Feb 112011

People love flash.  They love glitz and glamour.  Countless artists have recognized this basic fact of the media and exploited it to their great financial success.  When I was in high school, “glam metal” was all the rage.  It mainly consisted of musicians with questionable talent wearing heavy makeup, sporting long, luxurious locks of hair performing sexually charged songs with lots of explosions and cool lights ion the background.  I loved it.

Now, it’s Lady Gaga, or another similar media sensation who is savvy enough to know that success has less to do with talent and more to do with marketing.  Get people to talk about you and your success is all but assured.  The more flashy you are, the more people flock to purchase your T-shirts/CDs/posters/caution tape dress.

This cynical, but true, aspect of modern media is on heavy display in the Kander and Ebb musical Chicago.  The main target of Chicago’s satire is the American legal system, but the media takes a pretty sizable beating from the show’s jazzy, yet eviscerating lyrics.  The musical is full of dagger-sharp songs, but perhaps the sharpest one is Razzle Dazzle, sung by defense lawyer extraordinaire Billy Flynn.

Just as he is about to begin the murder trial of his client, Roxie Hart (played in the movie by Renee Zelweger), Billy assures her that the law has nothing to do with truth or justice or morality.  The law is “show business.”  It’s all about who puts on the glitziest show.  Here’s Richard Gere as Billy Flynn from the 2002 movie:


It’s cynicism at it’s most glamorous.  Anyone who remembers the O.J. Simpson trial or who has followed the ongoing legal troubles of Lindsay Lohan can resonate with this song (Grand theft? Really?).  But the biting lyrics don’t just apply to the American legal system.  The modern age has brought heavy layers of glitz to spiritual practice as well.  I recently saw this video that satirizes the formulaic and flashy nature of modern Christian megachurches:

How can the see with sequins in their eyes?

It may appear that this video criticizes evangelical Christianity, but it was in fact created by a Christian group that is disturbed by the shallow glitz and glamor of some modern churches at the expense of spiritual depth.  Here’s another one that compares their marketing to Starbucks.

Pagan religions are vulnerable to the same problem.  In his book, The Outer Temple of Witchcraft, author Christopher Penczak writes that:

Many people come to the craft from a place of feeling powerless and are drawn to magick because of the sense of power and control it seems to convey.  Most teachers and books start with ritual and spellcraft, like a cookbook.  If you follow these directions, with these specific ingredients, you will do a successful spell.  The feeling is great and empowering, but many never learn why they used such words or ingredients, or how the spell worked in the bigger scheme of things.  The immediate need is taken care of, without a thought to a spiritual path, the larger picture in the ways of the witch.  And for some, that is where it begins, remains, and ends.  I find that sad, but everyone is on a different path.

In fact, Penczak, now a noted teacher of witchcraft, puts his former self into that category, explaining his reaction to learning that there was discipline and difficulty involved in true magickal work:

Wow.  Well, I didn’t have a lot of those qualities.  I just wanted to do more spells.  No one told me it was going to be this hard.  I almost gave up.

Religion – any religion – offers a wonderful feeling of peace and contentment when practiced with depth and sincerity.  At the same time, any religion will die out without something that makes it attractive to new practitioners.  The trick is to actually open the gift, to look beneath the shiny bows and brightly colored wrapping paper to see the true gift that waits inside the pretty box.  If you do the hard work, you find out for yourself if your path is a three course meal  or – as Billy Flynn puts it – “just a bagel.”

  8 Responses to “Lessons from Broadway: Razzle Dazzle ‘em”

  1. And that’s good, isn’t it, great isn’t it, SWELL isn’t it- nowadays!! Hey Tim- I love Chicago- no, wait, let me do that Show Queen- I LOOOOVE Chicago!!! Great post, as always- Due to those special, secret, on-the-down-low Gay Witchcraft channels that you Het Pagans may not know about it- not being “in the life”- I know Christopher. I’ll be sure to let him know he has a shout-out here at the Juggler- thanks, Tim!

  2. Hi Zan: thanks. As an initiate in the Temple of Witchcraft, Christopher is familiar with me too (even though I’m not part of the secret underground east coast down-low gay witchcraft scene). Thanks for the compliment – and “all that jazz.”

  3. Start the car, I know a whoopie spot, where the gin is cold and the piano’s hot- see, now I’m going to be stuck on this til tomorrow-

  4. And some of those razzle dazzlers are otherwise bizarre mashups of masculine and feminine that in any other time or place strike one as completely stupid, but, at least at a certain moment, sway thousands.

  5. Whatever happened to class?
    Now no one even says “oops”
    when they’re passing their gas.

  6. PPP: yeah. I tried not to go there, but you’re right. The razzle dazzle some people fall for is truly astounding.

  7. Her mother’s milk would curdle if she’d hear her baby’s Queer, for All That Jazz-

  8. O! I’m no one’s wife- but O! I LOVE my Life- and All- That- JAAAZZZZ!! That Jazz (yeah.)

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