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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:

Why?

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.

29 comments
Chris_Kw
Chris_Kw

I just saw a picture yesterday of a very pregnant Kristen Bell. I guess she is due anyday now because I think it's a lot to ask for her to star in a movie just weeks after giving birth.

JohnathanWilliams
JohnathanWilliams

People keep crying about how SNL would never mock muslims....A BETTER question is whether SNL would ever mock jews.....because after all, wasn't it the RABBIS that had Jesus killed by TWICE asking Pontius Pilate to do their dirty work? If they did the DJESUS Unchained skit correctly, Jesus would be slaughtering the RABBIS that wanted him dead for messing up their money lending racket in the Temple..

MKE.Dave
MKE.Dave

I'm very late to the party, but I have a couple notes that I think are worth making (as a pretty staunch evangelical who tries not to freak out over things not worth freaking out over). First, if the satire was made by a Christian, I would take issue and try to go directly to the individual about it. It's a very disrespectful way to treat the Lord, but forcing everyone else to conform to that is silly. That said, it probably is quite funny (I actually haven't seen it yet), for the reasons James outlined above.

The second thing is directly in response to one of James's lines: "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." The really hilarious thing about this is there is absolutely a law in Christianity against visually depicting Jesus Christ: the second commandment. If we really believe Jesus to be God, and we're commanded not to make any images of God, why in the world would it be okay to make images of Jesus? (Yes, I understand that there are all sorts of points of discussion here, like to what degree the Law applies to the Church and whether it's okay to attempt to use an image to replicate the Image of the invisible God.

MKE.Dave
MKE.Dave like.author.displayName 1 Like

To use a non-Islamic example, how would ultra-orthodox Jews react if a similar skit was done, say, around Noah's flood, except instead of Djesus it was YHWH'D, with a dude with a huge beard dumping water on people (or smiting them with lightning, for effect) going, "You just got YHWH'D, (cuss word)!" I suspect people would be less cool with that. (Or, building off your Elijah example, I think a comparable New Testament figure would be Paul or Peter.)

sproketz
sproketz

It was a funny skit. Laugh and move on. Or if you don't like it, just move on.  

davidlearn
davidlearn

Been a Christian for 25 years or so, and I couldn't agree more with you. Please tell me we're not all this thin-skinned.

eradner
eradner

Okay, let's call it "satire".  I'm hardly convinced that it's only target is Tarantino, however.  Militant and gun-toting Christians?  The Catholic Church of old (armed St. Peter)?  Well, who knows, and that part doesn't really matter.  What makes the satire simply bad is that in fact it takes as its means something that for many -- millions in fact -- is not amenable for satire at all, and is, in fact, "holy".   It takes the object of their religious worship and devotion and uses him for a literally bloody joke, aimed at eliciting howls and guffaws and blood is spattered at the hands of an image of the person they adore.  This is, in part, "how religion actually works".   I find it sad, Mr. Poniewozik, that you feel you have to defend a complete dud.  Outraged moral indignation in the face of this sketch may not be all that attractive, but it is hardly a mark of the kind of ignorance you are imputing to those who feel offended.  

Meemo
Meemo

@ Mr. James Poniewozik  et al -  Could a skit about Schindler's List be defended as a parody of Spielberg-esque movies and not a mockery of the Holocaust ? Be honest.....

LMB
LMB

If Christ was a fun-loving crackin'-a-joke kinda guy, which I'm sure he was, otherwise he wouldn't have been so popular, he probably had a good sense of humor. I love SNL  & I'm a follower of Christ, but as for CHRISTIANITY & RELIGION, the fat old pope and airy fairy christmas & easter traditions,  in the words of beloved David Caulfield from Catcher in the Rye - "I think Jesus would have puked at the sight!"

krush116
krush116 like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 3 Like

I watched the skit.  I saw the introductory clips of Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained and I thought, a great parody of Tarantino must be coming!  And then the title Djesus Uncrossed came up and I had a good laugh.  I saw Djesus doing crazy vigilante stuff and chuckled because Jesus would never do that!  Oh, those silly SNL writers and that crazy Tarantino who makes such overly violent films.  And then I finished watching the show and pretty much forgot about it, including when I went to church the next morning.  I think I'm right in saying that's pretty much what the writers had in mind?  Or  maybe I am overly easygoing and should have worked myself into a frenzy.

