"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 24 April 2000. Updated every WEEKDAY.
Where Is Thy Sting?



Only Easter has the unique claim of being the holiday about cheating death, about escaping the whole pointless cycle of arthritis and expiration. But in this Jubilee year, the only clear thing is that it's Easter whose bones have been effectively interred. The first easter of the third millenium hardly pierces the consciousness of a distracted public. Steeped in hoary Christian hocus pocus, bereft of any inspiriting buy-now heat, offering only candy and eggs to a diet-conscious culture, the holiday that started as a pagan fertility ritual barely hops along like a cuddly bunny wearing spectacles and a vest. This year the Lutheran Brotherhood touts poll results indicating 55 percent of Americans chose Jesus as a symbol of Easter. The Brotherhood calls this statistic a victory "over the consumer-driven aspect of the holiday," but this is the kind of ethical purity that keeps Republicans from winning elections. Converts are not won by fussbudgets reminding everybody that Christ is the reason for the season, but by savvy promoters who know how to coat a pious message in a Cadbury chocolate shell.

The brothers and sisters of the free market have done their best to jump into the gap; but promoting Easter remains an uphill battle. Marshmallow Peeps, the mediocre seasonal candy, has launched a nationally televised ad campaign for "America's favorite non-chocolate Easter treat." The Peeps people are also hoping sugar junkies will visit "MarshmallowPeeps dot com," where an online "Peepsville" has been set up. The candy-making corporation — strategically located in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania — faces alternate presentations from webmasters who devise more rigorous testing for the candies involving lasers and flame tolerance. Holding down two slots in Yahoo's "Food Science" category, marshmallow mayhem proved irresistible even to CNN — and the Bunny Survival Test home page spawned a wave of knock-off sequels like "The Bunnies Strike Back," along with some mean-spirited photo essays.



Easter.com belongs to Hallmark Licensing, Inc., but there are at least a few marketers who recognize that to tap the true spirit of Easter, it's necessary to employ brand-name properties from previous millenia. Web surfers can order Jesus action figures, now with new-improved ethnicity. (Be sure, when clicking on the "Order Eve" button, not to miss the special offer: "Get an angel for $4.95 with additional purchase.") Elsewhere online, there's the Franklin Mint's line of Jesus merchandise, and entertainment executives can even book "The Fun Nun" for their next speaking engagement (or just grab a copy of her book, "One Liners from God").


Small wonder that electronic folk artists are increasingly using the internet to spread their own holiday interpretations. One site offers a Shockwave presentation of Jesus' crucifixion (plus a second page soliciting pieces of silver to defray the costs of hosting it). Another webmaster seeks to re-introduce religious themes into symbols of secular celebrations with The Jelly Bean prayer. ("Red is for the blood he gave...") But the evangelically inclined ultimately find there's plenty of competition, and resort to attention-grabbing gimmicks like the Easter jokes of minister Grant MacDonald ("Top Ten Excuses Given By the Guards at the Empty Tomb...").



Bashers of consumer entertainment may applaud attempts to deliver the message that Easter is more than just a time for Rankin-Bass stop-motion animation specials and visits from the Easter Beagle. Unfortunately, they're lost in the noise of The Happy Easter web ring and games like "Bunny Battle." One jokester even created a home page for Jesus on AOL ("I'm a capricorn (12/25), and, yes, I am single...").


But the popular culture long ago relegated Easter to the status of a holiday also-ran. Despite countless films about Christmas, the single major production with "Easter" in its title is the Fred Astaire picture Easter Parade, significant mostly for its absence of any religious content whatsoever. The film's fluffy sub-plot centers on a rivalry between two female dancers. "Never saw you look quite so pretty before," gush the lyrics to Irving Berlin's " Easter Bonnet." "Never saw you dressed quite so lovely what's more..."


Even the White House shucks the inconvenient spiritual baggage for a chance at easy political capital with its yearly Easter egg roll, a tradition which, ironically, owes its origins to 19th century congressional gridlock. ("With an already inadequate budget to complete the landscaping and maintenance of the grounds, Congress passed a law forbidding the Capitol grounds to be used as a children's playground..."). In the years since, egg rolls have evolved to include special guest appearances by B-Team celebrities like Amy Tan and Art Garfunkel, and now Easter 2000 arrives with an onerous ticket system and a live web cast. Watch for it today — on the bafflingly traditional day after Easter (In the past, the president has apparently reserved Sunday for quality time with interns). Even here, the marketers have triumphed. Wooden souvenier eggs are being sold by the "authorized vendor" at WhiteHouseEasterEgg.com.


There's already a long-standing liberatarian tradition in geek culture that dates back at least to Steve Wozniak's prank phone call to the Vatican. It's led to a series of deconstructive pranks in which webmasters have created their own internet religious artifacts. Jesus on Pogo stick! The Church of Elvis! "Where's Waldo" has been adapted into a spot-the-Messiah game called "Where's Jesus," and Ask Jesus.org instantly converts any web site into stilted bible-speak. If you actually do want to ask Jesus a question, He appears to have set up an HTML form at crucify.com. The web pages for the Christian Deer-Hunters Association and the Christian Guide to Small Arms are handy guides to delivering the holiday's message of peace with extreme prejudice.



The internet even allows critics of the church to strike a balance — cataloging the pop cultural artifacts that have inadvertently created their own built-in parody. "Frank's Vinyl Museum" preserves the work of the entertainers-cum-evangelists behind "Jesus is a soul man," as well as the self-serving Ballad of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. Web surfers can also re-live the exciting 30th anniversary of the Flying Nun with TV show memorabilia. Perhaps the ultimate archive is Peter Gilstrap's Jesus of the Week! (An introduction for new readers ends "See you in hell"). Concluding a glorious run of several years, Gilstrap has assembled a remarkable collection of Messiahs — nearly 200 — each with edgy commentary (sometimes below banner ads for SomethingSexyPlanet.com).


In one sense, the spirit of Easter is alive and well. The Web may have multiplied the means to make a holiday buck, along with the means to complain about it, but in the end, using the Web is its own act of faith. Users silently cast words into a void, believing that they'll be heard and answered. The year-round pageant of humanity — the good, the bad, and the unintentionally ugly — radiates its own raw fellowship. This even takes on its own strange metaphysical implications, since some anthropologists have suggested that the sense of the almighty is the inescapable connection felt to the larger community around us. As Walt Whitman once said,"In the faces of men and women, I see god." Why not in their web pages?

courtesy of Destiny
picturesTerry Colon