NOTE: The death of David Bowie was announced today. As a result, I was sharing appropriate David Bowie clips and memes on Facebook. One of my Facebook friends mentioned she was watching Tommy, Ken Russell’s movie of the rock opera by The Who. It got me thinking, “Pete Townshend is still alive!” So, recognizing that even though Lemmy and Bowie have been taken from us, we should pause and, at least, appreciate those performers and composers who are still among us. Hence, I’m watching Tommy right now.
My Facebook friend was looking for a post I did where I compare Tommy to ‘survivor wars’ that occasionally break out (usually on Facebook) between child abuse advocates. When one group accuses the other of lying, it kind of puts a dent in child abuse advocacy. I think Tommy, usually recognized as a satire of rock and roll excess, is a work of artistic genius that can apply to other situations not exclusively related to rock and roll.
The post you are about to read was written four years ago. It starts out addressing the survivor wars, but then segues into Tommy. I’m reposting it on this blog because I think it still has merit today.
Other articles I have written regarding Pete Townshend, with more applause from me on why Tommy is an inspirational work of exceptional artistic value, appear below this post.
How was your Memorial Day? I decided to spend my memorial day recording an episode of ‘Christian School Confidential’ on the subject of ‘Survivor Wars’. However, since I was in the middle of a cold I realized this might not be the opportune time to videotape. Nevertheless, the subject matter is of such importance I will now return to the written word.
What is a ‘Survivor War’? First, it has nothing to do with the television show, Survivor. When I write ‘Survivor War’, I am speaking about the skirmishes that happen between adult survivors of child abuse within fundamentalist churches or IFB children’s homes which manifest themselves through internet flame wars, banning someone from a message board either because of bad behavior or the poster mentions something that flies in the face of the current orthodoxy of the board. If we’re talking about Facebook, then we’re dealing with ‘unfriending’ or ‘blocking’ because of either rudeness or the moderator does not want the competition.
Survivor Wars can be started by many things, but here are three issues I have encountered that leads to messy disagreements:
1) Atheism vs Christianity
Back in the late 90’s, I volunteered for Steven Spielberg’s SHOAH FOUNDATION and assisted videographers who interviewed Holocaust survivors. I actually got to witness what I had only previously read about when it comes to believers/non believers in WW2 Concentration Camps. I actually heard a Holocaust survivor say she did not believe in God because she survived the Holocaust and saw no evidence of any goodness in people or the universe. A few weeks earlier, I got to see a Holocaust survivor say she most definitely believed in God because she got to see goodness manifest itself in spite of the evil which surrounded her. These two individuals, in order to cope, looked upon the same situtations and came out with different conclusions.
I think it would be wrong, perhaps even rude (dare I say ‘evil’?) to actually challenge what, for them, was the only rational way of coming to terms with their lives and the contradictions of the world. It’s not quite the same with those who survived IFB abuse. You don’t see survivors of the Holocaust coming out and nitpicking over things like, “Well, it was bad but Hitler did invent the autobahn!” Nope.
You do find survivors of IFB abuse ostracising non believers. I have certainly experienced that. IFB preachers have been known to accuse victims of turning against them simply because they want to ‘reject God and live like the world!’, so you’ll find most IFB survivors going out of their way to prove this isn’t the case.
This leads to interesting contradictions like Facebook profiles criticizing abuses in IFB homes while, at the same time, praising conservative politicians like Sarah Palin as role models. Hmmm, what are the odds Sarah Palin is going to be on the side of accountability regarding IFB homes? Did I miss where she endorsed HR911, the bill that would have demanded accountability in teen gulags?
You would hardly see a survivor of Hitler’s concentration camps still trying to prove they are ‘good Nazis who oppose abuse’. Yet, you will see Ex-Fundamentalists still fighting the battle against abuse by using the logic and weapons of their abusers.
I have always had a problem recommending the bible to victims of sexual abuse. How can you encourage someone who was abused by their father or preacher and send them to a book which treats Lot, a man who got his daughters drunk and raped them, as a good guy? Okay, I know the bible says that it was his daughters who got him drunk, but would you believe that story if it were actually argued in a court of law? Lot is blaming the victim and the bible is on his side!
How can any victim find so called empowerment in such a story? Of course, there are groups and individuals who insist they are not religious and respect differing opinions, but in my experience it’s usually been like this: someone steps up and says ‘Praise God! I don’t know how I would have got through this without Jesus!’, and everybody smiles and applauds. Let just one person mention how liberating it feels not to be bound by dogma, and suddenly those same people will say, “We don’t get into religion.”
