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“Djesus Uncrossed,” Grievance, and How Satire Actually Works

How can this skit have insulted Jesus when its whole premise is based on the most positive parts of his image?

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I’m a few days late on the Saturday Night Live “Djesus Uncrossed” sketch, but I’m going to go ahead and pretend that’s a good thing, because maybe it means we can have a conversation about it by now.

If you haven’t seen the sketch (embedded above), this weekend SNL aired a fake trailer for another Quentin Tarantino “historical revenge fantasy” (following Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained), starring Christoph Waltz as a risen Jesus, who cuts a Tarantino-esque swath of blood across a legion of Romans. (“Jesus H Christ!” “The H is silent.”)

Judging by the premise and news stories like this one, we’re given to understand that the sketch was offensive to people: it was blasphemous, it mocked Jesus and it ridiculed Christians. I’ll just say it:


First, I’ll disclose and you can disregard my opinion accordingly. I was raised Catholic (that’s my dad’s side), I’m now culturally and secularly Jewish (my mom’s side) and I’m an atheist (that’s all me). I’m not the sort of person, that is, who was ever remotely going to be offended by this, and I might as well be honest about that and keep it in mind.

That said: we know how satire works, right? In satire, you subject a person or phenomenon to ridicule by exaggerating its characteristics to the point of ludicrousness.

“Djesus Unchained” is unmistakably a satire. A satire of Quentin Tarantino, not Jesus. It’s Tarantino’s violence, his gore, his taste for folksy mayhem and liberal doses of buckshot and the n-word that’s exaggerated here and made ludicrous.

On the other hand, the skit plays off Jesus’s most positive associations: forgiveness, peaceability, love. In fact, the joke can’t work any other way–the entire premise is that Tarantino is so bloodthirsty a moviemaker that he’d even turn Jesus into an action-movie killer. It’s only funny if it reinforces the idea that the actual Jesus, outside the skit, is/was the antithesis of Djesus.

The offense has to be somewhere else. Maybe it’s blasphemy, that using Jesus in a comedy skit is inherently irreverent regardless of the premise or content. That doesn’t square with my idea of blasphemy, but I’m willing to hear differently from believers. In any case, if that’s so, the list of offenses is long and limited neither to SNL or Christianity.

I might as well mention, because someone is going to bring it up, the question of Islam; specifically, the injunction against depicting Muhammad, which has been explosive when the Prophet has been pictured in cartoons, videos and South Park. First, correct me if I’m wrong, but Christianity has no similar law against visually depicting Jesus Christ, as a visit to a church or museum will prove.

Second–and again I’m just anticipating here–the “Innocence of Muslims” video is not a reasonable comparison here. (The Super Best Friends episode of South Park maybe is.) That video–only a comedy in the broadest and unintentional sense–was produced expressly to challenge Islam’s ideas of Muhammad, to make him out as a fraud, a tyrant and a pervert. It’s meant to be read as the truth, whereas “Djesus,” again, plays off and thus accepts the very things Christians celebrate about Jesus. If you watch it and believe SNL wants you to believe the religious or historical Jesus is actually honestly a bloodthirsty killer, you need to watch a few more movies.

But that does get us closer to the root of at least one complaint against Djesus: that it offends not Christ, exactly, but Christians. Why? Because it says they’re foolish to follow Jesus, because he’s really a sword-swinging lunatic? No, and no. Rather, in the words of a complaint by conservative group Concerned Women for America, “SNL would NEVER have the nerve to mock Islam as it did Christianity. They would never be brave enough to run a skit mocking Mohammad at any time — let alone during Ramadan.”

In other words, it’s an offense of deference. If SNL properly respected and feared Christians, goes this argument, it would not have run the video during Lent, whether it is actually offensive in itself or not. Therefore it’s offensive.

Anyway, yes. SNL never pokes fun at any religions or religious figures other than Christians’. Here’s a clip of Jerry Seinfeld on SNL as an obnoxious, skeevy Prophet Elijah showing up at the seder:

I shouldn’t be surprised at the Concerned Women brand of reasoning, though, because it seems to make up about 95% of public grievances today: “You’re a hypocrite because you’d do something totally different in the hypothetical imaginary situation I just thought up for you.” (See also this Fox News editorial asking where’s the “Jihad Undetonated” sketch. In these hypotheticals, by the way, it is almost always Islam, because come on—Hinduism, Buddhism and Judaism don’t work nearly as well as partisan dog whistles.)

I’m willing to hear other criticisms of “Djesus,” but I have only one honest response to this one. And the H is silent.