Satire—the first three letters are the same as Satan’s!—is a difficult comedic weapon to wield. We’re not talking the ribald goof of SNL or anything from the fart-and-frat variety that’s put websites like Funny or Die (or its little brother College Humor) on the laugh map. No, we’re talking the uncomfortable id of Andy Kaufman, his squirmy is-it-or-isn’t-it-real spectacle. We mean the faux pro-Wall Street antagonists who were only discovered to be fellow 99-Percenters when someone noticed their shoes were more J. Crew than John Lobb (after all, what hedge fund jackhole would picket in anything less than $1,500 kicks?). We are referring to Stephen Colbert, the 21st-century H. L. Mencken, playing—living?—the role of a lifetime.
Like these brilliant agitprop provocateurs, ChristWire.org is a whole other breed, its own unique creation of the times—a great big biblical golden calf that hides, depending on your perspective, either sweet chocolate innards or something much more razor-toothed and lupine. Whatever your take, you can’t deny their work is deceptively simple, and simply, wonderfully deceptive. How deceptive?
Like an equal-opportunity bear trap, ChristWire manages to catch everyone in its jesting little jaws at least once. Dumb-as-a-Fox-viewing rightwingers to arrogant, Prius-proud lefties alike high-five or harangue ChristWire’s wholly plausible posts with vigorous fervor and red-faced furor. And it’s not just the gullible public that falls for it. Frothing liberals, who are often as boogeyman-obsessed as their conservative counterparts, have been punk’d by ChristWire’s devilish missives. The usually sharp Rachel Maddow ranted about ChristWire’s post about a Sarah Palin-proposed invasion of Egypt, only later to recant her folly. (A game sport, Maddow’s now a fan, and subsequently endorsed their book.) King of All Media Howard Stern had his crown tarnished after the merry prankster himself swallowed a ChristWire lure, hook, line, and stinker.
But the biggest catch of the day was when the almighty Huffington Post went all righteously indignant over “9 Signs Your Husband Is Gay.” After realizing they got duped, the increasingly above-reproach web juggernaut then re-jiggered their post to claim (poorly, sadly, embarrassingly) that it knew the article was satirical all along. At least Maddow and Stern had the humility to admit they’d been hoodwinked.
On the sucker-right, RenewAmerica.com’s Marie Jon believed ChristWire’s Jesus-speak so fervently she started sending her own crazy anti-Obama rants to the site, which ChristWire gleefully posted, until someone clued in the clueless Jon and the jig was up. That “9 Signs” post, by the way? Viewed nearly 10 million times. And the website proper can bump upward of 30 million page views in a month.
“God reached down and told us we needed to start the site,” deadpans Kirwin Watson before he and his partner in crime Bryan Butvidas start laughing.
“It was right after the last election cycle and we did something with religion and then we posted an article where we bashed the gays and it just kind of took off. We smelled blood in the water and we just kind of ran with it,” Butvidas explains. “A lot of people think we just did this site to slam the religious right, but we actually just wanted to expose the hypocrisy on both sides of the political spectrum and show how stupid people are.”
No shortage of fodder there, as we all know—enough, in fact, for the publication of The Christwire Handbook (Citadel, 288 pages, $14.95), a hilarious, holy how-to that can save you from satanic video-games, homo-caused hurricanes, vaggiterians, children’s cartoons, and other secular evils. The book is written by investigative journalist Stephenson Billings, youth pastor and motivational speaker Jack Gould, fist-shaking firebrand Tyson Bowers III, and “the ChristWire flock,” a Christian cabal that, like some anal-sex-obsessed Athena, sprang from the godhead of Watson and Butvidas themselves.
Explaining their creative method, Butvidas says, entirely straight-faced, “We both have different ways of going at it.”
“A lot of our characters, like Stephenson Billings—it’s more like performance art, what we do with them,” adds Watson. “Some of my characters, I get into ’em and think, How would they think about this story? But one of the things we don’t like to do on the site is we don’t edit anything. At all.”
“We’ve been doing this so long that if we rewrite something, the story’s going to fail because it’s written too well,” explains Butvidas.
And he’s right. It’s the typos and the jangly, stream-of-consciousness diatribes that make ChristWire so jawdroppingly believable. Here, religious fanaticism is taken to the logical next step, which is actually not as far away as one might think. ChristWire portrays the faithful as the feral—rabid but righteous scavengers of the fringes, prowling the perceived gutter culture for signs of moral decay, all in the name of warning the flock against myriad evils.
And ChristWire, like the religious right itself, has a more than passing preoccupation with gay sex. This almost infantilized infatuation provides the site with much of its hilarious dead-on humor because, frankly, the stories on CW could quite possibly be written by any one of the hundreds of jokers for Jesus clamoring for a little media attention. After all, Rick Santorum didn’t get so shockingly far down the path to the Republican nomination based on his cogent understanding of the financial nuances inherent in the European debt crisis and its potential impact on America’s recent recovery. No, little Ricky ascended because he wore his sweater vest like a raiment, railing against gays, and women who actually enjoyed orgasm—a pleasure his wife presumably is content to live without.
“I was around a very large gay community when I was growing up,” Watson says. “I kinda knew all the inside terms and how the thing worked, so I started writing antigay pieces because I knew all the buttons to push, I knew the things to say, I knew the deep dark secrets. And the funny thing is that the gay community is probably the only group that hasn’t gotten pissed off about what we write.”
Their insider knowledge lends an air of credibility to their satiric proceedings, which is why posts like “5 Christmas Things Gays Have Ruined” (eggnog, mistletoe) and “Will Michael Bay Make My Kid Gay?” resonate with the gay faithful. Gays almost seem to have a sixth sense for these things—in fundamentalist parlance, a “spirit of discernment”—that allows us lifesaving powers of detection. It’s almost the same kind of inner security system that tells wealthy white women to clutch their purse closer when a black man is around—only not. You see, when we read ChristWire, we know to place our fight-or-flight system on pause, because to us it’s patently, hilariously obvious that these two joke wolves masquerading as simpleton sheep mean us no harm.
“We were on a TV show in San Diego and they said that we were actually doing good for the community because we’re showing what gay people have to deal with every day, and we twist it in a humorous way so that it gets attention,” Watson laughs. “People can laugh about it, but they get educated at the same time. We still don’t understand it, but [if it helps to say] that guys are rubbing their musky man-candy sacks into each other’s faces, we’ll keep writing about it.”
Steven Foster also writes about Grindr in this issue of OutSmart magazine.