Spotlighting student work #18: A Murderous Messiah

EvaToday’s essay is from THEOREL 101/G student, Eve Greensill (pictured left!). Eva has chosen a fascinating topic, considering convicted killer Charles Manson as a ‘popular messiah’ figure. Here’s a little bit about Eva.

I’m from Taranaki, and moved to Auckland at the start of 2018 to study at the University of Auckland. I’m studying a Bachelor of Arts with majors in Psychology and Drama. I don’t have any definite goals for the future yet, I’d like to see what avenues my degree leads me to, and what passions I find through study. Over the course of my first year I’ve developed an interest in Eastern psychologies, and intend to travel to India after my degree to learn more. THEOREL 101 was hands down one of my favourite courses this year, I loved how the assignment and exam provided so much space to explore personal interests in relation to course material. I also really enjoyed how it challenged the way that I had thought about the bible and its place in pop culture.

Sit back and enjoy the read!

CM2

Manson: Murder, Madness and… Messiahship?!

Eva Greensill

When considering contemporary messiahs in pop culture, many think of the heroic and widely adored figures such as Barack Obama, Harry Potter, or Ritchie McCaw. It’s easy to forget the dark underbelly of messiah-types in which people who do unspeakably horrific acts also exhibit an eerie number of the typical features by which we define our beloved heroic messiahs. One such ‘dark messiah’ is Charles Manson. Manson was a cult leader who rose to infamy in the late 1960’s after he was involved with nine murders. His beliefs were based on the biblical apocalyptic texts in Revelation, which he believed indicated an imminent race war between African Americans and white Americans. He also believed that the Beatles were prophets of this race war and named his ideology ‘Helter Skelter’ after a song from their ‘White Album’. Manson promised his cult, the Family, that they would be safe in the desert during this supposed war until the white Americans had been killed, and then the cult would emerge and rule over society. The important factors to consider when examining Manson as a popular messiah are the differing definitions of messiah between the New Testament and Old Testament, the application of the American monomyth, and the typical features of a popular messiah which can be applied to Manson.

This essay will be discussing Manson regarding the New Testament concept of messiah. However, it is interesting to consider how Manson can be viewed, or perhaps how he viewed himself, in relation to the Old Testament definition. A messiah in the Old Testament was a person anointed by God to be a political and military leader, as David was anointed by Samuel – “The Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him… and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward” (1 Sam. 16:12-13). To himself and to his followers, it is likely that Manson did fit the idea of a Hebrew messiah, as his ideology was politically grounded with strong beliefs around necessary war. Manson also claimed to have a unique understanding of the bible, and so despite not having been anointed by God in a literal manner such as King David, Manson’s supposed special relationship with God along with his political agenda does draw strong parallels to the Hebrew concept of messiah. The definition in the New Testament differs from the Old Testament, as the identification of Jesus as a messiah brought the idea that a messiah was a figure who brought spiritual salvation; a more abstract concept than the political salvation associated with Hebrew messiahs.

CM at time of his arrest AP
Charles Manson at the time of his arrest

The American monomyth in relation to popular messiahs is based on the New Testament definition of messiah. The American monomyth as discussed by Jewett and Lawrence focuses on a community under threat, from which a messianic savior-figure arises to conquer evil and restore the community to safety (Jewett and Lawrence 2002, p.6). The American monomyth is mainly discussed regarding fictional superheroes, however, the concept can also be applied to real historical figures, as will be outlined in the case of Charles Manson. The creation of fictional heroes speaks to a deep societal yearning for a real savior to arise who can solve the problems faced by a community or nation at a certain point in time. For example, ‘Superman’ was first published in 1938, at the end of the Great Depression, while America was on the precipice of World War II. As Trimble wrote of the ‘Superman’ creators; “Growing up in one of the most difficult periods in American history, perhaps, to them, the only means of finding the promised American dream was through the intervention of a super-powered strongman” (Lang and Trimble 1988, p.160). When looking at Charles Manson, it is apparent that the 1960s were a time of political unrest, known as “a volatile era of social and political turbulence… The decade was characterized by emphases on psychedelic drug use, sexual exploration, racial equality, and activism through music…” (Altman 2015, p.3). It is highly plausible that such an environment created a longing for a messiah figure of the American monomyth to arise and ease the social unrest, in the same way that such a longing was present at the time of Superman’s creation. Therefore, the Manson Family’s view of Manson as such a figure is not implausible, as his ideology was one that promised social resolution. Manson did also cultivate this idea of him as a messianic figure, even going as far as to model himself as Jesus. Nielsen outlines how the Family developed an idea of Manson as a Christ-figure due to heavy drug consumption, during which Manson would reenact the crucifixion of Jesus (1984, p.323).

CM 1
Charles Manson arrives at the courthouse in Independence, California, on December 3, 1969.

In further analysis of Charles Manson as a messiah figure, it becomes clear that he does fit a majority of features attributed to contemporary messiahs by Jewett and Lawrence. These features are generally based off characteristics of biblical messiahs, or Jesus in particular. One such feature is unusual or unknown origins, which aligns with Jesus’ unusual birth to a virgin mother (Matt. 1:18-25). Manson’s childhood was unusual in the fact that it was a difficult one. His mother was fifteen when she gave birth to him and went to prison when Manson was only four. By thirteen, Manson had been involved in auto theft and armed robbery, which resulted in him being sent to juvenile detention for most of his adolescence (Arledge 2017). Another feature of a contemporary messiah which Manson can claim is that of being an ‘outsider’; somehow set apart from others. While Manson made it his mission to be surrounded by other people, he was set apart from them by his psychology; as a psychopath he would be unable to feel empathy or remorse.Therefore he could not truly connect with and relate to those around him, making him an ‘outsider’. Manson also shows the feature of rationalization of violence, as he justified the nine murders by claiming that it was necessary to start his imagined race war. Tex Watson, one of the Family members wrote in his autobiography that Charlie told them to commit murder to “do what blackie didn’t have the energy or the smarts to do – ignite Helter Skelter and bring in Charlie’s kingdom” (Watson 1978, p.67).

Additionally, Manson exhibits ‘extraordinary powers’, another feature of popular messiahs. However rather than supernatural powers, his abilities lie in his manipulation of people through his charisma and reasoning, which combined with the use of drugs, essentially allowed him to brainwash people. Furthermore, the messianic feature of thematic death and resurrection is apparent in how Manson promised his followers safety from the supposed apocalyptic race war. He told the Family they would escape to the desert during the war and live in the ‘bottomless pit’ from Revelation 9:1 – “a star that had fallen from heaven to earth, and he was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit”. It is interesting that in theology, the ‘bottomless pit’ is commonly understood to refer to hell, and so perhaps Manson saw the idea of taking shelter in this pit as type of death. He also made his followers believe that once the African Americans were victorious, the family would emerge and rule the earth, which fits with the idea of resurrection. Another feature of a contemporary messiah which can be applied to Manson is the idea of a loyal band of iconic followers. Comparative to how Jesus had his disciples, Manson had his Family, many of whom would have been willing to die for him (Mark 3.13-19).

CM3
Charles Manson, surprisingly short for such a ‘big’ personality

Another potential feature of a popular messiah that Manson could be argued to adhere to is that of remaining collected under pressure.  Even though Manson was renowned for exhibiting bizarre behavior during his trial and in subsequent interviews, it could be argued that this was an act for Manson to manipulate how the court and the rest of the world saw him, which would suggest that underneath all the insanity, he was in fact, collected. This idea is supported by how, even as a child, Manson would use similar methods to protect himself, something which he called the ‘insane game’ – “This ‘game’ consisted of Charles using noises, erratic gestures, rapid movements, and any other means at his disposal to convince potential threats that he was crazy and not worth their time” (Altman 2015, p.21). The only two messianic features which Manson does not fit is that of having a selfless passion for justice, and of renouncing sexuality and withstanding temptation. Objectively, Manson’s actions cannot be described as just in any righteous sense, and his use of drugs and sex were instrumental in the manipulation of his followers.