It's just funny because it portrays someone doing something so extremely unexpected.  I'm a classical violinist and I had the same reaction when on the Simpsons the London Symphony Orchestra showed up to play backup for Cypress Hill (because Cypress Hill had hired them while high).  That would never happen!  Haha!

roknsteve
roknsteve

People get so worked up about a person who never existed.  Guess what folks, there is no Nazareth on any ancient maps of the Egyptians, Romans, Greeks etc  Yeshua (Jesus) means servant which is used by just about every person in the Middle East as in "Servant of the Lord or Allah".  . 

kari.baumann
kari.baumann like.author.displayName 1 Like

I think it was satirizing Tarantino but also the gun-toting conservatives who claim to be following Jesus. I am a Christian (not the "Concerned Women" type) and I thought that, like most SNL skits, it was funny and then went on too long. I was bothered by the images of Jesus with guns. I wasn't offended and I don't think it's blasphemous, but it made me uncomfortable.

ThinkItThru
ThinkItThru

James, you forgot to mention one thing that satire is not.  Satire should not give license to offend people.  While you were not offended, is it possible others were offended?  How about the families of Sandy Hook, Aurora, Tuscon, etc, etc?  Might they have been offended when they tuned in to hopefully see some light-hearted weekend comedy show...and instead saw more gruesome violence?  And what if they took comfort in believing that their victimized loved ones were now in the arms of Jesus?  To many, this a matter of faith...they are smarter than you think and do not need or want the lesson on the definition of satire.  And to those who think anyone offended by this skit must be "neocon fanatics"... I'm proud to be liberal, democrat and a Christian who is concerned about the less fortunate people in this world, many of whom their deep belief in Jesus is all they have keeping them going.  Could it be, James, you are the one who does not understand? 

vrcplou
vrcplou like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 3 Like

@ThinkItThru If we go by that standard none of us will ever laugh again.  Let's face it, everything is offensive to someone.  The offended need to move on and if they're REALLY offended don't watch, buy, patronize the offender.  Other than that, the rest of humanity shouldn't be held hostage to the delicate sensibilities of a few.

ThinkItThru
ThinkItThru

@vrcplou @ThinkItThru So you are supporting SNL on this...and you are the one feeling like a hostage???    You are right on one point.  I'm dropping comcast (owner of NBC) and going dish...this skit was not entertainment and I've had enough with paying a company that produces such offensive material.

vrcplou
vrcplou like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 4 Like

@ThinkItThru @vrcplou I absolutely support SNL on this and I absolutely support your decision to boycott a company that produces material you find offensive.  That is the perfect example of the marketplace at work.  What I don't support is the idea that shows like SNL should preemptively censor themselves.  Whether it is Jesus or Mohammad. I am an absolute believer in the free exchange of ideas - even those I find offensive - maybe especially those I find offensive.  Anything less is a threat to our democracy.  I cannot stand Rush Limbaugh or Fox News but I don't stand with Democrats who have, in the past, called for Fox News and/or Limbaugh to be pulled off the air.  It gets a little grayer with this example because we can argue that Fox spreads misinformation, but still we should tread carefully.  But should the viewership of Fox drop to the point that advertisers no longer support the network and they die a "natural" death, I certainly wouldn't cry for them.  Same with SNL - although I would mourn their loss.  In the case of entertainment and tv, the marketplace will determine when they've gone too far - people will stop watching.  And they will correct course or die.  Hopefully neither happens with SNL because i wholeheartedly believe we need shows and entertainers that constantly push the boundaries of acceptable.

TNRLM
TNRLM

My take is that believers have a hard time with humor that comes anywhere near their beliefs. Deep down, they know the precepts and stories their religion is built upon are inherently laughable and don't really hold up to scrutiny, scientific interrogation and satire. Therefore, when anyone (a regular joe, a scientist, a philosopher, a comedian or sketch comedy show) poke fun at anything to do with religion, they wrap themselves in a persecution complex because otherwise, their whole belief system would come down like a house of cards. They need to take offense as a kneejerk response because any other view would undermine the myths and legends they hold close as fact.

Re-BrandingNigeriaClubs
Re-BrandingNigeriaClubs like.author.displayName 1 Like

"Such misrepresentation of what Jesus, peace be upon him, stands for is extremely offensive to Muslims and to all those who believe in his message. While we understand the use of shocking imagery and bizarre juxtapositions to provoke a humorous response, we believe such a distasteful portrayal of a religious figure revered by billions of Muslims and Christians worldwide crosses the comedic line.

"We strongly support free speech rights for all, but one would hope that common decency and respect for the beliefs of others would help avoid such unfortunate depictions."

Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), February 19, 2013.

The producers of the Saturday Night Live “Djesus Uncrossed” skit are low on imagination. Only lazy producers would have done such a satire that shows the poor imagination of the producers. Any dummy could have done it and they deliberately pocked on the personality of Jesus Christ, because they know that even if Christians find it offensive, there would be no violent protests or suicide bombings since as our Lord and Messiah Jesus Christ preached and practiced Christians should "But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." (Matthew 5.44, Holy Bible), and finally at his crucifixion, he prayed:
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34, Holy Bible).

