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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 December 2005, 11:14 GMT
Merry Hell
The Magazine's review of blogs
By Alan Connor

Complaints from religious campaigners have led to supermarkets withdrawing comedy DVDs from shelves. Meet the bloggers who are raising merry hell.

    "I believed that Sainsbury and other supermarkets followed the laws of supply and demand, rather than the demands of a small group of self-appointed guardians of morality."
    Peter Gasston

It started this weekend. The stores are, so far, Sainsbury's and Woolworths; the campaigners, this time, are Christian... and the name of the offending comedy?

David Soul as Jerry Springer
The opera features Springer facing Satan in Hell
The first DVD to be removed from supermarkets on religious grounds is Jerry Springer: The Opera, a comedy musical that's memorable as much for its tendency to infuriate moralists as it is for its big bag of awards.

When BBC Two screened the show earlier this year, the atmosphere was fraught, with arguments over how many swear words were in the programme (estimates ranged from 105 to a cheekier 1.7 billion), and reports of death threats against TV execs and an email campaign which opened with the line "The Sikhs have made a stand - but will Christians?" - a reference to the Behzti riots.

All of which might help to explain why it only took 10 to 20 complaints to Sainsbury's to yank the DVD from among the bleach and bangers.

'Bulldog Nation'

And it's this big effect that a small number can have that's both infuriating and inspiring the bloggers who want to get Jerry Springer: The Opera back in the shops.

Free-flowing information is much-valued in the blogosphere, and the anti-Springer campaigners have brought together in opposition pagans, secularists, one MP, some gay and lesbian humanists, lawyers and Gagwatch, the anti-censorship blog which has as its logo a picture of Theo Van Gogh, the Dutch film-maker murdered by Islamic fundamentalists a year ago.

Woolworths said it does not wish to act as censor but it was responding to "numerous complaints" by customers
Sainsbury's said it received 10 to 20 complaints which should be regarded in the context that it very rarely gets any complaints about DVDs
There are also various bloggers who don't affiliate themselves to any cause, but who are cross anyway.

One such "concerned citizen" is Chicken Yoghurt:

    "Remember those heady days after July 7 and the stoicism showed by this Bulldog Nation (or whatever shorthand the papers coined for ease of consumption)? I thought we weren't in the business of letting fundamentalists dictate how we live our lives and what we read and watch in our own homes, theatres, and cinemas. I thought we weren't going to give in to threats and blackmail. It would seem we are after all."

So what have the bloggers got planned?

The voice of the people?

Well, one thing they've noticed is how the internet can be a better spur to action around an event than the event itself.

84% of the complaints to the BBC were before the programme had been shown; likewise Janet Jackson's nipple didn't prompt a single email complaint until the circular emails urging folk to "write the FCC" appeared in subsequent days. They're two of the more prominent examples of a trend described by Blithering Bunny as "protests from non-PC groups".

Weblog Watch is the BBC News Magazine's weekly review of blogs
It makes sense: email and blogs have negligible costs, no matter how many people you're trying to reach, and have a knack of making messages leap from one interested group of people into another. And if you're canny, you become a representative of the people without even having to have a members' organisation.

And this is more or less the model that the pro-Springer bloggers are going for, too: letting the news of the decision bounce from political weblogs to free speech ones; from personal sites to religious ones. The chief - and familiar - tactic is a consumer boycott - the letters are going out to Sainsbury's and Woolworths telling them they'll be losing Christmas trade, and Tim Ireland of Bloggerheads has even CC:ed Father Christmas.

Will they make themselves heard? Weary of receiving standardised replies, they're also plotting to buy shares in the relevant corporations so as to be able to raise merry hell at AGMs. They're also pledging to complain to store managers in person.

So, who will prevail in this unholy row?

The anti-Springer campaigners may not be legion, but they're not lacking in commitment. Meanwhile, the bloggers have got the numbers, but blogging is a hobby, not a religion.

Not yet, anyway.

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