by me and others at last week’s SWILMeeting. I respectfully request an explanation.

Edit: To answer a couple of comments, no I don’t blame Sam. There’s nothing particularly wrong with the idea, and I can often have a laugh at putting some aspect of Christianity in some sort of ironic context. Again, my problem isn’t with the idea itself, but with the idea of actually doing it. That’s what I’m ranting about. You do understand why I’m bothered, right?


27 responses to “Passion of the Spam”

  1. It wasn’t decided this meeting. It was decided last meeting or the meeting before (this ought to be evident from the fact that last week’s meeting was written up in the SWILnews you just received.) I think we even voted on it. And none of the objections seem to have made it to the presidents in a timely fashion. We probably should’ve anticipated that it would be offensive, but the overall impression was that nobody *cared*.

    It seems to have been decided awhile ago. Did you miss that meeting as well?

    Please, in any case, don’t blame Sam. He’s sort of somehow gotten into running this whole thing by himself, I’m not sure how.

    Apologies if I sound all snarky instead of apologetic; I can’t tell my tone very well.

  2. I was definitely at the meeting where it was first proposed, and I (and I think Arthur?) voiced objections. Chances are that they were never heard by the Presidents at the other end of the room, which isn’t anyone’s fault.

    I thought that at that point it wasn’t a proposal anymore.

  3. I heard a couple objections when it was proposed, but since I wasn’t paying close attention, they just registered to me as “Not that, that’s silly.” rather than “Not that, I’m seriously uncomfortable with the idea”. I don’t know if other people heard it the same way.

  4. Nothing constructive to say, except to nod at all of ‘s comments and second the fact that none of the presidents ever heard reactions worse than vague apathy. Also, again, please don’t blame Sam.

  5. One suggestion: organize a second Spammageddon. Advertise it as making up for the missed year, and do something else. If new swillies are like the old ones, they’ll just show up twice. Or ask if something else can be done to the spam first, and do them sequentially. Especially if you have a potato cannon or a hydrogen balloon. Boom!

    And, honestly, I don’t grok why it bothers you, but I’m perfectly willing to accept that it does, and that people should respect that. As an ethical vegetarian, I was never completely comfortable with Spamageddon, actually.

    Alternatively, you could get a few more cans of spam, and change it to a jesus-mocking crucifixion to a Spartacus homage, and mock an older overwrought movie spectacle. “I’m SPAMtacus” has an adorable ring.

  6. Not blaming the presidents, I’m sure the loudly shouted vehement objections I heard were drowned out by the ambient noise. There was objection, but it was not of the sort that could be heard by the multitude.

    I think crucifying Spam is
    a) mildly tasteless. I’m sure if I was Christian I’d think it more tasteless.
    b) not terribly funny. They don’t even have scrapple so Pilate can ask SWIL whether he is to spare Spamsus or Bascrapple.
    c) impractical. Spam is viscous, no? Will it really stay on the crucifix?

    My thoughts in general: Spamageddon was nearly dead until Sam got wind of it, and, given the results of the past few years (except for the time the liquid nitrogen actually worked), it should have remained dead. I’ve been to one Spamageddon and would likely never come to another anyhow–it’s stopped being a terribly funny event.

    That said, an offensive sparsely-attended event isn’t that bad. If Sam and some other folk want to go off into the Crum and crucify Spam, everyone who’s bored or offended can stay away. Given that Spamageddon is planned for 11 AM during reading week, I’d be shocked if there was any sort of good turnout. Having made their displeasure known, the people who are offended can join the rest of us who won’t be showing up.

    Maybe then this undead event can finally be laid to rest.

    Also: Anyone paying attention would have heard of this event weeks ago.

  7. Well… this may be different cultural contexts, but you do understand why some of us might just say, “Aw, no, you’re not gonna crucify the spam” and think that was enough. I’m a bit surprised that all of y’all *don’t* have a reflexive reaction that says this is offensive — it actually kind of bothers me that people still don’t think it’s offensive, since it reflects a rather huge disconnect non-Christians have from the attitude Christians have toward this kind of symbolism.

    Come on. To a very large chunk of people in the world this stuff is not just a silly story, and even if none of those people are actually involved in the organization it does affect the way we’re seen in the outside world. (And I’m the one who usually takes jokes too far, too.)

  8. Unfortunately I guess the generally ironic nature of SWILMeeting makes it hard for comments like, “Oh, gosh, you’re not gonna crucify the Spam, are you?” and “Seriously, you’re crucifying the Spam?” and “No, don’t crucify the Spam” and “My gosh, crucifying the Spam is such an offensive idea” to be taken as unserious. And in others’ defense I don’t think anyone tried particularly hard to make a strong emotional protest against this idea, but it’s hard to muster that kind of emotional sincerity in the context of SWILMeeting.

  9. *Sigh* I shouldn’t continue to weigh in, but not grokking why crucifying something is offensive is, well, bothersome to me.

    Look, there’s something mildly tasteless about reenacting any actual person’s death in a humorous manner, but it can be carried off. It’s harder when people have a personal attachment to the person, whether through direct contact or because the person holds some sort of significant cultural place in their regard.

    Regardless of what you think of Jesus, his death is a historical fact, and lots of people have placed really great weight on his death and the historical events following it. Even if you don’t grok religious faith it’s not hard to get that Christians as a general rule really care about that Jesus guy and think his death was a really bad thing.

    Would Spam/11, where we threw paper airplanes at two upright slabs of Spam, be okay? Lord knows that event’s been overused in the media greatly and the way politicians are manipulating it deserves to be satirized. But mocking the tragedy itself is tasteless, even if none of us present actually knew anyone who died there or came from anywhere close to New York. And even though one event is 2000 years ago and the other is 3 years ago, I don’t see why the offensiveness of the one is so much more obvious than the offensiveness of the other.

  10. I actually do think it’s offensive, despite not being Christian. But not to the point where I was actually going to say anything if actual Christians in the room weren’t voicing their objections loud enough for me to hear it.

  11. Well, SWIL generally doesn’t have a problem with gentle mockery of murder and death. (See “Massacre, The St. Valentine’s Day”.) Including at Spamageddon (the Spamdenburg). I can see objections to any mockery of death, though. But that’s *not* the objection that was raised.

    And even though one event is 2000 years ago and the other is 3 years ago, I don’t see why the offensiveness of the one is so much more obvious than the offensiveness of the other.

    I can’t quite distance myself from Sept. 11 enough to make a real comment on this. Except to say that I think the comparison could only be made if a major world religion sprung up glorifying the self-sacrifice of the hijackers *or* the passengers who likely crashed the fourth plane into the countryside to keep it away from whatever major landmark it was intended for. And then if a famous movie director made an over-wrought tribute to the event.

    As for mocking tragedy, c.f. aforementioned Spamdenburg and VD Massacre, along with various things like “no-one expects the spanish inquisition!”, etc.

    Even if you don’t grok religious faith it’s not hard to get that Christians as a general rule really care about that Jesus guy and think his death was a really bad thing.
    What I honestly *can’t* grok is a religion that is seriously offended by the parody of its trappings. (I’m not unreligious — the short version is: I’m a spiritual humanist UU. No, spiritual humanist isn’t an oxymoron, and there’s more to it than that, but this isn’t the time or place.) I also used the word “grok” specifically to denote that it’s not that I don’t respect N’s right to be offended, but I just don’t understand it on a gut level.

  12. Listen, people, I don’t understand why you’re reading a religious context into this at all. It was my understanding that we would be going outside into fresh summer air, hitting a can full of squishy stuff with hammers, and then nailing it to a stick, simply because sometimes a little silliness is the best remedy for the massive stress that is this school. The ONLY reason this year’s theme ever came up is because of Gibson’s travesty. If, in some alternate universe where good ol’ Mel was never born, I were to bring up such a concept, the Christians in the group would have roundly shot me down and that would be the end of it.

    Honestly, don’t any of you remember being ten years old and breaking stuff for the hell of it? It’s soul-cleansing, stress-relieving, it’s the reason that kids enjoy violence so much. Perhaps we should boycott Primal Scream because it mimics that moment when Jesus cried out, the curtain in the temple was rent, etc. Maybe all you folks over 21 (or not) should stop drinking wine because it mimics the Eucharist.

    If you feel that you cannot go to this because of personal qualms, then by all means do another SPAMageddon, with some less-offensive theme. I’d happily come to both, crowbar slung over my shoulder in a completely non-symbolic fashion.

  13. I think that the issue of symbolism is very important here. I burned sticks with a fresnel lens when I was little; I certainly didn’t form them into a cross, stick in the ground, and then burn them. That particular configuration is symbolic of an entire offensive movement, so I wouldn’t do it.

    For the same reason, beating spam, or nailing it to something, or poking it with thorns, would all be acceptable in and of themselves. However, when you combine all of them, and call it a crucifixion, you’ve recreated a symbol that is very important to a lot of people (including me). Recreating it with spam in place of Jesus is pretty offensive, don’t you think?

    Your other examples are fairly extraneous. Shouting out is not specific to the crucifixion. If we were all chanting “eloi, eloi, lamma sabbachtani?” (I’m sure my spelling is wrong, but you get the idea), I’d probably question why we were doing it. Drinking wine is also pretty context dependent for it to become symbolic. When I have wine with dinner, the wine hasn’t been consecrated (a rather important step if you believe in one or more forms of transubstantiation). Even if I were to eat just bread, and drink just wine, it wouldn’t be mimicking communion unless I pretended to consecrate it, perhaps, or do something that would put the act into communion’s symbolic context.

    Just something to keep in mind…

  14. As an atheist, I totally agree. There is simply no way to read this kind of thing as anything other than overt mockery of Christianity (and, by extension, Christians.) The fact that SWIL has traditionally been an organization explicitly detached from any kind of ideological agenda (aside from declaring war on Why War?) only makes it worse in my eyes.

    But I guess this is an issue for you current students to work out for yourselves. I should be thinking about other things, like finding a job.

  15. Nick said the content of my counterargument, but I just want to add an emotional overtone here.

    I… am… mystified. Do you really think things only have the meaning you define them to have?

    Also, Mel Gibson’s movie was a “travesty”, in some people’s view, at least, because it was insufficiently respectful of the source material — because by focusing so thoroughly on violence and stereotypical, shallow portrayals of the characters it trivialized Christianity. That doesn’t mean that mocking Gibson’s movie by mocking the source material is somehow a vindication for Christianity.

    I hate to trot out this tired and overused and rather poorly-mapped metaphor, but Rudy, the biopic about Rudy Giuliani, was pretty stupid, pretty biased, pretty self-serving by the director, and so on. George W. Bush made some rather ridiculously shallow and unnecessarily graphic campaign ads using 9/11 imagery. That doesn’t mean that Spam/11 is a good idea, or that setting up spam upright and throwing model airplanes at it is just adolescent high spirits that isn’t symbolic of anything.

    And yeah, the Spam-ish Inquisition, the Valentine’s Day Massacre, and so on are all mildly offensive. They’re not *this* offensive, though, because none of them parody events that are seen as iconic and sacred by any particular group — sure, people may identify with the victims of the Inquisition, but people usually don’t see the Inquisition as defining their group (we don’t have a conception of a group of people who are descendents of Inquisition victims). Same thing for the gangsters killed on the Valentine’s Day Massacre. The closest thing I can think of that’s a parallel is doing a mock witch-trial with spam, but even then most neopagans don’t strongly identify with witch trial victims and we tend to interpret them these days as groundless paranoia rather than something that happened to an actual well-defined religious group (which isn’t entirely true, but hey).

  16. Addendum: Size of a group and identification really does matter here.

    The Hindenburg disaster was a long time ago, and the descendants of its victims are now dispersed and probably don’t wish to identify themselves with the disaster or give it significance in their lives. While the crucifixion happened a long time ago, lots of people identify themselves with it and give it profound significance in their lives.

    Moreover, the Hindenburg was a natural disaster that happened to more-or-less innocent people as the result of cruel chance. The V-Day Massacre was an intentional killing, but we regard it as the killing of criminals by criminals (I recall we advertise it as such) and so don’t feel a sense of identification with the victims. Things that are deliberate slayings of those whom we see as innocent as the result of motives that we see as evil are much harder to reenact without a sense of tastelesness. The slaying of the Romanov children, even though I don’t care for the Russian czars or personally identify with their line, is not something I’d want to reenact. Abe Lincoln’s assassination, whatever you think of the man, isn’t something I think SWIL should reenact.

    This is even more true for something, again, that people choose to give profound significance in their lives, and we can’t overlook that. More people have died of smoking in the past year than died in 9/11, but one can argue that making fun of 9/11 is still less acceptable than making fun of smoking, because 9/11 for lots of reasons has a significant place in our culture.

    I think this really stems from the fact that much of American culture is “post-Christian”, sees Christianity as a bunch of old myths and traditions and rituals rather than living belief, just as the Greek gods came to be seen in latter-day Greece and later in Rome (when the more fanciful, disrespectful myths about Zeus were written down, for example). This, however, naturally causes conflict with those of us for whom Christian symbols and beliefs still have a more real significance.

    That doesn’t mean I agree with those American Christians who want to bring out the cups of hemlock, but I do dislike the fact that post-Christians feel free to mock Christianity in a way they don’t feel free to mock religions that are simply “foreign”, since Christianity isn’t someone else’s religion to them but their own (or their family’s) that they’ve rejected. (When was the last time you heard Muhammad figure in a joke, compared to Jesus?) Others may associate Christianity with Santa Claus and other benighted fables of youth, and they, in their own lives, are free to do so, but they should remember there are Christians around who aren’t so post.

  17. Also: Are we speaking under the assumption that a “religion’s trappings” mean events that are purely mythological or symbolic?

