Monday, February 23, 2015

Can Chester Cheetah give offense?

I noticed this on a Mission Street bus shelter this morning and walked back to catch the image. Yes -- though the Cheetos logo is not badly done -- I think we can trust that this is art, not advertising.

I had what felt an odd reaction to it: I was slightly offended.

I don't think of myself as one to be offended by images that mock the Christian religion, even though I'm a Christian. I certainly had nothing against the famous Piss Christ -- a photo of a plastic crucifix immersed in urine -- that caused a hullabaloo in some circles when exhibited in the late '80s. So the artist evidently had a beef with whatever he read in that imagery -- why should I get excited about that? Apparently an attack on my tradition doesn't easily trigger offense, in me.

There are "Christian" images that do offend me: mostly blonde, long-haired, blue-eyed depictions of Jesus. How self-centered can we get? But that reaction is a consequence of my own intra-community arguments. Anyone with a modicum of a sense of history would be allergic to such pictures.

I have a very hard time feeling into why Muslims are so hurt by derogatory representations of the Prophet. Here is some reporting delving into that from the time of the original offending Danish cartoons. I can comprehend why a marginalized, stigmatized group would be worried by or frightened by images that they perceive as attacks. In Europe, and increasingly in the United States, Muslims are a stigmatized, endangered group.

But Christians are not endangered for our faith on Mission Street. So what gets to me about the pseudo-Cheetos cheetah on a cross? I think perhaps my problem is that I suspect that whoever created this is attacking an ignorant caricature of Christian faith. Since I feel surrounded by such ignorant caricatures, many purveyed by some of my fellow Christians, this rubs me wrong.

I guess it could be worse. In 2009, a Dallas couple claimed to have found a Cheeto in the shape of Jesus in their snack bag and named it Cheesus.

I guess I'm with whoever scrawled their commentary on the bus shelter: "WTF ?"

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