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woohooligan May 4, 2015
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I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that it's a bit of a challenge to be so offensive that all three arms of the Baptist Church (you know, the fire and brimstone guys), cut ties and actively denounce you. What may be more shocking however, is that Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) tactics may have backfired on them.

You may recall a few years ago that Rupert Murdoch, the head of Fox News, was asked to testify in court regarding a scandal involving members of Fox News illegally invading people's privacy in the name of "news". A day or two into the hearings someone tried to throw a pie in his face on camera. Although his wife did deflect the pie, being "under attack" humanized him (as much as I guess a face-full of shaving-cream could be considered an "attack" - even for an aging geezer like Murdoch). People felt sorry for Murdoch because the attack was unprovoked.

This brings us back to WBC, who's private doctrine says God will punish you for failing to attack people you believe to be sinful - namely gay people. Following that line of "reasoning" they inferred that anything bad that happens in the United States (9-11 for example), is God's way of punishing the country for our collective tolerance to gay people. To that end, they launched a crazy, international, one-church campaign against gay people that involved picketing businesses that were known to employ gay people, then moving on to funerals, including military funerals and eventually appearing in the Supreme Court, who decided that their picketing is first-amendment protected free speech. For all their sleaze, they never (as far as we know) directly threatened violence against anyone (barring domestic abuse inside the home), and so they never broke the law during protests (as much as we might say they bent it). There have even been a number of people who've safely counter-protested with a variety of their own signs. In fact, WBC inspired some of Dorothy's friends to create Equality House diretly across the street from the WBC!

Like Murdoch's pie-face incident, the WBC's attacks on gay people (while non-violent), were unprovoked, bringing attention to GLBT issues and humanizing members of the GLBT community. People who might have previously opposed GLBT issues (like marriage equality), were so repulsed by the vile spewage of WBC that they softened to GLBT people. So while there's no way to know exactly what the outcome of all their picketing has been in total, it's possible that their opposition sped-up the movement toward marriage equality. It's also possible that, for all the Supreme Court's hand-wringing about ruling on gay marriage recently, they could have postponed that inevitability another twenty years if they had ruled against WBC in the free-speech case against their protests. (Can we say irony, boys and girls?)

Speaking of irony, let me talk a bit about Fred Phelps himself... the man. People love a good villain, just look at Simon Cowl or Darth Vader or Disney. The truth is that as much as we'd like them to be (or as much as we try to make them with our cartoons), people aren't cardboard cut-outs. Almost without exception, I've found that people I've disliked over the years (George W. Bush, Richard Nixon who was disliked even by his own supporters and staff), have done things that I supported. Nixon created the EPA. Bush jr pushed for US AIDS relief in Africa without much support from his party. And as much as I might want to see Phelps as a villain, he's as complicated as the rest of us.

Here's a guy who was a civil-rights attorney in the early part of his career, before the courts disbarred him. He founded his church in 1955 and was later denounced by all three arms of the Baptist church as well, so we see there's a trend in his life of his being kicked out of groups because they find him sleazy. He went on to lose numerous public elections (as a democrat?!), and even at the height of his Church's membership when they were spending $250,000 a year to travel around the country, they never had more than a few dozen members - Fred, some (though not all) of his own family, and two or three weirdos who joined voluntarily. When the news announced he'd become ill, likely dying, his estranged son Nate told reporters that he'd been excommunicated from his own church a year before. What did he do that was so horrible, so vile, that the hate-cult he created wouldn't have him? He suggested that the church members should be kinder to each other!

After having been too sleazy for the courts, too fundamentalist for the Democrats, too hard for the Baptists and too soft for his own family, is it any wonder his son Nate said he just stopped eating? A lot of people considered protesting Phelps' funeral the way his church had protested so many other people's funerals, but it turns out WBC decided not to have one: what a coincidence! But I wonder how many people would have gone through with it (like the NY Satanic Church who performed a pink mass to turn Phelps' mother "gay forever"), because I suspect the WBC may have inspired more pity in the long-run than hate from their opposition. After the WBC protested Kevin Smith's film, Red State, Smith got to a point where he was just amused by the whole thing and described them as "marketing partners". At their first protest following Fred Phelps death, the counter-protestors held up a sign reading "sorry for your loss".

I think Phelps' convoluted legacy is a cautionary tale, because I'm pretty sure he could have avoided all that. Back in the 90s, some scientists got the bright idea to show men different kinds of porn, (to which, guys are now asking "how can I get paid to be in that study?"). The purpose of this was to measure their erections and as you can imagine, they divided the men into a group of homophobes and a control group of dong-agnostic men. While both groups of men demonstrated erection in response to images of lesbian and straight sex, there was an unsurprising diversion in response to the man-on-man porn. Three quarters of the homophobes boned-up, compared to only a third of the control group. While it's important to note that other science clearly shows that anxiety can also cause wood, it's probably also important to note the rash of gay-sex scandals involving anti-gay activists like Ted Haggard, Larry Craig, and a number of (mostly Republican) politicians in recent years. And this is why I say Phelps is a cautionary tale - personally I think it brings new perspective to the recent hubbub over who's going to cater that same-sex wedding.

In other news, April was awesome! This was the first full month of our Patreon campaign and I worked really hard to get more comics made and the results have been sweet! I published two to three times my usual number of strips (seven mostly extra-long strips)! If you check the milestone goals on our Woohooligan Patreon page, that means I published as much this past month as I've promised when the pledges hit $592 or possibly $1k per month! Moreover, checking our Google Analytics, in April the number of returning visitors doubled! And all the people who visited the site stayed longer! :D

It feels great! And I'm really looking forward to doing this more often and I know we can, if you guys can help me out by sharing the comic a little more so we get a few more people on that Patreon! To be honest, publishing this much in April was a real challenge because April was a real bear for my software engineering work as well. That's not even mentioning having to replace Tiff's computer that died and several other unexpected challenges. The current pledges on Patreon are a great start! They're already at $18.90, just $1.10 away from our second milestone goal! :D It's just not feasibly enough yet for me to produce this much content all the time. If you do the math, $18.90 over six strips comes out to about $3 per strip, with each strip taking about six hours to create. That's a big challenge, to get our Patreon up to a sustainable level, but I know we can do it! :D

So it can be like this all the time, creating lots of cool new stuff every month! And the only way that can happen is for you guys who want more of this to help me spread the word! Facebook, twitter, your friends in college, let everybody know about Woohooligan! :D

Stay awesome, Hooligans!

p.s. A brief shout to Jeremy Laabs, who won our Patreon monthly commission raffle for April!

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