Notice how they never ‘get into religion’ until someone criticizes it? You never hear that when somebody is ‘praising God’. You can see how the religion conflict can provide many opportunities for disagreements and flame wars amongst survivors.
2) I was there first!
This is reserved for those who have been addressing issues of abuse within conservative religious groups since the 90s and even back during the 70s. Their scope of influence was limited since there was not an internet in those days. Activists had to pay hefty phone bills and buy postage stamps and use fax machines and really needed to leave the house to get anything done. Such footwork is not necessary today. Consequently, you can see why there might be some jealousy.
I have actually witnessed representatives of ‘old school groups’ plead with the new group of internet activists to learn from the past and not forget about them.
3) ‘Get Over It’ vs ‘Let’s Talk About It’.
This is when one group of victims have already come to terms with their abuse and have decided to take the politically incorrect path of just ignoring it and letting the past stay buried. Perhaps they have much to lose if the truth comes out? Maybe they have acted out their abuse on others and don’t want to talk about it?
Maybe they’re like C.S. Lewis who, as a casual reading of Surprised by Joy demonstrates, did not think abuse was worth discussing? He writes about abuse at the boys school his father sent him to and, showcasing ignorance about sexual matters, talks about how he has nothing but pity for the true homosexual. Considering that Lewis lived in the dark ages of sexual knowledge when pedophilia and homosexuality were considered one and the same, he most definitely fits into the ‘get over it camp’.
We know that it’s impossible to ‘get over it’ unless you have unloaded all the psychological baggage that comes with abuse. It is necessary to talk about it. The solution is to find the right people with whom to talk about it. Support groups, therapists, and select friends and relatives might be good candidates. However, on Facebook, you have a mixture between the ‘get over its’ and the ‘let’s talk about it’ occasionally clashing. Now that more FB groups understand privacy options, that’s becoming less of a problem since anyone who goes on a survivor board and says ‘get over it’ will most likely get kicked off.
These are three examples of issues that can turn survivors against each other. They are very real issues and should be treated with respect and not taken lightly. There are other issues, and probably some new issues brewing, that should be dealt with but I wanted to bring some of these invisible elephants into the open.
The reason abuse flourishes in conservative religious groups is because discussion is usually silenced. No one wants to talk about their pastor abusing children because of how it might reflect upon their church. Consequently, survivor groups don’t want to talk about conflicts within themselves because of how it might reflect on them. No matter what the motivation, serious issues are still being covered up and just waiting to rear their ugly heads.
The solution? Well, let’s learn from our predecessors. Before Facebook, the bloggers, the glitzy celebrity groups, Oprah and Donahue, there were rock stars.
That’s right! Before it was in vogue to discuss abuse, Pete Townshend not only wrote TOMMY, a powerful rock opera that wound up highlighting the effects of child abuse on society, but practically became a prophet by illustrating the first ‘Survivor War’.
Tommy is sexually abused by his Uncle Ernie. Violently bullied by his Cousin Kevin. Witnesses his stepfather killing his father. His mother then joins the stepfather in telling him to ‘Never tell a soul what you know is the truth.” And then he retreats into his world of silence. His family exploits his abilities and becomes rich. His abusive mother throws him into a mirror and that’s when he wakes up and realizes who he is.
Less than a year later, he becomes a self styled ‘advocate’, if you will, and works with other broken people. Nevertheless, his followers realize he has been, consciously or unconciously, ripping them off and never had their best interests in mind.
His followers rebel and Tommy is broken again. However, the rock opera ends with hope as he is forced to reckon with his demons. In other words, it was necessary for his followers to engage in a ‘survivor war’ in order for them to see enlightenment and for their so-called leader to see enlightenment.
I could give explicit examples of various ‘Tommys’ (or Tommies? Grammar nazis, please advise) in our midst, but really the problem is with us. Whenever we see survivor wars, especially groups versus groups, we must keep in mind that behind these groups are just one or two people. Everyone else is just a Facebook friend.
If you keep that in perspective, you realize it’s just individuals. Imperfect individuals and our desire to see them as anything but imperfect individuals sets us up for betrayal. Now, chill out and start learning from those who came before you!
The Survivor Wars Anthem (what I’m calling it, otherwise known as ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It!’):