Mary Magdalene is from Afghanistan?

Apparently St. Mary Magdalene was from Afghanistan. While looking through the online edition of the Washington Post I discovered an article they ran about Mary Magdalene, which was accompanied by an illustration that had the following caption:

“This handout image released by the Grace Cathedral shows an icon of St. Mary Magdalene, the principal woman disciple of Christ, which is on permanent display at Grace Cathedral’s baptistery San Francisco, Calif. The acrylic icon, painted by American icon master Robert Lentz of Albuquerque, N.M., was commissioned for the cathedral to commemorate the election of Barbara Harris, the first woman bishop in the Anglican communion. Mary Magdalene’s image has gone through myriad incarnations over the centuries, and this Lenten season she’s drawing even more attention thanks to the movie version of ‘The Da Vinci Code,’ a slew of new books and Internet chatter. (AP Photo/Courtesy Grace Cathedral)”

Robert Lentz's St. Magdalene icon.

St. Magdalene - Robert Lentz

I immediately recognized the source material for Lentz’s Magdalene, and it’s hard to imagine he thought no one else would. For clarity’s sake I’ve combined Lentz’s icon with the photograph that inspired its creation. Award-winning photographer, Steve McCurry, shot the image of an anonymous Afghan girl back in 1984 while on assignment in a remote area of Soviet occupied Afghanistan.

Published as a cover for National Geographic, it became one of the most well-known photographic images of the late 20th Century. In January of 2002, McCurry went back to Afghanistan for National Geographic in order to track down and identify the girl. His discovery of Sharbat Gula became another cover story for National Geographic. I find it thoroughly amusing that the Associated Press, The Washington Post, and many other news organizations have missed this glaring fact - although Steve McCurry, who owns the rights to the source photo, is not likely to be so amused. However, it will be the good people at Grace Cathedral who receive the biggest surprise when they learn that Mary Magdalene was from Afghanistan.

Sex Pistols Shove Off Rock Hall of Fame

Furious and snarling, the Sex Pistols exploded onto the world stage in 1977. Their anti-authoritarian stance, expressed in songs like Anarchy in the UK and God Save The Queen, outraged society and turned the music world upside down. As the years passed, more and more people started to recognize how great a rock band the Pistols actually were, and while they’ve been copied by a million others, few have managed to capture that original rebellious spirit. Punk was always much more than a style of music, it was an aggressive stance that demanded a break with the status quo. True to form, the Pistols have once again stormed the world stage, reminding us all that it’s possible to bite the hand that feeds us crap.

Silkscreen print by Jamie Reid, 1977.

[ God Save The Queen. Silkscreen print by Jamie Reid, 1977. This image was one of many created by the artist to help promote the Sex Pistols. A version of this print was published as the cover art for the Pistols’ second single, God Save The Queen. In March of 2001 Reid’s graphic appeared in the book, 100 Best Record Covers Of All Time, where it was proclaimed the "best record cover ever produced."]

After being snubbed for years, the Pistols were finally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in late 2005, with the band receiving an invitation from the Hall of Fame foundation to attend the March 13th, 2006 induction ceremonies in New York City. As might be expected by anyone familiar with the subversive stance of punk, the band has refused its induction, turning its back on the ceremonies with an impetuously scrawled message to the Hall of Fame foundation. The seething communiqué, full of atrocious spelling and grammatical errors, was posted to the official Sex Pistols website on February 24th, 2006 - it reads as follows:

“Next to the SEX PISTOLS rock and roll and that hall of fame is a piss stain. Your museum. Urine in wine. Were not coming. Were not your monkey and so what? Fame at $25,000 if we paid for a table, or $15,000 to squeak up in the gallery, goes to a non-profit organization selling us a load of old famous. Congradulations. If you voted for us, hope you noted your reasons.Your anonymous as judges, but your still music industry people. We’re not coming.Your not paying attention. Outside the shit-stem is a real SEX PISTOL.”

Sophie Scholl & The White Rose

“Nothing is so unworthy of a civilized nation as allowing itself to be governed without opposition by an irresponsible clique that has yielded to base instinct.” So wrote the White Rose, a group of ardent young activists who opposed the reign of fascism in 1940s Germany. I first discovered the writings of The White Rose (Die Weisse Rose) in the early 1980’s, and have since read and re-read their stirring proclamations - which the group clandestinely distributed in public places right under the noses of the Nazis. Eventually the young heroes were caught, and key members of the pacifist group were executed by guillotine after a Nazi court found them guilty of “treason.” Sophie Scholl, one of the group’s leaders, directed her last words at her Nazi executioners, “… your heads will fall as well.”

Director Marc Rothemund tells the gripping story of the last six days of Scholl’s life, in Sophie Scholl: The Final Days. The film opened in New York on February 17th and opens in Los Angeles on February 24th, 2006, with a nationwide release to follow. Not just another period piece on Germany’s disturbing past, this film should have deep resonance for today’s movie fans who are concerned about civil and human rights. Stephen Holden, in a review of the film he wrote for the New York Times, said: “In a climate of national debate in the United States about the overriding of certain civil liberties to fight terrorism, the movie looks back on a worst possible scenario in which such liberties were taken away. It raises an unspoken question: could it happen here?”