Two thumbs down for SNL skit. It is mediocre.

mrbomb13
mrbomb13

I just can't wait until the SNL skit, entitled, "Muhammed Goes Rambo!"

MatthewG818
MatthewG818

I feel like people just cannot differentiate satire, and parody from hate speech.  Have a sense of humor!  Its sketch comedy, not the 6 o'clock news!  I would however like to tell people that there is another Djesus Uncrossed that came out before SNL aired their skit.  Check out the Original Djesus Uncrossed.  I feel like this one is even funnier.  Kind of crazy how some youtubers from nowheresville came up with the same idea SNL did before SNL did.  A month ago actually by the looks of it! 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u00C5Q1LCYo

HardyCampbell
HardyCampbell

Only a neocon fanatic who really loves the Old Testament ass-kicking Yahweh while lip servicing the peacenik Jesus would have the cojones to criticize the hilarious SNL skit. Look, Mr Poniewozik, the satire involved the hypocrisy of faux Christians who adore waging war on helpless Third World nations while attending church every Sunday to blather on and on about peace and love. "DJesus" was the cinematic realization of all the hypo-Christians that the returned Christ will kick tail and take names. Kudoes to SNL for the gumption to expose this kind of double standard. 

juniusgallio
juniusgallio

The biggest problem here is that people don't mind kicking other people's sacred cows, but don't want their own sacred cows kicked.

Step11
Step11

Oh ye of little faith.  Why are they the ones that always play the victim?


NathanEmpsall
NathanEmpsall like.author.displayName 1 Like

My disagreement with this article is twofold, and the second point won't matter if the first isn't true.

First, this sentence: "“Djesus Unchained” is unmistakably a satire. A satire of Quentin Tarantino, not Jesus." No, I think it was satire of both (whether it was meant to be or not). It was an excellent satire of Tarantino, I'll say that. But I also thought it was satire of Christ. 

Which is my second problem. I agree with the author that the satire wouldn't work if Jesus wasn't the paragon of forgiveness, redemption, and grace. However, it doesn't stop there; he moves on from satire to "The offense has to be somewhere else" far too quickly. Satire is usually a form of mockery - we target something with satire to criticize it, to tear it down with humor, to reveal its absurdity. Where is the absurdity in forgiveness? Why must we tear down peace and grace? I do have a problem with satirizing that part of the Gospels.

The rest of the article is fine and often correct; I just think it's largely beside the point. I will say this, though - I don't always hate what SNL does with the Bible. This is one of my all-time favorite clips from any show:

http://www.metatube.com/en/videos/6125/Peanuts-Christmas-SNL-Real-Audio/

I think the difference in these clips is the DJesus bit mocks Christ (like, say, Family Guy), whereas the Real Audio clip mocks the church (like, say, the Simpsons).

jponiewozik
jponiewozik moderator like.author.displayName 1 Like

@NathanEmpsall In the broad sense of portraying Jesus absurdly, I could see how someone could say the sketch is mocking Jesus--though I see it as implying a tone of contempt that I don't see in this sketch. 

But satire's a different thing from mockery (or maybe is a more specific form), in that satire makes an argument. I can see the satire on Tarantino here: that his use of violence in any dramatic situation is so knee-jerk and over the top that he'd even apply it to a figure like Jesus. I don't see the sketch "tearing down" Jesus' peace, grace and forgiveness in that it makes no apparent argument against them; rather, they're the device used in satirizing Tarantino. If there was a premise here that critiqued Christ's peacefulness or teachings--if it made the point, say, that Jesus and humanity would have been better off had he fought back instead of turning the other cheek--that would be one thing. But I just don't see that here. 

I do agree that there's a difference between mocking Christ and mocking the Church, between satire that makes a point and a cheap shot for the sake of a cheap shot. Thanks for reading.

PaulFORegan
PaulFORegan

Was there any controversy when Robot Chicken made basically the same joke a few years ago? Is that just because no-one watchs Robot Chicken? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=US_D1xuTtKE

NathanEmpsall
NathanEmpsall

@PaulFORegan Yeah, two big differences here, and the most important one is exactly what you flagged - network TV vs. extended cable; 40-year-old institution vs. a Seth Green vanity project; live action with an Oscar-winning actor vs. a cartoon. But there's a second difference, too. In DJesus, Christ is depicted as going after the Romans - the power structure he used peaceful, non-violent resistance to oppose. The enemy no one could forgive, yet whom He never rose a sword against, teaching us a new way, demonstrating the undeserved grace we all receive. DJesus satirized the Gospel itself. In the Robot Chicken clip you posted, the Christ character was going after Santa, the Easter Bunny, George Burns as God, etc. That mocked less the Gospel and more the secular institutions we've built up around Christian holidays - it mocked man and the church more so than it did Christ.