Jesus Christ Superstar

NBC

The Evolution of the Rock Opera From Hatred To Acceptance

Have you seen the widespread protests about the NBC live musical performance of Jesus Christ Superstar? The online petitions to have advertisers pull out of NBC for promoting the show? People howling on social media about the disrespect?

No, you didn’t because they did not happen. When Jesus Christ Superstar was initially released religious groups attacked the play. They argued that the show portrayed Judas in a warmer light, made Jews too complicit in the killing of Jesus, and ignored the resurrection of Jesus.

So putting on a rock opera about Jesus on Easter Sunday, the very holiday that is meant to celebrate the resurrection seemed like it would automatically cause groups to protest. But the naysayers were relatively silent.

What has changed?

The first thing to understand is the context of the so-called “controversy.” Yes, groups protested the rock opera when it originally came out. Hungary and South Africa even banned it. But not all religious organizations were upset at the play. The Vatican gave the performance a positive review, and there was also a private performance for Pope John Paul. Some churches thought it was good at spreading the message of the Bible and put on individual showings. The creators had to sue over a dozen religious groups to get them to stop stealing the performance to play for their congregations. It was not a unified controversy.

But the controversy is almost non-existent now because society has moved on. We have become more open to the issues addressed. The idea of Judas being a conflicted figure does not matter as much. More than 50 years ago social issues like gay marriage or marijuana legalization were seen as extremely liberal hot-button issues. Now the majority of Americans support both. People are less shocked by the problems the play brings up.

Jesus Christ Superstar has been around for 50 years. The more a society is exposed to something, the less interested people become in it. The play feels dated in ways that may have once been seen as unique. Even the idea of a “hippie Jesus” seems more like a cliché than an actual change. When the play first came out people were upset that Judas was black. Now Jesus is played by John Legend, a black man, and people are talking about what a stellar performance he gave.

Jesus Christ Superstar has not changed, but we have. In the same way things from our childhood that seemed risqué now seem tame, religious groups have found different issues. Even though the NBC show received the best reviews of any of their live musicals it still only had 9 million people tune in to watch. This is half the number of NBC’s live performance of The Sound Of Music. So maybe people just aren’t interested in the play anymore, neither to enjoy nor protest.

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