On October 3rd, 1992 Sinead O’Connor performed a slightly revised rendition of the Bob Marley song ‘War,’ for an episode of Saturday Night Life, in which she highlighted the complicity of the Catholic hierarchy in aiding and abetting child abuse and molestation, and the further consequences that this has had on global culture. Her performance ended with her stating, “Fight the real enemy,” while tearing up a picture of Pope John Paul II.
Thrown to the Wolves
Reports from the time show that none of the executives associated with Saturday Night Live were willing to voice support for her actions, and allowed future guests, such as Joe Pesci and Madonna, the freedom to mock and deride the message that O’Connor was trying to impart. She was even boo’ed at a Bob Dylan tribute concert held shortly after her SNL appearance, despite the fact that Dylan’s music, for his time, was filled with the same kind of detached, simple social consciousness that O’Connor was representing in her actions.
Madonna even went so far as to mention the incident during an interview with the Irish Times, saying:
“I think there is a better way to present her ideas rather than ripping up an image that means a lot to other people…If she is against the Roman Catholic Church and she has a problem with them, I think she should talk about it.”
When O’Connor did release an open letter, she highlighted how her statement came not only from a political standpoint, but also reflected the fact that she was personally abused within the culture of neglect being obfuscated and covered up by the Catholic church. The choice of Bob Marley’s song ‘War,” was also symbolic in that, as an Irish citizen, she saw first hand how, over centuries of struggle, Irish sovereignty and culture have been ravaged by British and Catholic imperialism. These very same issues and cultural drivers which have ravaged the Caribbean culture that spawned Marley.
O’Connor Was Right
Today we can see this incident in a different light. Since 1992 the Catholic church has been exposed as being unthinkably complicit in abuse, and no one (outside of blindly devoted Catholics) would find O’Connor’s actions as anything other than timely and poignant. In light of what has come about, those who vilified her with such arrogance appear to be not only fools, but viciously complicit themselves in supporting the power structure that allows these kind of unconscionable actions to continue.
Madonna’s ignorant support of “an image that means a lot to other people,” seems incredibly naive, if not simply stupid, when we look at what that picture actually represents. This doesn’t even take into account the disingenuous nature of her comments considering her own use of Catholic imagery to spark controversy. Many articles from the time point out that some of her reaction was based on the fact that she was promoting her album Erotica, along with her book, Sex, and in one evening Sinead O’Connor stole the show without having to play the savage and self-debasing media game that Madonna has become so adept at. In mocking O’Connor, some of that media attention could be pulled back to her own career, and for once, she wasn’t the one being held up as a pariah.
Continuing the Fight
With the recent publication of an open letter to Miley Cyrus, O’Connor shows that the issues she was addressing 21 years ago have yet to be put to rest. Cyrus is a protege of Madonna’s approach to the media, relying on provocation and hype to promote her career, while ignoring the fact that those making the most profit off of her work and freewheeling lifestyle have no goal outside of their own wealth and pleasures.
While serious debates were occurring over the question of military action in Syria, Cyrus’ appearance on the MTV Music Awards provided a popular distraction to the reality of what is currently happening on the global stage. Then as now, to have such figures feature so prominently in the media acts as a buffer and blind to the power players manipulating our culture, and distracts from relevant conversations that could be had if celebrities took stands like O’Connor did in the early 90’s.
Every action that she has taken to bring a serious message forward has been related by the mainstream media as “ruining her career” or “troubled,” with more focus on her hair than her message,while Madonna’s continuous self-abasement has been seen as the sign of a strong woman. It is sad, and telling, that most folks in the United States probably remember the SNL event as “the time that bald chick ripped up a picture of the Pope,” and have no sense of how relevant it was then, and how prophetic it has been for what came after.
Same As It Ever Was
The ‘real enemy‘ that O’Connor addressed in her SNL performance is not the Pope, it is our reliance on heavily manipulated images and illusions to guide our decisions in what we think is acceptable and right in society. O’Connor’s actions called out the beast, as time has shown that all those media figures and organizations that rushed to attack her were merely aiding the protection of organized child abuse around the world. Turning the world’s terror into a cartoon, just another day in the life of mainstream media.
In drawing these issues to the fore again, O’Connor continues to speak out against the numb reaction of society to being swept away in the masturbatory whims of industry moguls, anemic executives, and political parasites who prove time and again incapable of supporting, nurturing or even considering actions that would lead us into viable cultural solutions. Perhaps, if more people step forward with O’Connor’s fiery simplicity, in another 21 years we can begin to see some desperately needed changes to how we view media, celebrity and the future of our global civilization.
David Metcalfe is an independent researcher, writer and multimedia artist focusing on the interstices of art, culture, and consciousness. He is a contributing editor for Reality Sandwich, The Revealer, the online journal of NYU’s Center for Religion and Media, and The Daily Grail. He writes regularly for Evolutionary Landscapes, Alarm Magazine, Modern Mythology, Disinfo.com, The Teeming Brain and his own blog The Eyeless Owl. His writing has been featured in The Immanence of Myth (Weaponized 2011), Chromatic: The Crossroads of Color & Music (Alarm Press, 2011) and Exploring the Edge Realms of Consciousness (North Atlantic/Evolver Editions 2012). Metcalfe is an Associate with Phoenix Rising Digital Academy, and is currently co-hosting The Art of Transformations study group with support from the International Alchemy Guild.