Disorder can still give reason a good run for its money good fight against reason and disorder

Share
Related Topics
LOUD MUSIC, flashing lights, writhing bodies: the Reverend Chris Brain's Nine O'Clock Service in Sheffield has been compared several times this week to rave culture. But there's another, more interesting parallel which the church authorities, currently counselling Brain's disciples/victims - the distinction is not at present clear - may find far more disturbing.

The famous frescoes in the Villa dei Misteri at Pompeii show initiates in the cult of Dionysus taking part in various rites including flagellation and nude dancing. Feared throughout the ancient world, the cult was associated with wine, fertility and excess; one modern authority links it with "the release of powerful irrational impulses through controlled ritual" and "unleashed communal ecstasy" - descriptions that might equally be applied to the hysterical atmosphere recalled by participants in the NOS.

Worship of Dionysus was particularly attractive to women who, temporarily freed from the oppressive cultural constraints of the ancient world, threw themselves into frenzied and overtly sexual celebrations of the god. Some sources suggest it was associated with the ritual sacrifice of animals and occasionally of humans, with hints of cannibalistic rituals. This throws new light on Mr Brain's appearance at the Greenbelt Festival two years ago when he stood on stage flanked by two writhing women in bikinis, under the projected instruction: "Eat God, Swallow God" - an injunction more usually associated, in a slightly different form, with a certain type of men's magazine.

There have been suggestions that Mr Brain himself may be in need of psychiatric treatment, but the Church's investigators should tread carefully when dealing with the forces he has unleashed. In Euripides' play the Bacchae, the king of Thebes refuses to allow Dionysus into his city and is sufficiently intrigued to follow the god up into the mountains and spy on his orgies. Unmasked by his female initiates, the king is torn limb from limb by a crowd of hysterical women which includes his own mother.

What's going on in Sheffield is a classic example of the conflict, identified by Nietzsche, between Dinonysian disorder and the Apollonian forces of reason. Two things are clear: the Apollonians don't always win. And the gulf between Christianity and paganism isn't as wide as intellectual Anglicans like to imagine.

I'M A RATIONALIST myself but I can't help discerning traces of quasi- religious ritual in the week's other big story, the outing by the tabloids of comedian, Michael Barrymore. Until a couple of weeks ago, the only Barrymore I'd heard of was the dead American actress, Ethel. So I was momentarily puzzled by headlines about someone called Barrymore coming out and how therapeutic it had been (I Could Have Ended Up Dead In A Seedy Motel Room Says Barrymore).

Now I know that Michael Barrymore is one of the most famous people in Britain, that he's a game show host given to making self-mocking jokes about homosexuality, and that he's gay. Camp Comedian Is Gay Shock? Heavens, they'll be telling us next that Liberace was homosexual. What strikes me about this completely trivial story is that for several days the tabloids and their victim have played out an almost stately pavane of accusation, denial and confession.

Newspapers are increasingly taking on the role formerly occupied in Roman Catholic countries by the Inquisition. Tabloid hacks confront sinners, put them on trial, refuse to listen to their tearful denials, extract admissions (torture by publicity) and finally administer absolution. Barrymore's language earlier this week when he "confessed" his homosexuality on a late-night radio show was strikingly penitent, even born-again: "I'll have to start again ... I feel better. I feel calm."

He might have felt even calmer if he'd simply announced, when all the fuss started, that he was gay and so what? By alternately running for cover and visiting gay pubs, Barrymore stoked the tabloids' feeding frenzy and, I would guess, made things more difficult for his wife Cheryl. Unlike the Inquisition, the tabloids depend for the success of their witch hunts on a degree of collusion from their victims; astonishingly, time and again, this is something they seem all too willing to provide.

BY CONTRAST, a cordon sanitaire has been erected around Prince William before the press has made any attempt to invade his privacy. Lord Wakeham, Chairman of the Press Complaints Council, reminded newspapers this week that William, who starts at Eton next month, "is not an institution, not a soap star, nor a football hero". The only difference between him and any other child, Wakeham remarked with masterly understatement, is that William will one day be king.

As differences go, it's about as big as you can get. It also overlooks the fact that William is already a walk-on player in that perennially fascinating soap, The War Between the Waleses. Who, after all, is responsible for propelling William into the public eye? Given the readiness of the Princess of Wales to appear en famille with her sons in Hello! magazine - showing, of course, what a relaxed, affectionate mum she is in contrast to their gauche, unprepossessing father - Lord Wakeham's strictures might have been more effective if he'd just posted them direct to Kensington Palace.

I WAS GOING to end with an apology to George O'Mahoney of Brighton, who wrote to ask, reasonably enough, what I've got against bald men after my slighting reference to them last week. But Mr O'Mahoney has distracted me with the delightful suggestion that he should "cover his chromedome" with a tea cosy when he next reads this column.

In fact, I'm so taken with this idea I'd like to commend it to other readers, follically challenged or not. Those without tea cosies might like to substitute one of those knitted lavatory-roll covers in the form of a crinolined lady.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: HAMPSHIRE MARKET TOWN - A highly attr...

Ashdown Group: IT Systems Analyst / Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

£23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

Ashdown Group: Junior Reports Developer / Application Support Engineer

£23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

Recruitment Genius: Client Support Officer

£10 - £11 per hour: Recruitment Genius: The candidate must be committed, engag...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Should it be okay to split infinitives or does it chop up the English language too much?  

Sometimes it's okay to chop and change the way we write. But most of the time, it isn't

John Rentoul
A man rescues his belongings after his home was affected by floods in Marcovia, Honduras  

Still not sure about the devastating effects of climate change? Then let me tell you what's happening in Honduras right now

Daniel Fine
In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

The young are the new poor

Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

Greens on the march

‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

Through the stories of his accusers
Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

The Meaning of Mongol

Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible