Thursday, March 20, 2014

Fred Phelps — Pushing up pickets

Fred Phelps is dead. I'm feeling not much more about it than he is.

The Westboro Baptist Church became a caricature of itself long, long ago — not that it was ever anything else, really. There's only so much you can seriously say, or even joke, about a group that protests literally everything. Given that Phelps was apparently excommunicated from the church this past summer, the church might protest his funeral as well, causing the universe to fold over itself like a paper football.

What baffles me about Phelps is that he started out as a fierce civil rights attorney in Kansas in the 1960s, meaning he was a very busy attorney in Kansas in the 1960s. He did a lot of good in those days. But what he did after that is the dictionary definition of "cancel out." I'm fascinated, in the disturbed sense, with the thought processes that compel someone to go from civil rights champion to the ultimate symbol of modern hate. If Phelps were a fictional character in a screenplay, the writer would be taking an extra dishwashing shift about now. As a biopic, however, it might make ratings history.

If there's one thing I'm happy about, it's that Phelps lived long enough to see that America is irrevocably trending toward gay rights, his homophobic vaudeville act having gone a long way to engender sympathy among the masses. Mostly, though, it's hard to feel glee over the passing of a sad and misguided man whose monster hate machine became so extreme that even he was a casualty of it. That machine will go on without him, barely breaking stride. That's the saddest realization of all.

No comments: