Thursday, 8 January 2009

New Humanist

This month’s New Humanist is out today and I’ve written the Diary section, which you can read here.

It’s all about the reaction to the God Trumps.

Speaking of which, I’ve just this week finished the second half of the set, with the ‘best of the rest’ of the religions covered, from Mormons to Jedis. They’ll be appearing in the March issue, possibly as a playable pack. We shall see…

Anyway, the diary piece is an edited version of a much longer article, which I have posted below for anyone who’s interested:

Writing is a strange occupation. When you try really hard to think of ideas you come up blank, and when you’re sitting on your backside procrastinating, inspiration strikes. It doesn’t do much to encourage any kind of work ethic I can tell you.

Case in point; I was having a very unproductive day, none of the ideas I was working on seemed to have legs. As always in these situations, I abandoned what I was doing and went online. Checked my Hotmail, my Facebook, went on Google news…

And that’s when I saw this headline – “Gay Rights Don’t Trump Christian Rights say Christian Rights Group” What a stupid statement, I thought, as though people’s rights and beliefs amount to a proverbial game of Top Trumps…actually that would be quite funny!

Fast forward to a couple of months later and ‘God Trumps’ – a card game that listed and ranked the habits and foibles of all the major religions, and one silly one – had been published by New Humanist. I filed it away in a cupboard with all my other clippings and thought no more about.

Until that is, New Humanist put it on their website and, to quote the cool kids, it went viral. It was being forwarded, blogged about, and posted on discussion forums at an incredible rate. Over 56,000 people visited the New Humanist website the first day it was online – the average daily visitor count is about 3000. God Trumps has now had more than 120,000 hits and is the most read article in New Humanist’s online history.

This massive proliferation obviously led to a lot of reaction and debate, and whilst most people, including religious folks, appreciated the God Trumps for what they are – a joke – some people took them a tad too seriously.

I saw forums containing pages and pages of sober theological debate sparked by the trumps, which is weird when you consider, for example, that the Catholic card has ‘Pope Mobile’ named as Weapon of Choice. Hard to take that seriously I would have thought, much less debate it!

There were conspiracy theories flying about as to why there was no Mormon card – “I think it’s more likely that Mormons were left out on purpose. Yes, folks the Mormons are that powerful” wrote one blogger. Or perhaps we just didn’t have room?

And let’s not forget the person who actually thought they were a genuine set of cards to be used in the process of choosing a religion. Yeah, I don’t know either.

One of my favourite reactions was from the Agnostic forum. They got really annoyed at their card, and retaliated by mocking up an Atheist card to get us back. Bless them.

In fact quite a lot of people mocked up their own cards. Some were motivated by a desire to see their faith included in the fun and games, others by dissatisfaction with the original set. One blogger, for example, mocked up a rather vitriolic Muslim card, because they considered our version to have been a cop out. Which leads me neatly to the biggest reaction we received, and yes predictably enough, it was about Islam.

Telegraph blogger and editor of the Catholic Herald, Damien Thompson wrote an article entitled ‘Humanist Attack on Religions Chickens Out of Criticising Islam’ wherein he accused the piece of not tackling Islam properly for fear of reprisals (the Islam card does not have categories like the others, it is designated as the ultimate trump because nobody is allowed to joke about it) He also dusted off that tired old argument that “It’s ok to knock Christians but you can’t have a go at Muslims can you?”

All of this surprised me greatly. When I wrote the piece, I had actually expected the Islam card to cause controversy for quite the opposite reason. It employs a deliberate (and I would say controversial) stereotype that Muslims are humourless, that they react badly to jokes made at their expense, that they burn effigies over trifling things like cartoons and therefore cannot be treated with the same good humoured approach as everyone else.

In my view I was neither targeting them, nor copping out of dealing with them; the fact is the cards used stereotypes about each faith to comic effect. That was their stereotype, and at the risk of offending them, as a comedy writer, I had to go with it, because I have more interest in matching the right joke to the right person than in being either politically correct or politically motivated.

It also came down to the very mundane fact that I used to play Top Trumps Ghouls and Ghosts as a kid. This game contained an ultimate trump card, and I had planned in advance to replicate this in my version. I had first of all considered the Pope as a contender, because of his papal infallibility, but then I thought it was more suited to Islam and assigned it to them.

My real thought process couldn’t have been further away from the false motives that were being assigned to me. It wasn’t a case of getting to the Islam card and panicking about how to deal with them. I had assigned them ultimate trump status in advance, and they weren’t even the front runner!

What surprised me more than Mr Thompson’s gross misunderstanding of my methods, was his total lack of humour. Anyone who couldn’t see the gag – which was clearly signposted by the very pointed wording, combined with the illustration of a mad Mullah – has not a single funny bone in their body.

Although having said that, the tags he used for his piece did make me laugh:
Tags: Islam, New Humanist, politically correct atheist cowards

Oh and by the way, Mr Thompson’s piece ended up being posted on Islamaphobia Watch – I guess he showed me a thing or two about how to inflame Muslims.


bakiwop said...

"And let’s not forget the person who actually thought they were a genuine set of cards to be used in the process of choosing a religion."

I wonder if that person went for a higher score (like basketball) or a lower score (like golf) for their winner?

Max Felicitous said...

Awesome article!

The thing I can't understand, Christina, is: if you're into video-games and JTV and baiting the religious, how are we not best-friends?

Christina Martin said...

Just a matter of time ;)