It was the tear heard around the world. In one split (ahem) second Sinead O’Connor defiantly threw her figurative middle fingers in the air, lost a record amount of fans, and got banned from Saturday Night Live with her protest of the Catholic church. Many of the flock still haven’t forgiven her even now, twenty-five years later.
If for some reason you have no knowledge of what I’m speaking about, here’s the story. Sinead O’Connor was showcased as the musical guest on Saturday Night Live on this day in 1992. At that time many revelations about sexual abuse in the Catholic church were just coming to light and since Sinead had been abused as well, she decided to do a powerful, acapella cover Bob Marley’s song “War” on the show as a protest against the Catholic church. She did not disclose this reason to the producers of Saturday Night Live, nor did she tell them that she was going to go a step further so they were as shocked as everyone else when she ripped up a picture of the Pope while singing the word “evil”. At the end of the song, she threw the pieces at the camera and yelled “Fight the real enemy” before walking off the stage. There was no applause. In fact, aside from a few gasps there was very little sound at all – you could’ve almost heard a pin drop when she finished.
This one act threw a wrench into O’Connor’s rising career. Any upcoming appearances on late night television were canceled. She was booed nearly everywhere she went. Her record sales plummeted and many ripped up her picture and burned her records as part of their own television stunts. No one wanted to find out WHY she viewed the Catholic church as an enemy or what prompted her to rip up the picture. They were just angry – and many still are to this day. There are those who immediately bash Sinead even now over a single act that occurred twenty-five years ago to prove their loyalty to the church. It’s merely an instinct for them – if her name is mentioned, they must denigrate and insult her.
But O’Connor was uniquely qualified to both feel how she did and to do what she did. She was routinely abused by her religious mother as a child and when she was fifteen she was sent to a Magdalene Laundry, which was essentially a Catholic work camp for unwanted or rebellious girls. Abuse is almost too small of a word for what the nuns did there, and enduring that as well as her home life, scarred Sinead. Those scars remain today and have been super visible during her highly publicized suicidal videos and multiple calls for help.
Sinead O’Connor was defiant. For this she was trashed by her heroes and her career was never the same. Many of her fans betrayed her. Politicians and pundits destroyed her and still do in some cases, distracting from her very recent serious calls for help by recounting and focusing on the Saturday Night Live incident. It’s a wonder she has survived and gone on to make more music. In the long twenty-five years since papalgate she has become a mother, a grandmother, a priest, and an example for all those who struggle with suicidal thoughts and mental illness. Many of her issues actually stem directly from the Catholic church, so maybe it’s finally time to forgive her spontaneous act that happened a quarter of a century ago. After all, countless others have protested the church since and have never gotten the vitriol thrown at them that Sinead did. She was clearly ahead of the times.
What I learned twenty-five years ago was that it was dangerous to have different and opposing views but that strong women don’t let that stop them. I learned that I wasn’t alone and that we all need to really listen to people when they’re lashing out to hear what they’re really saying. I learned that despite battles with mental illness, abuse, and frothing hatred, it is possible to thrive and endure…and I learned all that from Sinead O’Connor, not the church or a television show.
GRMA Sinead. Nothing compares 2U.
At the time that this happened, I was stunned by the reaction. I was living in Philadelphia at the time and watched the show that night. I thought, “Ah, Sinead.” Didn’t bother me. The next day people were going berserk. I would still be laughing about it if the effect on her hadn’t been so negative. What an imbecilic mob mentality. Thanks for the memory jog.
I didn’t even have a TV at the time but I saw it EVERYWHERE. I also thought the uproar was silly at the time – and still do! (obviously)