FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Holy Week in France

by JO GULDI

Parisian denim purveyor Marithe et François Girbaud staged Da Vinci’s Last Supper in drag last week to mass outrage in Europe. The corporatization of Jesus and the girl Christ was more than the faithful could take. Girbaud’s apostles in couture roused first the uproar of Italian bishops and then French judges, who banned the ad and levied a 100,000 fine a day until it disappears. The church’s lawyer drew a direct connection between sacrilegious images and violence in schools.

How could this be? Everyone knows that secular Europe is far less stirred by religious controversy than America, and that artists everywhere press buttons for ironic commentary. So why the Holy kafuffle?

In the picture was a glowing male torso that set the Church aflame with rage. Not even facing the viewer, the muscle ripped back punctuates the otherwise iconic tableau that for centuries has represented the mystical supper before Christ’s betrayal and execution. Church statements in court identified this lusty pose as the only visual sign they took issue with. But hold on. Is a man’s back actually lewd? Shirtless women in Western culture are read as sexual objects, and as such are banned on American television. A man without a shirt in the West rarely conveys the same sexual charge. The issue, of course, is that this shirtless man droops over a woman’s shoulder in a pose suggesting either death or sexual exhaustion, and that his limp undress comes surrounded by alert, clothed women. Drooped, shirtless, among women, the man must be not only an object of sexual desire, but also the subject of some perverted sexuality in which women gang up on men.

Even more scandalous, and perhaps the real reason for all the fuss, is that a female Christ would preside over such games, as if a band of mad women had dressed up to mock the Church. It is this figure ­ the girl-Christ — that has been treated to so many misreadings and misinterpretations in the European press, allowing the Girbaud Last Supper to act like a Rorschach inkblot that reveals the uneasy position of gender in the modern Church. Looking closely at the fallout is cause for worry ­ about judges, about journalists, about the particular Christians who damned the image in the first place.

 

The journalists who covered this story missed the real story of gender politics in the Church. They describe Mr. Magdalen as “shirtless,” “bare-chested,” “half-naked,” but missed was the irony ­ that half-naked men aren’t rare in our culture, but sexually aggressive women are. Worse, in the professional misread of the year, the London Times reviewer mistook Mr. Magdalen for Christ himself: “a half-naked man as Jesus Christ,” he wrote. Here is the true scandal. At a table of women where one man is present, Christ is still the central figure, and the revelation is that Christ is a women. Apologies to Mr. Adam Sage of the Times; I’m sure he looked quickly and wrote under a deadline; perhaps he missed that week in Art History. We ought to thank him, really; good journalism excavates our most basic social premises, and he has done just that: so trapped by sexual and patriarchal norms that he looked past God to a whore.

No one has mentioned the androgynous, barefoot Christ, who, surrounded by sexually tense bodies, remains so unattached, so contemplative. Like the Desperate Housewives of Wisteria lane, the apostles around her leer in the competitive quarrels of high fashion, expostulating with sophistication. One wears a tailored black suit; she surely had great SAT scores. In the midst of the modern fray Christ extends her hands in guileless compassion. The apostles wear high heels, flowers, prom dresses, business suits, sequins and camisoles winking. Christ alone wears true “hippie-chic” wear: clothing too generic to be identified with any particular label, clothing that all of Berkeley wears to WTO protests.

How astonishing that it takes a fashion magazine to produce the first believable image of Christ in my generation. Church art is so caked in centuries of authoritarian drama that one more often misses God’s love entirely. Girbaud’s Christ aches with compassion, patience, and humility, the ultimate outpost of clam in a world overrun by the crass materialism of Sex and the City.

Despite France’s theocratic reflex, certain Christian traditions highlight the body’s grace and rejoice in a spirit alive for women and men equally. Careering past the cultural strictures that proclaim the Church too scandalized by modern sexuality to even address it, Girbaud’s Christ produces an embodied healthy sexual alternative to the hedonism of corporate prostitution, suggesting that the wisdom of the Christian tradition speaks even to the embroiled urban world of boob jobs and high heels.

A devout Anglo-Catholic myself, I’ve uploaded Girbaud’s Tribute to Women to my desktop wallpaper, where amidst the supercharged courtship of the young and professional that I am now enduring it serves as an icon persistently drawing me back to prayer, of comfort for the hopeless, the humble exalted, the proud humbled. I stare at this idol-cum-icon from Europe and pray for the understanding and fellowship of all men (and women).

JO GULDI is a historian at Berkeley and can be reached at: guldi@berkeley.edu

 

 

 

 

 

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
November 17, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Thank an Anti-War Veteran
Andrew Levine
What’s Wrong With Bible Thumpers Nowadays?
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
The CIA’s House of Horrors: the Abominable Dr. Gottlieb
Wendy Wolfson – Ken Levy
Why We Need to Take Animal Cruelty Much More Seriously
Mike Whitney
Brennan and Clapper: Elder Statesmen or Serial Fabricators?
David Rosen
Of Sex Abusers and Sex Offenders
Ryan LaMothe
A Christian Nation?
Dave Lindorff
Trump’s Finger on the Button: Why No President Should Have the Authority to Launch Nuclear Weapons
W. T. Whitney
A Bizarre US Pretext for Military Intrusion in South America
Deepak Tripathi
Sex, Lies and Incompetence: Britain’s Ruling Establishment in Crisis 
Howard Lisnoff
Who You’re Likely to Meet (and Not Meet) on a College Campus Today
Roy Morrison
Trump’s Excellent Asian Adventure
John W. Whitehead
Financial Tyranny
Ted Rall
How Society Makes Victimhood a No-Win Proposition
Jim Goodman
Stop Pretending the Estate Tax has Anything to do With Family Farmers
Thomas Klikauer
The Populism of Germany’s New Nazis
Murray Dobbin
Is Trudeau Ready for a Middle East war?
Jeiddy Martínez Armas
Firearm Democracy
Jill Richardson
Washington’s War on Poor Grad Students
Ralph Nader
The Rule of Power Over the Rule of Law
Justin O'Hagan
Capitalism Equals Peace?
Matthew Stevenson
Into Africa: From the Red Sea to Nairobi
Geoff Dutton
The Company We Sadly Keep
Evan Jones
The Censorship of Jacques Sapir, French Dissident
Linn Washington Jr.
Meek Moment Triggers Demands for Justice Reform
Gerry Brown
TPP, Indo Pacific, QUAD: What’s Next to Contain China’s Rise?
Robert Fisk
The Exile of Saad Hariri
Romana Rubeo - Ramzy Baroud
Anti-BDS Laws and Pro-Israeli Parliament: Zionist Hasbara is Winning in Italy
Robert J. Burrowes
Why are Police in the USA so Terrified?
Chuck Collins
Stop Talking About ‘Winners and Losers’ From Corporate Tax Cuts
Ron Jacobs
Private Property Does Not Equal Freedom
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Mass Shootings, Male Toxicity and their Roots in Agriculture
Binoy Kampmark
The Fordist Academic
Frank Scott
Weapons of Mass Distraction Get More Destructive
Missy Comley Beattie
Big Dick Diplomacy
Michael Doliner
Democracy, Real Life Acting and the Movies
Dan Bacher
Jerry Brown tells indigenous protesters in Bonn, ‘Let’s put you in the ground’
Winslow Myers
The Madness of Deterrence
Cesar Chelala
A Kiss is Not a Kiss: Sexual Abuse and Exploitation of Children
Jimmy Centeno
Garcia Meets Guayasamin: A De-Colonial Experience
Stephen Martin
When Boot Becomes Bot: Surplus Population and The Human Face.
Martin Billheimer
Homer’s Iliad, la primera nota roja
Louis Proyect
Once There Were Strong Men
Charles R. Larson
Review: Mike McCormack’s Solar Bones
David Yearsley
Academics Take Flight
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail