The hoohah in today's news about Tim Minchin's 'Woody Allen Jesus' song having been cut from Jonathan Ross's Christmas special is a curious one. There seems to be a certain disingenuity in how Minchin himself has been describing the song, and indeed in how others have followed the story.
On his own blog, Minchin says, 'Being Christmas, I thought it would be fun to do a song about Jesus, but being TV, I knew it would have to be gentle. The idea was to compare him to Woody Allen (short, Jewish, philosophical, a bit hesitant), and expand into redefining his other alleged attributes using modern, popular-culture terminology.'
That all sounds very innocent, really, and on the face of it, one would think Minchin could be excused for being a bit miffed at how his song, the lyrics of which had gone through the lawyers and producers and so forth, had wound up being cut from the show at the last minute; seemingly Peter Fincham, ITV's director of television, got nervous in light of how people might react, and said it had to go.
Well, okay, but it's worth listening to the song, or at the very least reading the lyrics -- as accurately transcribed, in the main, by this fellow -- and then wondering whether they really would have been ideal Christmas television.
Sure, the song starts with a Woody Allen comparison, which, even if wholly contrary to what historical evidence we have -- Jesus doesn't seem to have been admired by his peers or been remotely political, as far as we can tell -- is nonetheless not something that would bother many people, but then it starts to crank things up. Comparing Jesus with Darren Brown doesn't quite work, as it suggests that Minchen doesn't understand what magic supposedly is, and how it differs in rather profound ways from conjuring and from miracles, but it's only with the next verse that things get really tricky.
'Jesus died but then came back to life
So the Holy Bible said
Kinda like in Dawn of the Dead
Like a film by Simon Pegg
Try that these days, you’d be in trouble
Geeks would try to smack you with a shovel
Praise be to Jesus
Praise be to Magic Woody Allen Zombie Jesus
Magic Woody Allen Zombie Jesus!'
Now, given that I'm a huge fan of Stewart Lee, who's gone much further than this in his attempts to lampoon Christianity, being far more offensive, far more original, and far more intelligent than Mr Minchin, I'm hardly going to say that Minchin ought not to be allowed say such things. That'd be absurd. No, I'm just saying that I'm a bit surprised he was naive enough to think this would be the sort of thing that would be likely to be broadcast as bland light entertainment at Christmas.
And, of course, he went on in his puerile way, comparing Jesus with a superhero flying into the sky and Mary with a parthenogenetic lizard or snail, and likening Jesus to Psychic Sally because of his ability to communicate with the deceased -- though I'm not sure when he's meant to have done that, unless that's a really oblique reference to the Transfiguration.
In any case, that's a prelude to saying,
'Jesus lives forever, which is pretty odd
But not as odd as his fetish for drinking blood'
Which, let's face it, was never really going to be broadcast by a thoughtful or pragmatic broadcaster at Christmas time. Saying, 'Hey guys, did it ever cross your minds that Jesus was a bit like a zombie or a vampire?' is, aside from being neither a challenging nor an original idea, something that ITV probably wasn't ever going to run with, especially at Christmas time, and most especially not with a presenter whose career they're relaunching in the aftermath of stupid behaviour on BBC.
There's a sense in which Minchin's point is about free speech, but like it or not, commercial television isn't about free speech. It's about advertising and making money, within the limits of official broadcasting standards. Sorry, but that's how it works. On his blog, Minchin says
'It’s 2011. The appropriate reaction to people who think Jesus is a supernatural being is mild embarrassment, sighing tolerance and patient education. And anger when they’re being bigots. Oh, and satire. There’s always satire.'
Fine. Minchin's fully entitled to his views, childish and ill-informed though they are. But he must surely realise that others are entitled to theirs too, and that lots of people's views might differ from his own, and it's only prudent of ITV to take them into account. He must be extraordinarily naive -- childish, even -- if he can't grasp that. This isn't even about fear of the Daily Mail. It's about being polite, and having basic respect for people, and not insulting people's views just because you don't agree with them.
Especially at Christmas. Because there wouldn't be a Jonathan Ross Christmas special for Mister Minchin to tinkle the keys on were there no Christmas to celebrate, and because there wouldn't be a Christmas if it weren't for Christians, and because there wouldn't be Christians if it weren't for Christ.
After all, despite all the factoids long absorbed by so many who think themselves educated, Christianity predates Paul of Tarsus and Christmas was not a creation of the Emperor Constantine.
I've liked some of Minchin's work. He's a talented musician, and sometimes can pen some genuinely witty songs. This isn't one of them.