‘I wonder how he’d take it if we all held him down
And drove nails right through him till he cried out loud.’
I haven’t written one of these in a while, but now that Boris is our Prime Minister – god help us – it feels like a fitting time to revisit Feeble Jesus, the next song on the list, since it’s about somebody who wants to be the Messiah not because he has any wisdom, principles, or obvious leadership skills to offer but because he wants to be adored and thinks he deserves it.
Feeble Jesus was actually inspired by David Cameron, a man who always seemed to me like somebody had built a robot based on a verbal description of Tony Blair – smooth-talking, good hair, talks in platitudes – hence the ‘show us some blood’ references and the desire to bang nails into him just to check if he’s actually human. I found him creepy, like one of those CGI characters in movies that slip into the uncanny valley because the animators couldn’t get the eyes or skin quite right. In my film of his life he’s played by Brent Spiner, channelling Data in Star Trek.
Weirdly though, the song could just as easily be about Boris, or Donald Trump, or the other narcissistic monsters who have risen to positions of incredible power and influence recently by telling frightened people exactly what they want to hear, bullying everyone else, and lying so shamelessly that it’s galling to those who see through it and can’t understand why other people don’t or just don’t think it matters.
Feeble Jesus makes me think of Boris because of Max Hastings’ description of him as someone whose “graver vice is cowardice, reflected in a willingness to tell any audience whatever he thinks most likely to please, heedless of the inevitability of its contradiction an hour later”. The only explanation of Johnson and Trump that currently makes sense to me is that leaders like them are the result of a kind of ideological paralysis. Thanks to the internet, we know more about global problems than ever before and yet we feel powerless to do anything about it because it all seems so complicated and overwhelming. Leaders like Trump and Johnson are the result of people just giving up on believing that anyone can actually guide us through the mess that humanity is currently in and deciding that these men, with their simple, reassuring stories, their unshakeable sense of entitlement and their promises to make everything great again – whatever that means – are the next best thing. With them in charge we can switch off and pretend that none of it is happening. We’re cowards, so we end up with leaders who are cowards. There was a time when half-truths from politicians would cause outrage. Now they lie to us quite openly and we don’t even care.
It’s more complicated than that, obviously. Like the real Jesus, there’s a higher, cleverer power behind it all, whose motives are cloaked in mystery and not necessarily benevolent. The most frightening conspiracy theory I’ve heard lately is that the world’s super-rich have already collectively concluded – probably not together in some secret room but just individually, because it’s common sense – that a global temperature rise of three degrees or more is now inevitable and will be catastrophic, and that the only way forward is to let civilisation fall apart and attempt to clear up the mess afterwards, once half of us are dead – just not the better half, to quote a line from Titanic. So instead of wasting their time on renewable energy or other green initiatives that will just be sticking plasters on an untreatable wound, they’re investing money and influence into the kind of dangerous buffoons who are likely to push us over the cliff edge, while buying up property in places that might escape the worst of the weather, probably with bunkers.
In other words Boris is a useful idiot, and also the kind of leader we will eventually turn on, perhaps savagely, because it’s obvious he has nothing to offer.
I’m trying to be optimistic. In one of my favourite books, Soil and Soul – which I’m currently developing into a theatre show – Alastair McIntosh suggests that the best form of activism is to ‘dig where you stand’. So instead of raging against the world, as I’ve spent much of my life doing, I’m trying to be practical and positive and think small and local. There’s not a lot I can do about Boris, or Trump, or global heating probably, but I can learn how to croft – inspired by my amazing wife, who is much more of a visionary about these things than me – and try and play a positive and useful role in my community.
It’s now the middle of the night though, and because I’m exhausted from doing four jobs at once – one of the hazards of being an arts freelancer, particularly just before/during the Edinburgh festival – I come out with stuff like this.
Enjoy the hot weather.