It is indisputable that Manson is a widely recognized figure in pop culture. His recent death has only served to cement the intrigue surrounding his life, and filmmakers are scrambling to capitalize on this and capture the essence of Manson on screen. However, Manson can not only be defined as a pop culture icon, but also as a contemporary messiah, in relation to both Hebrew and New Testament definitions, the American monomyth and by conventional features attributed to messiahs. This creates interesting reflections around human susceptibility to evil when it is masked by a charismatic leader, and just how far people can be willing to go to fulfil someone else’s vision. Manson was not the first messianic figure to use his power over others to commit unthinkable atrocities against others, nor unfortunately, will he be the last.

jeremy-davies-charles-manson-e1472852231864
Jeremy Davies presents us with a rather Christ-like Manson in 2004 movie, Helter Skelter

Bibliography

All references to the Biblical text are from the New Revised Standard Version

Altman, Robin, “Sympathy for the Devil: Charles Manson’s Exploitation of California’s 1960s Counter-Culture.” Undergraduate Honours Theses, University of Colorado (2015) https://scholar.colorado.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2017&context=honr_theses

Arledge., Roone, creator. “20/20 Truth and Lies: The Family Manson”. Aired 17thMarch 2017; USA, ABC Networks. Accessed from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YqL70yz65B4

Jewett, Robert, and John Shelton Lawrence. “The myth of the American superhero.”Grand Rapids: Eerdmans (2002).

Lang, Jeffrey S., and Patrick Trimble. “Whatever happened to the Man of Tomorrow? An examination of the American monomyth and the comic book superhero.” The Journal of Popular Culture 22, no. 3 (1988): 157-173.

Nielsen, Donald A. “Charles Manson’s Family of Love: A Case Study of Anomism, Puerilism and Transmoral Consciousness in Civilizational Perspective.”Sociological Analysis 45, no. 4 (1984): 315-337. doi:10.2307/3711297.

Watson, Charles (Tex), Chaplain Ray Hoekstra. “Will You Die for Me?”New York, Fleming H. Revell Co. (1978).

Spotlighting Student Work #10: Fashion Deities

Today we have an essay from local Bella Qian–here’s a bit about her, and the piece:

I’m an Auckland gal who loves her city, though the recent gas prices have had me looking at the running costs of horses. I have just finished my second year of a highly employable Bachelor of Arts majoring in Ancient History and Psychology. One day I hope to pursue a post grad degree in Psychology as I have personally experienced the consequences of New Zealand’s flawed mental health system and attitudes, so the dream is to make a difference. I chose to write about fashion and religion in my essay because of my love for fashion (as evidenced through my bank statements) as well as my interest in consumerism and capitalism. This essay was very enjoyable to write and I hope that anyone reading it can find a point or two amidst my excessive shoe descriptions that gets them to stop and think.

Enjoy the read and have a great weekend!

BELLAEIN.PNG

Popes in Prada and Angels in Lingerie

Bella Qian

Fashion and religion are both major influences in society as they explicitly and implicitly impact the way we think, feel, and act. When these two important bodies crash and merge in popular culture, a whole new set of meanings and implications emerge. Throughout history, clothing has been used for far more than to cover our bodies, it has held political, social, sexual, and economic implications (Schmidt 1989). Within religion, these implications still hold strong and clothing is given a whole new set of meanings in this context. However, these meanings were challenged through new interpretations of religious dress at the 2018 Met Gala, one of the biggest fashion events in Western society. Religion has also made its way into the fashion world via the unexpected area of lingerie. One of the most successful lingerie brands in the world, Victoria’s Secret, has been using ‘angels’ to model their lingerie for over a decade. Yet the meaning and use of these ‘angels’ seem to be drastically different from the ones mentioned in the Bible. This essay then aims to examine how religion has been used in fashion, using the example of the 2018 Met Gala, and Victoria’s Secret’s angels.

Within all major religions, dress has been used to serve the purpose of establishing and enforcing ideologies and hierarchies (Arthur 1999). Historically, for members and followers of the church, modesty is viewed as an important value that should be displayed through clothing, particularly for women. Thus, the excessive display of flesh is not encouraged and clothing should act to cover the body (ibid.). The colour and type of clothing also mattered; during the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century, vibrant and luxurious clothing was condemned. Instead, sombre dress was encouraged as it reflected the Christian focus on salvation and redemption (ibid.). The Catholic clergy also reflect the significance of dress through the different colours and items worn by members of different priestly rankings. At the bottom of the hierarchy are priests, who wear black, above them are bishops who wear violet, then cardinals in scarlet, and finally the pope, who is dressed in white. On top of colour, slight differences in their everyday dress from the hats they wear to the laces on their shoes are also used to display their differences in rank. Interestingly, these differences are not simply used to differentiate between clerical positions, but also hold religious symbolism (Bolton et al 2018). The white that is associated with the pope represents purity and sanctity that only he is worthy of (Arthur 1999). From these examples, we can see that clothing has important meanings and functions within the church.

French Archbishop Philippe Barbarin attends a Good Friday mass in Saint-Jean Cathedral in Lyon
Look at that colour coordination

These meanings and functions were completely flipped in the 2018 Met Gala with its theme of “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination”. The Met Gala is a charity event that has been running for 73 years and is arguably the most anticipated fashion event every year (Hoffower 2018). This year, the outfits worn by the celebrities at the event unreservedly exceeded expectations as they were amazing examples of how religion can be interpreted in fashion. Being the most exclusive fashion event of the year, with tickets allegedly costing up to US$50,000, it is unsurprising that many celebrities went over the top to make a statement.  This year’s gala was filled with all sorts of extravagant jewels, crosses, halos, and even wings. Many celebrities also chose to reference specific religious figures, like the Virgin Mary in her manifestation as the lady of sorrows.

BellaZWEI.PNG

However, we do not see any modestly clothed and grieving Marys as depicted in religious art; instead, we see bejewelled Marys in thousand-dollar designer outfits. Explicitly, these outfit choices may be a way to further indicate the superior or divine status of these celebrities. The event itself is already exclusive – not only do guests need to be able to afford the $50,000 ticket, the event is invite-only, with a lengthy waitlist. The celebrities attending the gala have the modern world’s seal of approval, they are our contemporary aristocracy. Thus, by associating themselves with powerful and respected religious figures at this exclusive event, their status is further elevated. This can then have a cultural function of reinforcing an ‘us and them’ hierarchy. These celebrities, like the religious figures we worship, are out of reach and our only contact with them should be through our worshipping and idolizing of them. Furthermore, there may be a cultural function of holding up western ideals. The event’s exclusive guest list shows us the ideals of success and wealth, the achievements of the attendants creates a standard for onlookers and further separates them. The theme of the Met gala creates an idealization of certain of religion, and the choice of Catholicism raises questions like: is Catholicism better? Elevated? Or more red-carpet ready than other religions in the world? Additionally, when Catholicism was chosen as a theme for the most exclusive fashion event in Western society, its superiority and authority are reinforced. This can function to further the dominant role of Western ideas, standards, and beliefs in modern society.

BellaDREI.PNG

Thus, not only do these dazzling Marys represent a beautiful crossing over of religion and high fashion, they also function to reinforce the status of both the attendants and modern Western ideologies.

