We can all agree child abuse is wrong, right?
In the early 90s people couldn’t agree on how best to express this stance. Unfortunately for Sinead O’Connor, they could agree on how not to express it.
In October 1992, Sinead O’Connor was the musical guest on Saturday Night Live. For her final performance she sang the Bob Marley song “War”. She did so a cappella in a room lit by candles. It was a bold choice.
It is a raw and powerful performance railing against racial inequality. But O’Connor changed a line near the end of the song to reference child abuse. Then she held up a picture of Pope John Paul II while singing the word evil. After finishing the song she ripped up the picture and said “fight the real enemy.”
She tore up the picture to protest pedophilia in the Catholic church and its systematic cover up.
The audience sat in stunned silence. Thousands of angry calls poured in to NBC.
The New York Daily News called the performance a “Holy Terror”. Madonna criticized O’Connor by saying, “I think there is a better way to present her ideas rather than ripping up an image that means a lot to other people.”
The performance struck a nerve.
In the early 90s pedophilia in the perish just wasn’t on Americans’ radar. The Boston Globe reported on the widespread and systematic abuse occurring in the Boston area a decade later.
O’Connor performed “War” again two weeks later at a Bob Dylan tribute concert and was booed off stage.
The SNL performance effectively ended her ascent into pop stardom.
Ten years later Salon asked O’Connor whether she would change anything about her controversial performance.