For those in Los Angeles, Director Marc Rothemund will conduct a Q&A after the 5:30 pm & 8:15 pm screenings at Laemmle’s MUSIC HALL 3 on Friday Feb. 24th and Saturday‚ Feb. 25th, and also after the 4 pm show & 7 pm show Sunday the 26th at the Laemmle’s TOWN CENTER 5 in Encino (click here for more info on these theaters.)

David Byrne & the Filipino Dictators

[ Back in October of 2005, I composed an essay about Here Lies Love, a musical produced by postmodernist artist and ex-member of the Talking Heads, David Byrne. I originally intended to publish my article next March when the musical premieres at the 2006 Adelaide Arts Festival in Australia, however recent events have caused me to immediately publish the expose.

On February 24, 2006, Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo declared a state of emergency in her nation - the very day the Filipino people were celebrating the 20th anniversary of the democratic People Power movement that non-violently toppled the fascist regime of Ferdinand Marcos. Arroyo now rules by decree, and she has revoked all permits for demonstrations, banned rallies and allowed arrests without warrants. She has also given herself the power to seize media outlets and to direct the army to crush political opponents. In defiance, former President and leader of the People Power movement, Corazon Aquino, led a march of thousands to a shrine commemorating the People Power protests - and they were met with riot police who brutally attacked them with clubs and water cannons. As Arroyo drags the Philippines back into the dark days of martial law, it’s time to examine the rewriting of history being offered by David Byrne’s, Here Lies Love. My original article, written in October of 2005, now follows:]

I groaned when I first read that rocker turned postmodernist artist, David Byrne, has written a musical about Imelda Marcos. Does the world really need another de-politicized musical ala Evita? Byrne collaborated with British DJ Fatboy Slim to produce, Here Lies Love, which will premiere next March at the 2006 Adelaide Arts Festival in Australia. A spokesperson for the festival says the musical depicts “a non-stop party, featuring politicians, arms dealers, financiers, artists, musicians and the international jetset. Here Lies Love recreates and musically updates that buoyant mood in a music and theatrical event that hits the highs, the lows, the triumphs, the tears and the eventual fall of this truly astounding political figure.” It’s not often that a fascist tyrant is described as a “truly astounding political figure.”

Byrne’s official website states the artist’s works are “often described as elevating the mundane or the banal to the level of art, creating icons out of everyday materials to find the sacred in the profane.” There was nothing mundane about life under the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos - except perhaps the monotonous regularity of political repression, and there certainly wasn’t anything sacred about Imelda - a woman who traveled around the world to shop at the ritziest boutiques while thousands of political prisoners rotted in her husband’s dungeons. The two ran the Philippines like potentates, creating a government of cronies that was nothing more than a cleptocracy. The people suffered massive human rights abuses under the rule of Ferdinand and Imelda, while the two plundered an estimated $20 billion of the nation’s wealth for personal gain. Tens of thousands of Filipinos were jailed, forced into exile, or simply murdered. All of that misery eventually caused the people to rise in revolution.

The final straw came when the dictatorship assassinated Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, a prominent opposition politician. On August 21st, 1983, Ninoy returned home from exile, but as soon as he disembarked from his plane at Manila International Airport he was shot and killed - with his murder broadcast on Philippine television. His killing unleashed the forces that would topple the Marcos regime. In 1986, the non-violent People Power Revolution would sweep the dictatorship away as millions of Filipinos took to the streets - driving Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos into exile. As the people took over Malacañang palace where Marcos had ruled, they were shocked at the ostentatious display of wealth. There were warehouses full of jewels, artworks, gifts, and tribute. Ornate rooms existed for nightly banquets, along with an entire ballroom where Imelda could twitter away the night singing karaoke with her rich guests. And of course there was Imelda’s personal collection of expensive shoes. 3,000 pairs of her shoes were housed in a special five room area of the presidential palace - all at a time when the majority of Filipino children went barefoot and hungry.

According to the organizers of the Adelaide Arts Festival, Here Lies Love focuses on Imelda’s obsessive love of discos, a viewpoint that will no doubt humanize the face of one of history’s worst despots. In all fairness, Adelaide organizers say the musical is a “timeless story with more contemporary resonances than are comfortable.” But that single sentence plucked from the musical’s official press release is the only shred of evidence Here Lies Love may be more than a glitzy production with smoke and strobe light effects. That the musical is supported by the US State Department should tell you everything you need to know. During the cold war the US backed the fanatically anti-communist Marcos, even as he extinguished the last vestiges of democratic rule. Washington’s cozy relationship with the tyrants in Manila ultimately caused Filipinos to speak of the “US Marcos dictatorship.” This is not likely to be included in Byrne’s myopic look at history - hence the US State Department seal of approval. I think the world’s people have heard enough about Imelda and her damn shoes. David Byrne could have better spent his talent writing a tribute to Ninoy Aquino, the man who gave his life to bring democracy to the Philippines.