Some of the outfits at the gala were particularly memorable as they managed to implicitly challenge the norms and ideologies of the church while being high fashion. One of these was singer and actress Solange Knowles’ outfit where she wore a gold halo that she paired with a flowing black durag. The halo was common amongst other celebrities and its meaning was straightforward, associating its wearer with holiness. Thus, it was her durag that stood out. The durag is dated back to the nineteenth century and was originally worn by slaves to keep their hair back. Yet its use completely changed with the black power movement during the late 1960’s which preached for equality and racial pride for those of African descent. During this movement, the durag became a popular accessory amongst African American youth and it is still used today (White and Hertz 2013). Importantly, on her durag, Solange had written in jewels, “My God Wears a Durag” (Edwards 2018). This juxtaposition of opulence with a symbol of slavery and later street culture captivates onlookers while sending a very important message. With her outfit, Solange reminds us that heaven is not white like it is commonly depicted and interpreted. Her outfit also disrupts and challenges the white dominance in religious art and imagery while celebrating the existence and importance of women of colour in religion (Edwards 2018).  Unlike the bejewelled Marys who reinforce modern hierarchies, Solange’s outfit has a function of including and giving a voice to those who are marginalised by Western discourses. Just like a biblical prophet, Solange disturbs our sense of normalcy and challenges the cultural status quo (Borg 2000).

BellaVIER.PNG
That headpiece combo though

Another memorable outfit was the one worn by Rihanna who came dressed as a pope. What made it unforgettable was that her outfit was not made of silk and cotton like an actual pope’s robe, instead, every inch of her white dress and robe was encrusted in jewels and pearls. Here, she juxtaposes the purity of the colour white with the opulence of diamonds and gems. This juxtaposition may function as a criticism of religion’s longstanding gender biases. Knowing that women are still not allowed to become popes, Rihanna’s extravagant and feminine pope attire then shows us that women can be popes, and they are going to do it their way. To further her pope garb, she wore a matching and unsurprisingly bejewelled papal tiara, which is traditionally worn by popes when they are coronated or during special ceremonies.

rhianna
All hail Her Holiness Rhianna

What really completed her outfit, though, were her US$4,000 crystal encrusted black Christian Louboutin shoes. More than just a popular piece of fashion, the shoes became meaningful when paired with her pope attire. Christian Louboutin shoes have an iconic red sole and are notoriously difficult and painful to wear despite their price. The red bottoms stand out against her predominantly white outfit and the biblical association of the colour red with sin (Isiah 1:18) juxtaposes against the association of white with purity (Revelation 3:4-5;18; 4:4; 6:11; 7:9;13-14). Hence, it is as if Rihanna is replicating the painful struggle women have endured in their fight for equality. In the eyes of men, we may have sinned but that won’t stop us from continuing to make progress, one bedazzled high heeled step at a time. The implicit meanings of her outfit as a whole are endless. Not only did it reimagine Catholicism as a religion that celebrates women and fashion, but it also calls out the church’s deep-rooted bias against women. As a woman of colour, her pope attire directly addresses the ban on women ever becoming ordained priests and challenges the church’s white patriarchal status quo in the process (Wynne and Janssens 2018). Thus, these powerful outfits worn by Solange and Rihanna show that for one night, fashion challenged religion.

BellaSIEBEN.PNG
Rihanna again – with those shoes

One specific aspect of religion that has surprisingly found its way into fashion is the concept of angels. In the Bible, angels are described as powerful creations of God, who act as his messengers and are faithful to him (Daniel 4:13; Colossians 1:16; Revelation 5:11-12). There is no unanimous description of their physical attributes in the Bible and examples of their appearance include the form of a male human and a form that causes fear in people (Genesis 18. Hebrews 13:2, Matthew 28:4). Contrary to popular belief and depiction, these angels are also very rarely described as having wings and when they do, they tend to have six of them (Isaiah 6:1-8). The lack of a consistent angelic form in the Bible thus allowed a lot of room for creativity for early Christian artists (Marshall and Walsham 2006). Yet, from the fourth century onwards, most artists gravitated towards depicting angels with two wings, and having a saintly androgynous nature. However, all of these depictions of angels in art and the Bible wildly contrasts the ‘angels’ we have seen walk down lingerie brand Victoria’s Secret runway for the past decade. Here, the angels are in fact successful female models with a huge social following (Opelka 2017). The only thing these Victoria’s Secret ‘angels’ may physically have in common with the ones in the Bible and religious art is the wings they frequently wear when modelling the brand’s lingerie. Yet even when ‘winged’, their extravagant and often multi-coloured floor-length wings are far from the ones seen in religious imagery. Wings aside, these ‘angels’ are marketed as living ideals of western beauty standards who also happen to be in lingerie. This ideal of a perfect woman being both sexy and heavenly then produces an unattainable ideal for women. Interestingly, the elevated status this ideal gives the Victoria’s Secret ‘angels’ may be a point of similarity with the biblical angels. Yet instead of being powerful creations of God, Victoria’s Secret’s ‘angels’ are powerful creations of the sexist and exploitive Western consumer market.

BellaFUNF
Victoria’s Secret Angels

Controlling almost 40% of sales in intimate apparel, Victoria’s Secret is the largest and most successful lingerie brand in America and The Victoria’s Secret Angels have been vital in their success (Anderson 2014). Interestingly, despite their use of ‘angels’, Victoria’s Secret does not affiliate itself with religion. This is known as capitalist spirituality, where religious themes are exploited for the benefit of the corporation (Liegghio 2014). Thus, their use of these ‘angels’ is actually a clever consumerism tactic. By dressing their models up like angels while in lingerie, the brand gives them a divine quality while retaining their sex appeal (ibid.). Their giant soft white wings, contrasted with their sultry appearance creates a seemingly otherworldly and ethereal attraction. Sometimes, sharp black wings are used instead which creates a more ‘sinful’ attraction (Smith 2002). By juxtaposing religious and sexual imagery, the appeal of the ‘angels’ is intensified (ibid). The brand also creates an allure and elite status around these ‘angels’ by creating a hierarchy of models with them at the top. Currently, there are only 15 models worldwide who have the ‘angel’ title which is only given after careful selection of the model’s physical attributes and social popularity (Liegghio 2014). This exclusivity adds to their appeal as it causes them to appear desirable. By making these ‘angels’ objects of desire, the lingerie they model sells successfully because it allows buyers to be closer or similar to these otherwise untouchable beings (ibid.). In doing so, the brand has expertly created an illusion of a divine yet alluring ‘angel’ in order to sell their product. In the end, Victoria’s Secret’s use of angels is a prime example of religion being used and exploited in popular culture.

BellaSECHS.PNG
Black-winged ‘bad’ angel

In conclusion, the fashion world has used religion creatively to send its messages. The 2018 Met Gala displayed the omnipotent powers of fashion using religion as its medium. That night, fabric and jewels challenged religion’s injustices and biases better than words could. The Gala showed that now, fashion is in charge, what is right and wrong is told by Vogue, not by the Vatican (Wynne and Janssens 2018). On the other hand, Victoria’s Secret showed us that religion can be capitalized and consumed, all without consequence. Perhaps that is Victoria’s secret after all. As a result, it is undeniable that the fashion world has redefined religion because now, our popes wear Prada, and our angels are in lingerie.

1 ycr2IXne71_gyClvXAX1Zw.jpeg

 

Bibliography

All references to the Biblical text are from the NRSV

Anderson, Elizabeth. “A look at how Victoria’s Secret became a multi-billion dollar company.” Business Insider. Updated Dec 2, 2014. https://www.businessinsider.com/a-look-at-how-victorias-secret-became-a-multi-billion-dollar-company-2014-12?IR=T

Arthur, Linda B. Religion, Dress and the Body. Dress and the Body Series. Oxford: Berg, 1999.

Bolton, Andrew, Barbara D. Bohem, Marzia C. Gallo, Griffith Mann, David Morgan, Gianfranco C. Ravasi, David Tracy. Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination. 2nd ed. New York: Yale University Press, 2018.

Borg, Marcus J. Reading the Bible again for the first time: Taking the Bible seriously but not literally. New York: Harper San Francisco, 2001.

