18 July 2008

Holy Cultural Dislocation, Batman!

Okay, okay. This one really is about World Youth Day. You didn't actually think I was going to let this one through to the keeper did you?

What I'm not going to do is start whinging and pontificating (pun completely intended) about road closures, crowded trains or noisy concerts. I don't care how much tax payer's money has been spent on it, and I don't care how much of a boost to the fiscal budget 150 000 catholics are likely to bring. I'm not interested if you got abused by a deranged priest 20 years ago and want a signed apology from George Pell. Just for this week, I don't even care about gay rights, civil liberties, contraception, papal iconicry or which company produced the Pope's red shoes.

Actually, for once I have no intention of complaining at all. In truth, despite applying my considerable cynical clout with as much force as I could muster I wouldn't really describe my impression of WYD as bad at all , from an outsiders perspective. Nope the word I'm using for it is...

Odd.

Really odd. Not odd in the sense of "how come all these guys are singing in the streets and playing tambourines in public?". Not odd in the sense of "how could so many young people be attracted to such an outdated and outmoded religion?". Not odd in the sense of "I don't understand why you would line the streets to watch a cleric drive past in an armour-plated golf-buggy." And not even odd in the sense of "Does anyone else think Pope Benedict XVI (or B16 as he likes to be known amongst the kids) bears a striking resemblance to Emperor Sidius?" Nope, while I don't choose them for myself, I can at least respect and, to a certain extent, understand all that stuff. What makes the whole thing really odd for me is the very fact that I'm looking at it from an outsiders's perspective in the first place.

Let me explain. It all started with Batman (as these things often do).

Weeks ago some friends and I decided to book tickets to go and watch the Dark Knight at the Imax this week (An awesome decision, and a fantastic film, by the way). We overlooked the fact that the night we had booked to go see it at Darling Harbour was the night that the Pope was being welcomed to the city with a huge parade. It didn't matter too much, as the cinema was the perfect place to hide from the thronging masses outside. The confusing part came when we tried to leave the city centre by train at the same time as six million catholics tried to do the same thing.

At that point I suddenly realised why the whole thing seemed so strange. If we were caught up in the middle of the International Car-Enthusiast's Convention, or the Asia Pacific Militant Feminism Forum, or the fifth annual Global Convergence of People Who Grow Their Own Spinach, then it would have been perfectly natural for me to feel completely alienated from it. But this was an international Christian convention (I'm not fielding any questions on the distinction between Catholicism and Christianity, by the way. They're both just labels) and yet, despite having been a Christian for longer than some of these kids had been alive, I felt as out of place as I would have if I were walking with the spinach guys.

That was weird enough, but then a vocally passionate group somewhere behind us started singing. Most of the singing people have been singing in Korean, or Maori, or Classical Latin, which is fine, because whatever isn't communicated by the words comes across fairly clearly in the enthusiasm levels.

These guys were singing in English, and what's more they were singing all the popular Hillsong songs and classic P&W that I was brought up on. It's hard to explain how weird it was to be watching that, but not be part of it. It was a bit like watching a movie of your life, with someone else playing the role of you. I actually felt really creeped out between the theatre and Central Station, but I think probably only half of that was due to the catholics. The other half was Heath Ledger.

Far from home



Garry with 2 Rs
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