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Freedom of speech: Danish Cartoons and John Lennon

Reader comment on item: Something Rotten in Denmark?

Submitted by Sarah (Sweden), Feb 23, 2006 at 08:34

I just read 'Something Rotten in Denmark'. I thought I should remind you about a similar series of events that happened in 1966:

On March 4, 1966, John Lennon commented during an interview by reporter Maureen Cleave in the Evening Standard : "Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. ... We're more popular than Jesus now; I don't know which will go first-rock 'n' roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It's them twisting it that ruins it for me." (Sourse: the Evening Standard)

And this is how the Western world had reacted to the comment by Lennon:

-Christians in the western world embarked upon a massive campaign to destroy Beatles albums and other paraphenalia.

-In July, an American teen magazine called ‘Datebook' quoted the infamous Jesus statement without reprinting the original article. It appeared as part of a cover story called "The Ten Adults You Dig/Hate the Most." The American reaction was instantaneous. Radio stations across the country, but especially in the South and in the Midwest, stopped playing Beatles records.

-Death threats began pouring in, directed against not only John, but the other Beatles as well. Bonfires appeared, with Beatles pictures and albums providing the fuel. Maureen Cleave tried to explain that "John was certainly not comparing the Beatles with Christ. He was simply observing that so weak was the state of Christianity that the Beatles were, to many people, better known. He was deploring, rather than approving, this," but to no avail.

-In Cleveland, the Reverend Thurman H. Babbs threatened to excommunicate any member of his congregation who listened to the Beatles.

-In the South of America, the Ku Klux Klan burned the Beatles in effigy and nailed Beatles albums to burning crosses.

-On August 11, with a scheduled American tour fast approaching, Lennon held a press conference in Chicago, Lennon apologized for his statement: "I'm sorry I said it really. I never meant it to be a lousy anti-religious thing. I apologize if that will make you happy. I still don't know quite what I've done. I've tried to tell you what I did do but if you want me to apologize, if that will make you happy, then OK, I'm sorry."

-For some people, this apology was not enough. The KKK tried, unsuccessfully, to stop their show in Memphis. On August 13, KLUE, a radio station in Texas, organized another Beatles bonfire. (That same night, the station was struck by lightning, which damaged their equipment and knocked the station manager unconscious).

-At this point in time, the international reaction was just beginning. Beatles albums were banned from the airwaves in Spain and Holland. The Vatican, while recognizing that the remarks were made "off-handedly and not impiously," also said that "the protest the remark raised showed that some subjects must not be dealt with lightly and in a profane way, not even in the world of beatniks."

-In South Africa, Piet Myer of the South African Broadcasting Corporation justified his decision to bar Beatles albums by saying, "The Beatles' arrogance has passed the ultimate limit of decency. It is clowning no longer." Even years later, after the group had broken up, John Lennon's albums were still banned from South African radio, although Paul McCartney's and George Harrison's music could be broadcast.

(Although the Beatles would remain together for 4 more years, the American tour that followed the Jesus incident would be their last. John Lennon was shot dead by an American on 8 December 1980).

Now, does this story sound familiar?

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