Edwards, Katie. “The Pope Wears Prada: how religion and fashion connected at Met Gala 2018.” The Conversation. Updated May 9, 2018. https://theconversation.com/the-pope-wears-prada-how-religion-and-fashion-connected-at-met-gala-2018-96290

François Gauthier & Tuomas Martikainen (2018) Introduction: the marketization of religion, Religion, 48:3, 361-366, DOI: 10.1080/0048721X.2018.1482614

Harms, Ernst. “The Psychology of Clothes.” American Journal of Sociology 44, no. 2 (1938): 239-50.

Hoffower, Hillary. “$30,000 tickets, $2 million jewellery, and $2,000 tuxedos: Unbelievable facts show how opulent the Met Gala is.” Business Insider. Updated May 3, 2018. https://www.businessinsider.com.au/met-gala-2018-theme-cost-ticket-dress-jewlery-2018-5?r=US&IR=T

Jeal, Roy R. “Clothes Make the (Wo)Man.” In Foundations for Sociorhetorical Exploration: A Rhetoric of Religious Antiquity Reader, edited by Robbins Vernon K., Von Thaden Robert H., and Bruehler Bart B., 393-414. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2016. doi:10.2307/j.ctt1f5g5j7.18.

Juffer, Jane. “A Pornographic Femininity? Telling and Selling Victoria’s (Dirty) Secrets.” Social Text, no. 48 (1996): 27-48. doi:10.2307/466785.

Klassen, Pamela E. “The Robes of Womanhood: Dress and Authenticity among African American Methodist Women in the Nineteenth Century.” Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation 14, no. 1 (2004): 39-82. doi:10.1525/rac.2004.14.1.39.

Lange, Maggie. “Victoria’s Secret Angels: A Historical Perspective. “The Cut. Updated Nov 13, 2013. https://www.thecut.com/2013/11/victorias-secret-angels-a-historical-approach.html

Liegghio, Vanessa. “When Angels Fall.” Medium. Updated Nov 8, 2014. https://medium.com/religion-and-popular-culture/when-angels-fall-7d3c6d478f64

Lewis, Reina, ed. Modest Fashion: Styling Bodies, Mediating Faith. London: I. B. Tauris & Company, Limited, 2013.

Marshall, Peter and Walsham, Alexandra. Angels in the Early Modern World. London: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Mayo, Janet. A History of Ecclesiastical Dress. New York: Holmes and Meier Publishers, 1984.

Meier, Brian P., Michael D. Robinson, and Gerald L. Clore. “Why Good Guys Wear White: Automatic Inferences about Stimulus Valence Based on Brightness.” Psychological Science 15, no. 2 (2004): 82-87.

Opelka, Brenna. “There’s a huge difference between a Victoria’s Secret model and an Angel.” This is Insider. Updated Nov 17, 2017. https://www.thisisinsider.com/difference-between-victorias-secret-model-and-angel-2017-11

Santana, Richard and Gregory Erickson. “Consuming Faith: Advertising, the Pornographic Gaze and Religion Desire.” In Religion and Popular Culture: Rescripting the Sacred, 50–66. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2008.

Schmidt, Leigh Eric. “”A Church-Going People Are a Dress-Loving People”: Clothes, Communication, and Religious Culture in Early America.” Church History 58, no. 1 (1989): 36-51.

Smith, Marie D. “Decoding Victoria’s Secret: The Marketing of Sexual Beauty and Ambivalence.” Studies in Popular Culture 25, no. 1 (2002): 39-47.

Valdivia, Angharad N. “Chapter 11: The Secret of My Desire: Gender, Class, and Sexuality in Lingerie Catalogs.” Counterpoints54 (1997): 225-50.

White, Horace, and Michael Hertz. Do-rag. US Patent US20110247126A1, filed April 6, 2011, and issued October 13, 2011.

Winkle, Ross E. ““You Are What You Wear”: The Dress and Identity of Jesus as High Priest in John’s Apocalypse.” In Sacrifice, Cult, and Atonement in Early Judaism and Christianity: Constituents and Critique, edited by Wiley Henrietta L. and Eberhart Christian A., 327-46. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2017.

Wynne, Katherine and Alice Janssens. “Fashion as religion, and a higher moral fabric.” The globe and mail. Updated May 14, 2018. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-fashion-as-religion-and-a-higher-moral-fabric/

 

Spotlighting Student Work #1: Dealing with the Devil

It’s that time of year again, where we showcase some of the best student work from this year’s Bible and Popular Culture (THEOREL 101) class. Starting us off is a wonderful essay from Ani Harris. We’ll let Ani introduce herself.

I’m a first year from the sunny fruit bowl that is Hawke’s Bay. Currently, I’m studying a degree in Arts majoring in Psychology and Gender Studies which so far has been thrilling! In the future, I hope to go into post-graduate–if I’m lucky–to continue researching my fields of interest. I’d like to one day work within academia.

Within the THEOREL 101 course, I particularly enjoyed looking at the bible with a feminist lens and tracking the evolution of figures in the bible alongside history as I’ve never had that opportunity before. I can recall absolutely fizzing over some of the assigned reading to the point where I printed it out to keep it on my wall. I’ve always had a bit of an interest in theology but I’ve never been able to really explore it in the way THEOREL 101 let me. THEOREL 101 was an incredibly enjoyable paper and I happily did my best to wake up so I could get to the 9am classes (though with not non-existent complaints).

I actually took THEOREL 101 for two reasons. The first being that it fulfilled criteria as a stage I paper under Gender Studies and the other being because of my own self-interest. I grew up in a Catholic household and though I’m not Catholic myself I’ve always been very intrigued by religion as a whole and the effect it has had and continues to have on the world. This course gave me the opportunity to discover new facets of the bible I hadn’t yet considered and quite successfully played on many of my interests. It was my absolute favourite paper this semester.

Without further ado, let’s deal with the devil.

BIBPOPLUCIFER

THE DEAL WITH THE DEVIL: SATAN AND RELIGIOUS FANFICTION

Ani Harris

This essay will analyse the Devil as a Biblical character who has a popular afterlife. I will explore this using Dante Alighieri’s Inferno showcases the Devil as a monstrous being, a typical trope in Western religious fiction, Paradise Lost by John Milton and the trope of “Sexy Satan” with Fox’s portrayal of Neil Gaiman’s Lucifer and an animated reboot adaptation of 1970’s Japanese comic Devilman, play around with perceptions of one of the world’s most famous characters. Each portrayal highlights the different tropes and caricatures that have been used and changed over time since the advent of the Devil’s very first appearance in Abrahamic religion.

The Devil’s beginning has its roots in the Bible. However, his first appearance does not come where most would assume. Contrary to popular belief, Satan does not make an appearance in Genesis. The serpent who tempted Eve (Genesis 3:1-24) was not at the time associated with Satan. And, despite the Devil’s later characterization as a tempter, accuser, and prosecutor of humanity, he never appeared as an entity in his own right until the Book of Enoch. Part of the deuterocanonical writings, the Book of Enoch is not part of the Hebrew Bible, and though sometimes included in Christian Bibles, it is mainly considered non-canonical within most denominations. It details the casting out of “the satans”, sinful angels who taught humanity wickedness in the form of technology and invention (Enoch 41:7; Enoch 8:1-9).

satan-falling-1000x700
The Fall

This original Satan goes by the alias of Azazyel, alternatively spelt ‘Azazeel’, and is stated to have, along with other angels, taught humanity lessons covering a wide range of topics. From weapon creation and progression to perceptions of beauty, the spectrum includes the coveting of precious stones and metals, innumerable attempts to perform sorcery, increasing the known limits of mathematics, and acquiring other dangerous forms of knowledge in the eyes of heaven (Enoch 9:5-9). In the Hebrew Bible, Satan is instead “the satan”, God’s tester and persecutor who stands to prove the inherent possibility for wickedness and impiety in humanity (Job 1:6-8; Zechariah 3:1-7).  From Enoch, Job, and Zechariah, we gain some of the foundational tropes of the character “Satan” which commonly appear to this day; “angel to demon king”, “tempter of humanity”, and “evil incarnate”. Though Satan was never physically described in the Bible the cultural approximation became an amalgamation of deities of various other religions; a monster with a tail, the legs of a goat, and crowned with horns. And with these depictions birthed the trope of “monster Satan”.

With the original character and accompanying tropes defined, the focus can now change to the Devil’s cultural afterlives. Of religious fiction, one of the most renowned is Dante Alighieri’s book series Divine Comedy, with the Inferno being the most relevant volume for the purpose of this essay. The Inferno chronicles Dante’s descent into and guided journey through Hell.

300px-Michelino_DanteAndHisPoem
Dante, and the entrance to Hell

Satan in this novel appears in the thirty-fourth chapter. Colossal in his grotesque visage, Dante’s Satan is endowed of the “monster Satan” trope; he has three faces of which he uses their mouths to chew on three people whom Dante considers the most traitorous of humanity. Satan in this work of fiction has also has large, leathery bat wings attached just under his chin, and excessively hairy legs (Dante & Musa 1971). Dante’s figure of the Devil retains many of the original biblical tropes; not only “monster Satan” but his “angel to demon king” arc as well. Dante himself states that had Satan been as beautiful as he was now ugly he can, therefore, understand how he is the source of all bad in the world. From this, we can discern that the Inferno expects readers to understand Satan’s origin as an angel fallen from grace. Dante’s Satan is a wonderful reference point for the popular image of the Devil before his Renaissance rebirth within another piece of literary fiction.

Contrary to Dante’s portrayal, Milton’s depiction of Satan in Paradise Lost was considered blasphemous. An epic poem written in vernacular English following the very entity of conceptualised evil which began by invoking the Holy Spirit as a muse. Milton’s satan operates on the notion that Satan, formerly known as Lucifer, retained his visage as the most beautiful of all the angels when he fell from Heaven. Which then shows that Milton’s version of Satan is sympathetic. He is considered the most favoured of all the angels and decides that should it be impossible to be God’s favourite (Milton 1674 rpt. in 2001). He rebels and tries to usurp God, claiming that angels should all reign as gods whilst God is simply a tyrant. Thus, he falls.

paradise_lost84
Alas!

Tragic in a desire all too common. He then goes on to attempt another rebellion, by tempting God’s newly created humans, of which Milton subtly implies he is jealous of, to sin and thus join him in banishment (Milton 1674 rpt. in 2001). This sets the stage for a tragic hero who appears to be rebelling out of a childish need for validation and attention of any kind. Milton’s Satan appears not as the root cause of all evil but merely a child throwing a tantrum. Paradise Lost has been a major inspiration and provided the perfect material for the changing world to take Satan as a literary device and apply him in many ways to great effect. Milton’s reconceptualization of Satan as both a sympathetic and beautiful figure greatly stoked the flames of popular culture turning a monstrous and terrifying evil into a nuanced character with great depth. Satan becomes a potential anti-hero and even protagonist along with his trademark villainy. Even his conceptualisation as a villain is changed by Milton’s portrayal. Lucifer is the first recorded entity to claim free will and oppose God. Refusing ignorance and order for knowledge and the ability to make and be a part of unorganised chaos. He is the first recorded instance of an individual leading a rebellion against what they consider a corrupt power, a trope which is not only common in modern pop culture but almost its own genre.

Milton’s Satan paved the way for Satan to become Lucifer.

lucifer-netflix
Hello there

Based on a character from Neil Gaiman’s lauded comic book series The Sandman, Lucifer is a fantasy police drama developed by Tom Kapinos and produced by Fox. The premise of the film is Lucifer Morningstar, Tom Ellis, leaving hell for Los Angeles. Lucifer runs a nightclub, Lux, and acts as a consultant for the LAPD using his powers of persuasion and desire to deal justice to sinners. Kapinos’ Lucifer takes a great deal of inspiration from Milton’s Satan. Kapinos’ Lucifer is entirely a sympathetic character within the series. The show goes so far as to have Lucifer explicitly say that humanity merely blamed him for their sin rather than being accountable for their actions, effectively demonizing him as a scapegoat, and humans are responsible for damning themselves (Sánchez 2017). Kapinos’ Lucifer plays heavily into the “sympathetic Satan” trope with viewers encouraged to empathize with the devil and understand him as a pawn in his father’s plans which in itself displays the trope of “the devil has daddy issues”. Lucifer is consistently paranoid that his father, God, is manipulating him and often acts out of fear of being made to return to hell and be humanity’s scapegoat again (Shilati 2017; Gaviola 2017). Played by Tom Ellis, Lucifer is physically very attractive and seems to play directly into the “sexy Satan” trope, however, Lucifer has a second visage he calls his “devil-face”. Lucifer’s “devil-face” is bald, red-skinned, heavily scarred, and glows with an inner light like fire, his sclera turns a deep red and his irises gold. This “devil-face” plays into the pre-Milton “monster Satan” trope and exists as a unique juxtaposition as both faces belong to Lucifer and yet one makes him seems human and beautiful and the other demonic and ugly. This devil is well beloved in the show and in current day popular culture.

In contrast to Lucifer’s family-friendly Satan, Devilman Crybaby has been lauded as one of the most violent, gratuitously chaotic, and disturbing animated shows of 2018 (Farokhmanesh, M. 2018).

DevilmanCrybaby_Review_01
Ryo/Satan (left), Akira (right)

Based on Go Nagai’s 1970’s manga Devilman, Devilman Crybaby written by Ichirō Ōkouchi and directed by Masaaki Yuasa is a dark fantasy horror animated series around the characters Akira Fudo and his childhood friend Ryo Asuka. The premise of Devilman Crybaby is Akira’s attempt to help Ryo expose demons to the world. In this portrayal, Ōkouchi’s Satan takes many post-Milton tropes. Physically portrayed as beautiful as both Ryo Asuka and Satan, Ōkouchi’s Satan does not take a monstrous form at any point remaining well within the trope of “sexy Satan” while his legions of demons take monstrous and often revolting forms.

6228906-0103904153-62243
Yes, I am.

Ōkouchi’s Satan remains a tempter and persecutor of humanity and retains his status as the root cause of all evil within the show. In the show’s eighth episode after Ryo has learned his origins as Satan, he proceeds to cause more chaos in an already unstable world where demons had been revealed by betraying Akira and broadcasting an ill-intentioned warning that anyone dissatisfied with society could be a demon (Shibata 2018). Ōkouchi’s portrayal of Satan and Ryo is complex and while appreciated by audiences for his role as an antagonist he is not a character one can feel overly sympathetic for save for brief moment where his affection for Akira humanizes him.

Overall, this essay explained how Satan’s portrayal in popular culture is seen through Milton’s Paradise Lost, Fox’s Lucifer and Devilman Crybaby. Since conception, the devil has always been a fascinating Biblical character, and authors has taken him and written him into stories as the oldest villain and one of humanity’s most rebellious role models. Through Milton’s epic, Satan became understandable and the way was paved for the humanization of the greatest evil in Abrahamic religion. The devil lives on through pop culture, influencing and teaching much like his original incarnation. In the end, Neil Gaiman said it best; To absent friends, lost loves, old gods, and the season of mists; and may each and every one of us always give the devil his due (Gaiman, 1992).

Lucifer16
And to all a good night. (Lucifer as he appears in Sandman)

References

References to the Bible are taken from the New Revised Standard Version

The Book of Enoch (1917) translated by R.H. Charles

Dante, A., & Musa, M. (1971). Dante’s Inferno. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Milton, J. 1674. (2001). Paradise Lost; and, Paradise Regained. New York: Signet Classic

Rafferty, C. (Writer); Costa, M. (Writer); Sánchez, E. (Director) (2017) Lucifer Season 3 Episode 7 “Off the Record”

Ning, J. (Writer); Shilati, S. (Director) Lucifer Season 2 Episode 16 “God Johnson”

Modrovich, I. (Writer); Gaviola, K. (Director) Lucifer Season 3 Episode 1 “They’re Back, Aren’t They?”

Farokhmanesh, M. (2018) Devilman Crybaby is Netflix’s horniest, most shockingly violent show yet: And that’s exactly why you should watch it https://www.theverge.com/2018/1/21/16905278/devilman-crybaby-netflix-review-violence-sex

Ōkouchi, I. (Writer); Shibata, K. (Director) (2018) Devilman Crybaby Episode 8 “I Must Know Myself”

Gaiman, N. (1992) The Sandman #21-28: Season of Mists. DC Comics

Student spotlight #14: A Saviour from the East

Today’s essay continues our theme of contemporary messiahs, or super saviours, which we’ve explored over the past few days. What makes this one a little different though is that the super saviour figure appears in a Japanese animated fantasy film, Princess Mononoke (more details here), rather than the more typical Western superhero brand. The author of this fab essay is Isabelle Steinman, who hails from sunny Hawke’s Bay. Isabelle is studying a Bachelor of Arts and Science conjoint, majoring in mathematics, physics, and philosophy. She hopes to carry on to do postgraduate study and likes the idea of working in academia one day. She took our Bible and Pop Culture class because, although an atheist, she has always been interested in religion, particularly religious art and architecture, and is fascinated by the impact that religion has on everybody’s lives, regardless of their personal beliefs.

Although I’ve never seen Princess Mononoke myself, Isabelle’s essay has made me want to watch it – so, whether or not you are familiar with this film, I’m sure you’ll enjoy reading what she has to say.
Ashitaka
Ashitaka

Princess Mononoke– a Story of Gods, Demons and a Cursed Messiah

Isabelle Steinmann

mononokeMessiahs are everywhere in pop-culture. Characterised by a selfless passion for justice, a black and white moral code, extraordinary powers and an outsider status they maintain a strong connection with divinity or spirituality whilst remaining human. (Reinhartz, 2009). These Christ figures appear not only in Western culture but also in the East as is demonstrated in Hayao Miyazaki’s 1997 animated film, Princess Mononoke.

 After being cursed while killing a demon that was attacking his tribe, Ashitaka is forced to cut his hair, leave his people and journey far to the West in order to meet his fate. He arrives in a land caught in a struggle between the humans of Irontown and the gods of the forest. As he is able to move between the warring sides, he befriends both San, the ‘daughter’ of the wolf god Moro, and Lady Eboshi, the mistress of Irontown. Ashitaka possesses many Christ-like qualities. He is set apart from other characters by his unusual ways and his extraordinary strength and he is driven by a commitment to justice for which he eventually sacrifices himself and is resurrected.

Throughout the film, Ashitaka ‘otherness’ is emphasised. His unusual origins and extraordinary strengths distinguish him from other characters. Often referred to as ‘stranger’ or ‘outsider’ (Miyazaki, 1997), it is clear that the other characters do not see him as one of them. Ashitaka comes from the marginalised Emishi tribe that was believed to have been eradicated hundreds of years earlier. Separated from the culture that was advancing towards a technological future, the Emishi people are portrayed as the ‘guardians of ancient wisdoms of the forest’ (Bigelow, 2009). Unlike the other humans in the film, Ashitaka grew up with a strong connection with and respect for the natural world. We see this when Ashitaka saves two men of Irontown, carrying them home through the ‘forbidden forest’ (Miyazaki, 1997). While the men are terrified of the ethereal kodama (tree spirits), Ashitaka trusts the spirits to guide them through the forest saying that they are ‘a sign this forest is healthy’ (Miyazaki, 1997). Ashitaka’s unusual origins give him a different perspective to other characters in the film. He is not worried about wealth or power but has a deep-seated interest in nature and the preservation of life.

PM3

Ashitaka is also separated from other characters by his incredible, but still very human, strengths. The nature with which he returns the men to Irontown grants him a mixed reception. While the townspeople are grateful that their men are alive, they do not wholly trust this strange man who managed to travel through the taboo forest with two badly injured men; it is something they would not have dreamed possible. Ashitaka’s strength and fighting abilities seem almost unnatural to the other characters. ‘You fight like a demon’ (Miyazaki, 1997), one character tells Ashitaka. This emphasises both the magnitude and nature of Ashitaka’s powers. His strength, determination and archery skills, while god-like in measure, are human powers in essence. Ashitaka is only human and he does suffer under human hardships. This is important as, in order to be a relatable, and therefore successful, messiah he must have ‘the same limitations and weaknesses as an ‘ordinary’ and finite human being’ (Deacy, 1999).

Despite his humanity, it is still through a screen of suspicion that the other characters respect Ashitaka for his strengths. Mysterious, powerful, and therefore potentially dangerous, Ashitaka must be ‘othered’. It is this outsider status, which is common for messiah figures (Kozlovic, 2004), that allows Ashitaka to move between worlds and act in a messianic role. Messiahs, as semi-holy figures, must represent desirable values whilst being set apart from the rest of us. They are figures that we should aspire to be like. Human, and familiar enough to be relatable while being separate enough to revere.

PM4

Ashitaka’s incredible strength is balanced by his incredible love and respect for life. He is driven by a desire for peace and committed to his beliefs in justice. When these two values come into conflict, Ashitaka suffers. He wants to end violence but often must use violence to do so. When we first meet Ashitaka, he is protecting his people from a terrible demon. The creature seethes with writhing, black worms but even so Ashitaka first tries to reason with it. ‘Calm your fury, oh mighty lord’ (Miyazaki, 1997), he pleads. However, when the beast threatens some villagers, Ashitaka is forced to take decisive action, killing the demon with his bow and arrow. Ashitaka knows what is right but he still struggles to enforce it. He wants to protect the innocent and fight for the weak or ashikta 2marginalised but it pains him to take life and he does this only when there is no other option. We see this again when Ashitaka reflects on killing two samurai who were brutally attacking another village. ‘I was wrong to fight in that village’, he says, ‘two men are dead because of me’ (Miyazaki, 1997). Although he knows his actions were justified and that his skills gave him a unique power to help the defenceless villagers, he still feels a ‘reluctance to use those skills to do harm’ (Kraemer, 2016). Ashitaka’s complex moral code separates him from classic messiah figures. He does not rationalise the violence he uses but instead feels the weight of every life he takes. He is cursed not only with the mark on his arm but also by the guilt of the violence he must use.

mononoke3

Ashitaka’s desires are different from all other characters in the film resulting in him not taking a side in the conflict. It is not any particular victory that he wants but an end to violence. When questioned what it is that he desires, he says ‘What I want is for the humans and the forest to live in peace’ (Miyazaki, 1997). The other characters see the forest and the town as completely divided, different and unable to mix. But Ashitaka does see not the division between them. To him, all life is simply sacred. No matter what you must ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ (Mark 12:31). When San and Eboshi become involved in a vicious fight, Ashitaka intervenes and delivers a stirring sermon. His curse manifests itself as black, swirling tendrils as he shouts to the shocked and terrified crowd, ‘This is what hatred looks like! This is what it does when it catches hold of you! (Miyazaki, 1997). Ashitaka fight is not against against humans or gods but against hatred and it is his ‘willingness to meet violence with love’ (Kraemer, 2016) that is his greatest weapon.

PM5

Ashitaka’s image as a messiah figure is cemented in the other-worldliness of his resurrection and in his sacrifice. Miyazaki is careful in the way he portrays Ashitaka in these scenes. Although they are rich with godly powers, Ashitaka’s humanity is emphasised. As a messiah figure, Ashitaka is human touched by divinity. He is not a divine being himself but he is influenced by the gods and demons that are present in his life. This is epitomised in his resurrection. After Ashitaka is shot, San takes his lifeless body to a sacred island in the middle of the forest. She places a small plant above his head, a life to take in return for his. After she leaves, we see the forest spirit approach and revive Ashitaka in a strange, dream-like sequence. During the day, the god, who duty is to ‘give life and take life away’ (Miyazaki, 1997,) takes the form of a deer like creature with many antlers and humanoid face. We see flowers and plants bud, bloom, wilt and die under the creature’s feet as it walks. The forest spirit looks upon Ashitaka and the plant as the leaves of the plant wither and drop. In the morning, Ashitaka’s bullet wound is healed but the cursed mark remains. Although Ashitaka undergoes what is definitely a divine resurrection, it is not any divinity of his own that saves him but his pure heart. It is the forest spirit who, deeming Ashitaka worthy of resurrecting, saves him thus ensuring Ashitaka remains fully human.

PM6

In the stunning climax to the film, Ashitaka sacrifices himself to atone for humanity’s wrongdoings. Eboshi and the other humans have shot off and taken the forest spirit’s head. The ghostly shell of its body spews out deadly black liquid and long arms which search for its head. Ashitaka catches the carriers of the head and demand they give it to him to return before everything is destroyed. ‘Human hands must return it!’ (Miyazaki, 1997) He shouts. Humanity as a whole has sinned, they have turned their back on nature and committed the ultimate atrocity; killing the ‘very heart of the forest’ (Miyazaki, 1997). Messiah figures feel a duty to ‘take on the sinfulness of those around them’ (Kozlovic, 2004). Ashitaka must, therefore, act as a representative of humanity and sacrifice himself for their transgressions.

PM7As he and San hold up the head for the god, they become covered with cursed marks. They are sure of their deaths but stand strong and true. With their sacrifice, they save not only themselves but all living things as a wash of new life spreads over the ruined land. Ashitaka not only possesses many of the characteristics of a messiah figure, his life and death also mirrors that of Christ in many ways. Just as Christ’s death gave humanity ‘forgiveness of sins’ (Ephesians 1:7), Ashitaka’s sacrifice saved the world. His resurrection and sacrifice mark him as a clear messiah figure.

PM8Messiah figures in film are used as symbols to exemplify the characteristics and values that filmmakers want to promote (Deacy, 1999). In Princess Mononoke, Miyazaki teaches us a respect for life, as he said in a 2004 interview ‘We should treasure everything because there is a kind of life to everything’. He uses Ashitaka to convey a message of peace and environmentalism. Although Princess Mononoke is not explicitly religious, it does draw from Shinto mythology and beliefs and reflects many of the tenets of Western religion. Shinto faith ‘stresses relation and connectedness’ (Bigelow, 2009). This is an important theme that develops through the film as the characters realise relationships they were not previously aware of. In one of the last scenes, one of the townspeople comments ‘I didn’t know the forest spirit made the flowers grow’ (Miyazaki, 1997). As Christ literally gave a blind man sight (John 9:11), Ashitaka metaphorically opens the peoples’ eyes to the interdependent relationship between the town and the humans (Kraemer 2016). Although Miyazaki’s messiah may be more implicit than those typically found in Western culture, the ideals he teaches of love, peace and respect are essentially the same.

PM9In conclusion, Ashitaka acts as a messiah figure to spread a message of peace. Miyazaki sets Ashitaka apart from other characters with Shis strange customs and extraordinary powers to make him able to move between warring sides. He is not the fully-assured messiah we see all too often in the West, but a saviour racked with guilt and uncertainty about how should carry out his mission without just creating more violence. Like Christ, He is fully committed to his beliefs and ready to sacrifice himself for them. In Princess Mononoke, Ashitaka not only learns to ‘see with eyes unclouded by hate’ (Miyazaki, 1997) but also teaches us to do the same.

Princess-Mononoke-post2

Bibliography

All Biblical references are from the New International Version

Miyazaki, Hayao. 1997. Princess Mononoke. film. Directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Produced by Studio Ghibli. Toho.

Bigelow, Susan J. 2009. “Technologies of Perception: Miyazaki in Theory and Practice.” Animation: an interdisciplinary journal 4 (1): 55-75.

Deacy, Christopher R. 1999. “Screen Christologies: An evaluation of the role of Christ-figures in film.” Journal of Contemporary Religion 14 (3): 325-337.

Kozlovic, Anton Karl. 2004. “The Structural Characteristics of the Cinematic Christ-figure.” Journal of Religion and Popular Culture 8.

Kraemer, Christine Hoff. 2016. “Between the Worlds: Liminality and Self-Sacrfice in Princess Mononoke.” Journal of Religion and Film 8 (2).

Reinhartz, Adele. 2009. “Jesus and Christ figures.” In The Routledge Companion of Religion and Film, edited by John Lyden, 420-439. Taylor and Francis.

Student showcase #8: A Prophetic Day

Continuing our focus on contemporary prophetic figures, today’s student essay discusses the prophetic credentials of twentieth-century social activist Dorothy Day (1897-1980). The essay is written by Lauren Wilks, who is from Nelson, NZ. She has just completed her second year of study for a Bachelor of Commerce majoring in Economics and International Business. Next year, she plans to spend a semester in Mexico on the University of Auckland’s 360° student exchange programme. Lauren took our Bible and Pop Culture course upon a recommendation by her elder sister who took the course in 2012 and enjoyed it a great deal. Lauren assures me she loved it just as much! Her essay is fabulous, so we hope you enjoy learning more about the amazing figure of Dorothy Day.

dorothy_day
Dorothy Day (unknown photographer)

Living for more than today

Lauren Wilks

“…God did not intend that there be so many poor… we are urging revolutionary change.”

(Day, cited in Barrett, 2017)

Summarised in her own words, Dorothy Day (1897-1980) was a passionate pacifist and one of the most well-known Catholic social activists in history. Her uncompromising vision for social justice caused disturbance among the status quo, but generated lasting change to society’s role in serving the poor. Borg (2001) established a framework to define biblical prophets, which we can use to determine if a modern-day figure or group fulfills a similar prophetic function. Fulfilling all six criteria of Borg’s definition, Dan can be seen as effectively performing a prophetic role. This essay will conclude Day is a contemporary prophet, focusing on her disturbance of social norms, her prophetic action to fight for social justice, and her relationship with God. The biblical texts of Isaiah 58, Isaiah 20, Ezekiel 2 and Isaiah 41, will be used throughout to relate Day to the biblical prophets.

DDay
Dorothy Day (unknown photographer)

Borg (2001) explains that Biblical prophets disturbed dominant discourses, not just accepting, but challenging the status quo to fight for something they believed in. In Isaiah 58, Isaiah encourages the confrontation of injustice. He challenges false compared to true worship, stating religious practices are in vain if there are people who are oppressed, Isaiah 58:1, “Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their rebellion…” Day’s message of social justice, focused on pacifism and serving the poor. She confronted those in the church who were living comfortably, favouring the rich and powerful, while the poor were continuously mistreated. She insisted that the “church is the cross on which Christ is crucified”and that social injustice was an insult to Christ (Forest, n.da, para.23). Her heart for social justice was derived from Jesus’ message, particularly the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). Day took this scripture of Jesus’ moral teaching and truly lived it out (Allison, n.d). Like Isaiah, she understood working for and being with the poor was an essential part of being Christian: “share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them” (Isaiah 58:7). She considered it immoral to call yourself Christian without acting out what the Bible requires. Day had a focused vision, which is evident in the following excerpt from her writings: “To follow the gospel teaching of the works of mercy. If your brother is hungry, feed him, shelter him. How can you show your love for God except by love for your brother and sister? The one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he hasn’t seen?” (Dear, 2011, para.28).

