The thing is that when Rowan Williams spoke last week about what he sees as a reduction in hostility towards religion, he can have had little idea that he may have been speaking too soon. I presume he was too busy writing his sermon to turn his attention to the upcoming ITV series, Superstar, in which celebrity judges and a voting audience decide who will play Jesus in an upcoming revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar.
Lord Lloyd Webber has done a few talent searches on the BBC over the last few years with considerable success. And while Jesus Christ Superstar always struck me as an uncontroversial show – a silly, seventies hippy version of the story of Jesus - plenty of people have taken exception to Lloyd Webber and Rice’s musical over the years, which may well explain why the BBC and the less-good lord have parted company this time.
But the potential awkwardness of casting Jesus from an array of musical hopefuls from around the country pales into positive good taste compared with the fact that ITV has now added product placement to the mix. The Independent managed to cop a look at an email from ITV, which had been forwarded to a high-end coffee-machine company.
ITV is looking for products to place in the show, and in exchange, the wannabe-Jesuses will then use the coffee machines in their temporary home for the duration of the series. Except presumably, if one of the challenges they’re asked to complete is fasting for 40 days and nights.
It’s at this point that I think satire may simply have to pull up with a crippling leg cramp and admit that it can no longer keep pace. Will the production feature a Jesus being swabbed down with a macchiato rather than the traditional vinegar? Will Judas betray him for thirty teaspoons of silver? Will the resurrection be assisted by a triple espresso?
Even Lloyd Webber’s co-creator isn’t on side – Rice has described the venture as tasteless and tacky, and as the one-time lyricist for Heathcliff, featuring a 56-year-old Cliff Richard as the juvenile lead, he should know.
Rice added that it would be ‘ill-advised to have people voting for who should be Jesus’, which is surely theologically unarguable. Although I’m tempted to refer him to the pre-Socratic philosopher Xenophanes, who noted six centuries before Jesus was born, that we tend to make gods in our own images: ‘If oxen and lions and horses had hands like men, and could draw … each would draw pictures of the gods as if they had bodies like their own.’ In an era where reality TV fame is the highest acclaim many can imagine, perhaps a reality show Jesus is simply the logical extension.