The phone rang.
Popes Я Us here.
The tone of voice suggested hesitation.
Yes? I said.
Borgias. Pope Alexander. Ha ha.
I realised yet again how much I dislike the telephone. One’s friends and family are bad enough, but one should not in a fair society be subjected to long-distance, number-withheld calls from Roman Catholic priests.
I spoke as coldly as I could.
We thought that we had established some sort of understanding, they said.
Surely, I thought, Popes Я Us are not planning to try to convert me from the decent Anglicanism to which I was born – by phone, moreover.
No, it turned out, they weren’t.
You said, last time, Cut to the crucifixion. Meaning, we suppose, ‘Cut to the chase’, but with a religious spin to it.
Yes, I said. I’m sorry if it was an offensive remark. I’ve thought about it since. At the time I felt that it was too good a line to ignore, but later it seemed to me that it might be offensive to those for whom Christ’s passion is the defining and most deeply felt element in their world-view. On the other hand, I thought, the Gospels’ is as well-trodden a story arc as the standard Hollywood movie, so why not?
Yes, yes, said Popes Я Us.
The offensiveness or otherwise of my remark was apparently not at issue here.
We’re not offended, they said. Goodness, no. Most amusing. We have a junior canon who is investigating whether it can be adapted into Italian for one of His Holiness’s homilies. Unfortunately we have identified a possible problem. There is, you understand, a great tradition of Italian cinema, The Bicycle Thieves, the great works of Michelangelo Antonioni and Bernardo Bertolucci…
La Dolce Vita, I suggested.
Popes Я Us coughed delicately.
There is a glorious and positive tradition of anti-clericalism in Italy, they said. The Church embraces it with love. But there are limits.
Anyway, they persisted, unlike in Hollywood, it is usual for Italian films not to feature a car chase during the final thirty minutes. As a result he phrase ‘Cut to the chase’ is far less common in Italy. And so the point of your variation ‘Cut to the Crucifixion’ would be less apparent to the faithful.
The generality of the faithful, that is, they added modestly. Not to us in Vatican City. We have a well-stocked library of American DVDs and are thoroughly familiar with the culture of the New World.
Ha ha, they added.
Anyway, they said. To cut to the crucifixion …
Ha ha, indeed. Anyway, to cut to the crucifixion, what is all this we read in the newspapers about Julie Birchill and the transgender community? We don’t understand. We thought, dear Mr. Àlablague, that since you so clearly have your finger on the pulse of Modern Thought, you could assist us. His Holiness wishes to make the Church’s position in the matter clear but we don’t yet know what our position is.
You can call me Al, I said.
Oh! Ha ha! Ha ha! Another joke! Very funny as well! You are referencing, I think, the song of Paul Simon, the well-known Jew. We have all his CDs here in Vatican City too – or possibly just the Greatest Hits one.
I ignored this. If there is one thing worse than having your jokes ignored it is having them explained.
Suzanne Moore, who is an English journalist, wrote that women sometimes felt a compulsion to aspire to the artificial beauty of Brazilian transsexuals. I’m paraphrasing because I haven’t read the piece. This compulsion was unfair on women; if she didn’t use the phrase ‘real women’, that was what she implied. Anyway the Transgender Community, if there is such a thing, or elements of it, or possibly just some people who felt entitled to take on themselves the emotions of the Transgender Community, if there is such a thing, decided to express their very real feelings of hurt at her remarks.
We like Brazilian transsexuals, said Popes Я Us, interjecting. His Holiness believes that God’s love shines through their simple antics, cavorting as they do on Copacabana Beach, in a way that is absent from the more sophisticated social transactions of the metropolitan world.
Yes. And if you’re lucky and they’re feeling friendly they sometimes let you fool around in a most interesting way.
Popes Я Us chortled.
Yes, Al, yes! With us it’s choirboys!
Anyway, those who took it on themselves to object to Suzanne Moore’s remarks said that they felt offended, and particularly that they felt that they were being diminished in comparison with women born as such, whom those whose business it is to identify groups of people (or ‘communities’) that might qualify for victim status apparently refer to by the revolting word ’cisgendered’. They expressed their views intemperately.
But we thought it was all about Julie Birchill.
Indeed. Julie Birchill, who is also an English journalist, and a friend of Suzanne Moore, sprang to her defence. Julie Birchill is a very funny writer. She sometimes (her opponents would say ‘always’) sacrifices fairness in the interest of a striking phrase. She suggested that those who had taken it on themselves to be offended by Suzanne Moore’s remarks (whether the so-called Transgender Community, or elements of it, or just some people who felt entitled to take on themselves the feelings of the so-called Transgender Community) were up their arses and that when it came to having a hard time, real women (as she may even actually have said) had it much worse (she mentioned PMT) than what she called ‘dicks in chicks’ clothing’.
(‘Dicks in chicks’ clothing’. Phoar! said Popes Я Us)
It had become a vicious scramble for the top of the victimhood pole.
The fact that Julie Birchill had produced several scabrous phrases, which will now be used whenever two or three are gathered together and attempt a serious discussion on gender issues, infuriated many. Some cabinet minister wrote that what she had said was ‘bigoted vomit’ (which is a metaphorical leap too far for me) and should be sacked.
A bloody Tory!
Sort of. The editor of the paper which had published Birchill’s piece took it off the website and apologised, saying that he was passionately in favour of free speech but not right now.
And you, Al. What do you say?
So that His H can steal that too?
Probably. Ex urbe et orbe. That’s his motto.
What do I say? I think that people are entitled not to be threatened and put in fear but they have no right not to be mocked. I think a bit of mockery is good for you and it’s particularly good for self-regarding ‘communities’. The Church has thrived on it over the centuries. And even if there is a right not to be offended it is trumped by the desirability of good jokes. God save Julie Birchill is what I say. I disagree with her conclusions…
But you would defend to the death her right…
No, she can manage quite well without that. Curiously I was listening when the story broke to Neil Young, whom Julie Birchill would no doubt regard as a hapless old hippy, and his song Southern Man …
Ah! Neil Young. We also have here in Vatican City…
Never mind that now. Southern Man is lazy, offensive and wrong, just like so much of what she writes, but I would hate to be deprived of it, and I would particularly hate it to be banned at the instance of some holding-on-by-their-fingertips member of the Cabinet Minister Community.
Well, said Popes Я Us, more strength to your elbow, say I (where did they learn their English?), and do you recommend that His Holiness takes that line when he next has a window for a homily?
I considered. What do I owe to His Holiness? There is a view held in the Bigoted Protestant Community, after all – passionately and sincerely held – that he is the spawn of Satan. But charity prevailed.
Best not, I said. His Holiness, transsexuals, dicks in chicks’ clothing: best avoided