    We can leave out the theological implications of Christ’s death, and approach it from a secular perspective that I think fairly characterizes things from a non-Christian perspective. That is that a certain man whom I and others think of as a really, really good man who said a lot of very important things and helped a lot of people was unjustly killed by a political conspiracy in a quite horrifying manner. I respect what I know of this man enough that I have tried to base my life around his teachings and his example, and his death therefore is a profound symbol to me of what happens in the world to too many good people and the people who share my regard of this man see his death with a very profound symbolic significance, and regard the fact of his having been killed as one of the most telling and notable factual events of history.

    This is a grossly incomplete and distorted view of my relationship with Christ that leaves out all the overtly weirdo-theology that I wouldn’t expect non-Christians to grok. Nonetheless, it’s true for what it says. Perhaps the weirdness-theology is what enables it to have such staying power over 2000 years, but you could point to mostly-secular parallels that would characterize lots of people.

    This is how some Americans relate to Lincoln, or others to MLK Jr., or others to JFK. This is how many people view Salvador Allende, or Mohandas K. Gandhi.

    True, the iconography for their deaths is not so clear, but I think I would be upset if someone wanted to reenact Allende’s slaying, and Allende isn’t even one of the people on the list I particularly like. (Bottom line is this is not at heart a religious issue, and if “religious issue” means for you “distanced from reality, mythological, allegorical” then for me this is not a “religious issue” at all.)

  18. Even if you don’t grok religious faith it’s not hard to get that Christians as a general rule really care about that Jesus guy and think his death was a really bad thing.

    Well, as a Catholic I was raised to believe that his death was a really good thing. But in a roundabout way, I guess.

    Then again, I was far more offended by the Gibson film than by the Spamageddon. When I first heard about this year’s, I sort of assumed it was mocking the movie, not the Passion itself.

    And, incidentally, isn’t Spamageddon a mockery of the beliefs of certain Christians? I mean, a lot of folks take the Armageddon very seriously.

  19. Bad, good, good, bad, they kind of run together in this case.

    It’s was good of him to choose to die but it’s terrible that he was killed, as is the case with any story of heroic self-sacrifice.

    Spamageddon the name sort of is a mockery of the idea of Armageddon, but the name has passed into our culture long enough ago as just a synonym for “horrible destruction” that it’s not significant. A detailed Spam-based reenactment of a Left Behind-type scenario might be, I suppose, but it’s harder to get worked up about mockeries of future events than mockeries of events that already happened.

    And again, there’s a line between mocking the Gibson movie and mocking the thing it’s making fun of. What, to me, is bad about the Gibson movie is the way he built controversy out of something that should be treated reverently. It’s pretty hard to satirize that without satirizing the thing he clumsily treated, which defeats the purpose. (There are bad Holocaust movies out there that maybe deserve to be mocked. I don’t want to be the one to do it.)

  20. The main thing that bothered me about the Gibson movie was its sensationalized violence, which made the movie more like “Braveheart meets a snuff film” than like anything that would evoke religious sentiments in me. I realize a lot of people had religious revelations watching that movie, but I feel like my sense of spirituality (and Catholicism, for that matter- I’m still very influenced by that religion, so it’s not that I’m just opposed to passion plays in general) is opposed to everything Mel Gibson stands for.

    And yeah, I’d definitely be at least slightly uncomfortable with Schindler’s Spam. Which is probably a decent-ish comparison, though there are of course important differences, like while some people do think of Christ’s death as fun mythology or as just long-past history, the Holocaust is much nearer in historical reality. But yeah.

  21. it sounds like a sort of boring thing to do to spam to start out with, and i understand that the way it was handled was offensive (and in particular that a deeply offensive title was used for the event), but do you really think you have the right to appropriate crucifixion like that? it was a method of execution throughout a reasonable chunk of antiquity, and was visually distinctive and famously unpleasant. surely people are entitled to allude to that? i realize that wasn’t the intent in this case, so this comment isn’t terribly relevant to the issue most immediately at hand, but i think it still has a certain salience.

  22. Spam/11 actually has a certain charm. i certainly don’t think that anybody was all that offended by the Spamdenburg.

  23. i don’t think your helping your case, since i would find Spam Lincoln and Kennedy assassinations pretty funny, in a way that i think the present case has really crossed some line.

  24. I think if you crucify spam that’s one thing… if you crucify spam and call it “the passion of the spam” or something it’s another. Okay, “passion” originally just meant “suffering” and could have referred generically to anyone who was suffering, but few people see “crucifixion + passion” and think of a generic Roman method of execution.

  25. Ideally you’d set it up so that the spam-towers would actually collapse in burning flames.

    You would want to ensure that another can of spam was moved to an undisclosed location.

  26. “… in burning flames.
    Good lord. This means I should get sleep before I write anything academic…

Nurd Up!