In 1966 John Lennon said “we’re more popular than Jesus” and that rock and roll might outlast Christianity. It was basically a philosophical off the cuff rant about non-permanence and how preposterous pop culture worship was becoming. Also, there was a trend of declining Christianity in the UK and throughout Europe in the post WWII era. As he said later he was not trying to compare the Beatles to Christianity, he was just talking about the trends of the time and lamenting on how shallow things seemed to be getting. In his apology, which he didn’t want to make because he thought what he said was taken out of context, he said “I suppose if I had said television was more popular than Jesus, I would have got away with it”. Yes he said got, instead of gotten because well you can probably hear the man’s voice in your head right?
And this triggered the death threats and craziness that heightened at their shows as Christians across the southern US started banning and burning Beatles records and the KKK started protesting outside of shows. Fourteen years later Lennon would be gunned down outside of his apartment building by Mark David Chapman. Chapman was a young christian youth in the mid sixties and cited the more popular than Jesus comment as one of the reasons that he killed Lennon. It didn’t matter that the phrase was out of context to the people fueling the outrage to Lennon’s comments. Probably many of them knew it was out of context and chose to escalate the outrage as much as they could. And apparently they also never cared about actual violence that their rhetoric would bring about. And they’ve definitely never taken responsibility for their part in inciting someone to kill Lennon.
I don’t want to lump the Klan in with Christians but the Klan claims to be a Christian organization and in the south at the time some Klan groups and some Christian groups, some of which we’re intermingled, were upset with the Beatles for promoting black culture and refusing to play to segregated audiences. Yep, they refused to play to segregated audiences and that pissed off a lot of southern local officials. So when something came around that could be used to demonize the Beatles many of these groups did just that.
Their message was that the Beatles shouldn’t say that they are bigger than Jesus because young people look up to them and it sends a terrible message. This stuck with a lot of young Christian kids who repeated that message to news outlets across the South that were covering the story. One of those kids might have been Chapman. They, of course, were reacting to a fabrication, the Beatles never really said what many people came to believe they said. These southern groups could have diffused the misunderstanding, especially after the apology, but instead they threw gasoline on the fire by repeating their version of the story over and over and over again. This sounds familiar right? Of course it does, it’s a very old trick. You make a claim about what someone supposedly said or did and then demonize them for it regardless whether they said it or did it. It helps when there is some little grain of something to twist it all up but as we are finding out it’s really not necessary in our modern world. You can now pretty much make up anything out of whole cloth, Tucker Carlson does it nightly.
Anyway I thought this little history lesson could be a good reminder that this is the tactic we’ve been living with for a long time and that the 2022 election will probably be the craziest we’ve seen yet. It’s not just one little lie about the Beatles making people crazy. It’s thousands of lies being spun by a well financed and high tech propaganda network in partnership with the Republican party. And they’ll be taking the next few years up to 11. Oh wait they’ve already been at 11 for quite some time now. Let’s just just say it’s way past 11. And every time we think it couldn’t get any crazier, they make it crazier. Did you hear how Biden plans to start a nuclear war with Russia? Or how the January 6th rioters, I mean political prisoners, are being beaten, starved and held in solitary confinement? Or that the FBI was behind the January 6th attack? How about Biden paying immigrants $450,000 to illegally come to this country? That’s just Fox, which is the least crazy of the crazy news outlets for the Trump base.
I know it’s easy to not take any of this nonsense seriously as it seems just flat out crazy. But the Beatles stopped touring because of death threats and Mark David Chapman killed Lennon. We already saw pretty normal people storm the capital and attack police officers, and they love police officers, they say it all the time. School board officials and teachers are getting death threats. Health care workers are getting death threats. There’s been multiple polls this year where a small but significant part of the Republican base has stated that political violence may be necessary.
So we haven’t seen the end of this yet, I think we’re just entering the next phase. How do we diffuse it? I don’t know. The media machine is wide and decentralized and the entirety of the Republican party is repeating the same lies day after day with a mission to control the outcome of our elections. And just like the people who fueled the Beatles mayhem, the Republican party and their propaganda network don’t seem to care and definitely won’t take responsibility for the violence they’re inciting.