Rembrandt van Rijn Bathsheba at her bath 1654 (see video at the bottom)
There are not many things that I’m allergic to. But there are some. Here’s a good example: bigotry. Behold, in the article quoted below, the danger of political correctness in all its glory. A 30-year old Christmas song, Fairytale of New York, it is claimed, must be censored or banned. For a reason I’ll explain, such things always make me think of Rembrandt’s painting “Bathsheba at her Bath” (the painting above), which hangs in the Louvre.
No doubt there are those who are offended by her nakedness. But as John Berger put it in the video below, the master painted it with the utmost love and devotion. I first saw the video many years ago in art school, and it’s always stayed with me. Berger was a British art critic (he died last year) who wrote many books and made lots of TV shows on his view of what makes art – and its viewers- tick, together. Berger loved Rembrandt as much as Rembrandt loved Bathsheba. And so do I.
Back to the song, Fairytale of New York: There are people who think/feel/proclaim that the perhaps most popular Christmas song of the modern age contains one word they do not like, and must therefore be changed. It hurts their safe space, or something. It’s not politically correct. You can’t say ‘faggot’, even after it’s thoroughly explained to you that it means something else entirely in older Irish vocabulary. This is a very dark road towards a very dark future; don’t go there.
We can censor and ban a large part of art -and rock- history if we go by 2018 PC standards, but we should never give in to the vapid illusion that we know better now than the artists in the days and places when and where they produced the paintings, the sculptures or the songs. That is profoundly stupid, arrogant and conceited. None of us are any better than the Greek and Roman sculptors who carved their genius marbles of naked splendor. None of us are better people than Rembrandt or Michelangelo or the ancient Greek sculptors just because we live later in time then them. So we have no right to correct them.
And none of us have the right to demand a correction of a 30-year old song. Don’t even try to take our art away from us. It’s the best thing handed to us through the ages. Art is where man excels, much more than technology or anything like that. Art. And Fairytale of New York is Art. So don’t you dare touch it.
A student newspaper editor has called for the word “faggot” to be censored from The Pogues’ popular song “Fairytale of New York” over claims it is offensive. Tom Haynes, the assistant editor of The Tab, shared his opinion about the classic Christmas song in an article titled: “Dear straight people, stop singing the word ‘faggot’ in ‘Fairytale of New York’” – which has since divided people on social media.
According to Haynes, the line in question, sung by Kirsty MacColl, “you scumbag, you maggot, you cheap lousy faggot,” is homophobic – but despite being censored on some stations, including the BBC and MTV channels, continues to be sung by “straight people” when it comes on. “Only when you take a step back does something seem off with that picture in 2018,” Haynes wrote.
He also points out that, despite being repurposed by the gay community, the slur can “evoke very specific memories of being bullied either online or in real life” and is comparable to the n-word. Haynes concludes by suggesting that people simply skip the word when singing the 1987 song – which has faced lyrical controversy numerous times in the years since it was released. “That’s all – one word, two syllables. Not too much of a stretch, right?” he wrote. The response to Haynes critique of the beloved Christmas song has been varied – with some disagreeing and labelling the editor a “snowflake” millennial, and others recognising that he has a point.
According to some people on social media, who have defended the use of the word in the song, faggot has a different meaning in old Irish slang. “I won’t be refraining from singing the lyric ‘cheap, lousy faggot’ in ‘Fairytale of New York’ because it’s not in reference to any homophobic intent – in old Irish faggot simply means a lazy person,” one person wrote. Another said: “Snowflakes left right and centre saying ‘Fairytale of New York’ is homophobic when in reality the cheap lousy faggot line is in reference to laziness.”
Update: as I was writing this, and looking for info, I stumbled upon singer Shane McGowan of the Pogues actually defending the lyrics . Sort of. And saying the band are not going to change a thing. But really, he should tell ’em all to stick it to the dark side of the moon.
“The word was used by the character because it fitted with the way she would speak and with her character. She is not supposed to be a nice person, or even a wholesome person. She is a woman of a certain generation at a certain time in history and she is down on her luck and desperate.
“Her dialogue is as accurate as I could make it but she is not intended to offend. She is just supposed to be an authentic character and not all characters in songs and stories are angels or even decent and respectable, sometimes characters in songs and stories have to be evil or nasty in order to tell the story effectively.
That’s enough of that safe space blubber. It’s endless. One person wants just two syllables changed, the next one another two, and before you know it Bathsheba is fully clothed and Rembrandt lost his interest, and so therefore have we all. It’s not up to us to decide what an artist paints or sings or writes. Period.
Let’s move on to how and why this is relevant to anyone who’s not a snowflake. John Berger years ago described with how much love Rembrandt painted Bathsheba’s belly:
..”there isn’t another belly in European art painted with a fraction of this devotion..”
Start at 6.30 min into the video for that. The whole video is very much worth watching, it’s brilliant even. Rembrandt discovered light itself in painting, and how to get from two dimensions to three. He saw that what the human eye sees from up close is very different from what she sees at 2 meters, or 4, or 10. His was an unmitigated genius.
However, yes, Bathsheba is naked. And plenty people today will find that offensive. What about the kids!? (gee, I don’t know, where they born fully dressed?) But Rembrandt painted Bathsheba in 1654. And nobody has any business today being offended by what people did or said 350 years ago.
Or, better yet, if you want to be insulted about something from that era, why not protest any and all signs of slavery and warfare, rape and pillage, of Europeans massacring Africans and Native Americans, and leave art alone once and for all, stay away from a genius painter putting what love he can muster into the depiction of a biblical character.
I post a lot of art works at the Automatic Earth, a new glorious picture every day, and only once have I had a complaint about it. That was for a photograph whose artist the thought police apparently wasn’t familiar with. Not even full frontal nudity, but people seen from behind diving into the water. But there was a complaint alright. The acne-ridden social media overlords deemed it inappropriate. They wouldn’t dare with Rembrandt, but that’s beside the point.
Also, as you may know, I’ve spent a lot of time in Athens lately. And if you walk through the Parthenon, or its museum, or any of the other archeological sites in the city, there’s no way you can bring enough stickers or fig leaves to hide what nudity offends you. Probably all the Americans who visit the city think it’s far enough removed from them in time that they can watch the naked men and women without being offended (aroused, I’m not so sure).
But even if they do, they are the same people who use terms like ‘the F word’ and ‘the N word’ on a daily basis. Something as bigoted as protesting a word such as ‘faggots’, or a sculpture or painting that’s 100s or 1000s years old. Maybe if you let everyone say ‘fuck’ to their heart’s desire, they’ll stop saying it. And even if they don’t, so what? Why ban words when everybody uses them, why ban nudity when everybody’s naked under their clothes, why ban or censor art when it’s the best thing our forefathers have ever left us?