Day also challenged society to evaluate how everyone’s work benefits (or not) the wider community. She believed jobs in finance and advertising led to social tension by making people desire possession they did not need (Hinson-Hasty, 2014). Through her message of social justice, Day was a founding encourager in the Catholic Church expanding their outreach (Bailey, Ohlheiser & Zak, 2015).

Dorothy-Day-center-WWI-protest-2-9-1917-UPI-photo-640x500
Day (centre) protesting World War 1 (1917) Picture from dorothydayguild.org

Day lived in the 20th century, a time where many believed they were obliged to serve their country during war. She was outspoken in her anti-war stance and did not accept that moral conditions ratify war (Parachin, 2016). Her message addressed people in power, particularly Church leaders as throughout history, Popes had blessed armies and supported crusades (Forest, n.db). The Church had accepted ‘just war’, but Day wanted non-violence to become a fundamental Christian principle. Her pacifist views were revolutionary to the Church, in that she claimed violence contradicted biblical values as it fortified the rich and devastated the poor (Coy, 1988). She believed that in order to achieve peace, the most vulnerable needed to be helped. Like the prophet in Isaiah 58, she did not hold back in telling the Church their shortcomings. In writing to the Vatican Council, she said war was a crime against God and man (Fox, 2015). Although her message was radical at the time, it has since been accepted and adopted by many. Pope Francis named her one of the four most influential Americans in history. His support of Day’s non-violent ideologies shows the development in the Churches attitude towards peace and social justice (Bailey et al., 2015). Her willingness to critique the system and not accept that poverty was a normal part of society saw many touched by her message of justice and humility. Day clearly fulfills Borg’s criteria of disturbing social norms to bring about revolutionary change.

Another criterion is that Biblical prophets took action to amplify their message, translating prophetic speech into prophetic action (Borg, 2001). With reference to Isaiah 20:1-5, both Day and the prophet Isaiah used action to signify the importance of their messages. Isaiah protested the military alliance between Judah and Egypt, “Just as my servant Isaiah has walked naked and barefoot for three years as a sign and a portent…” (Isaiah 20:3). Day always focused on what she could do, taking Catholic theology and putting it into action in prophetic ways (Chapp, 2015). Rather than helping the poor during the day, then returning to her comfortable home at night, Day fully immersed herself in a life of poverty to proclaim the importance of her vision (Chapp, 2015).

 

day vivian cherry 1959
Day at pacifist rally, NY, 1959 (Photo by Vivian Cherry)

In May 1933, Day and Peter Maurin, a French revolutionary, started the Catholic Worker newspaper to synthesise Catholic social teaching and social justice (Xiaoyu, 2010). Her decision to live in voluntary poverty meant she was greatly empathetic, writing to and on behalf of the poor. The newspaper became a beacon of hope by confronting the oppressive system. She wrote about social injustices, using scripture to challenge the Church in failing to exemplify the Gospel message, but also to inspire action to help those in need. Her pacifist views caused division within the Catholic Worker movement, with those who believed war was justified breaking away from the movement. Even though her message was controversial, the complaints the Church received about the newspaper did not stop Day from publishing it despite its loss of popularity during the wars (Bailey et al., 2015).

DorothyDay006-1
Dorothy Day’s Hospitality House, a shelter for homeless people

The actions Day took were to fulfil God’s will. Drawing on Matthew 6:10, she said, “We are working for ‘a new heaven and a new earth, wherein justice dwelleth.’ We are trying to say with action, ‘Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven’” (Zwick, n.d, para.12). Her writings on social justice drew those in need into Catholic homes, which led to the creation of the Houses of Hospitality. Day believed hospitality was part of Christian tradition, using the houses to live out biblical values (1 Peter 4:8-9). They provided food and shelter to the needy, and as Day’s message confronted the rich and powerful, the houses gave them an opportunity to serve the poor (Barnette, 2011). There was controversy around who was accepted into the homes, as some believed not all were ‘deserving poor’. Day replied by saying, as family in Christ, they were welcome to stay forever (Forest, n.db). She established and inspired many houses, by 1936, there were 33 houses throughout the US, with a growing need during the Great Depression (Forest, n.db). The movement continues today, with 200 Catholic Worker communities and 40 Catholic Worker Houses (Bailey et al., 2015).

Dorothy Day
Dorothy Day, head of Catholic Worker, inside the Worker office
 Photo by Judd Mehlman/NY Daily News/Getty

Day spent her whole life serving others. Further actions she took for the oppressed include protesting outside the White House for women’s suffrage, which led to the first of seven imprisonments, and going on a hunger strike to protest poor jail conditions (Barnette, 2011). It is evident Day fulfils Borg’s criteria of prophetic action. With the Catholic Worker newspaper and the Houses of Hospitality, her life-long commitment of personal sacrifice translating vision into action.

dday praying
Day praying at the Church of the Nativity, NY, c.1970. Bob Fitch Marquette University Archives

Borg (2001) found the prophets to be passionate about both God and justice, a two-fold relationship between the world and spiritual realm. Day’s intimate relationship and experiences with God were the source of her vision for social justice (Dear, 2011). In Ezekiel 2, the spirit of the Lord commissioned Ezekiel to speak God’s word to the rebellious Israel, “…I am sending you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God’” (Ezekiel 2:4). Day did not hear the audible voice of God calling her to serve the poor like Ezekiel and other Biblical prophets did, but God spoke to her through the Bible (Allaire & Broughton, n.d). Because she had an extensive knowledge of the Bible, she weaved scripture into her writings to convey not her message, but Jesus’ message. Using scripture as God’s mouthpiece, she once said, “If I have achieved anything in my life, it is because I have not been embarrassed to talk about God” (Howell, 2017, p.97). Borg (2001) sees the prophet’s dream as God’s dream. Day fulfils this criterion as she lived beyond herself, challenged by Jesus’ message to serve the poor (Mark 10:21). Daily spiritual devotions strengthened her knowledge and connection with God, which equipped her to face the challenges her fight for social justice bought (Allaire & Broughton, n.d). She said, “When God asks great things of us, great sacrifices,” (Ellsberg, 2010, para.11). The prophet Isaiah experienced great suffering in his life. Through the trials, he continually looked to God to renew his strength and protect him. Isaiah 41:10, “do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you.” Day experienced discomfort in voluntary poverty. She let go of worldly possession as she believed to truly serve, was to give out of nothing (Hinson-Hasty, 2014). This was not easy, but her intimate relationship with God, through scripture and prayer, sustained her vision for justice.

1dorothyday
Dorothy Day with her grandchildren (CNS photo/courtesy of Marquette University archives)

Since Day’s passing in 1980, her message has remained relevant and is evident in the Catholic Church’s outreach. She is often drawn upon as a source of inspiration, upholding values of peace, community, and integration of faith and acts (Allaire & Broughton, n.d). It is clear Ezekiel was known as a prophet, Ezekiel 2:5, “Whether they hear or refuse to hear… they shall know that there has been a prophet among them.” The Catholic Church has not named Day a prophet, but have identified her as an extraordinary person by commencing an inquiry into her canonisation (Catholic News Service, 2016). Elevating her to this status recognises her exceptional life and challenging vision of hope.

To summarise, Day can be regarded as a contemporary prophetic figure as defined by Borg. Her willingness to speak out for social justice, promoting pacifism and voluntary poverty, disturbed social norms. She used prophetic action through the Catholic Worker newspaper, Houses of Hospitality and protests, to solidify her vision. She believed in a personal God, and her strong relationship with him was the foundation of her mission. Although controversial at the time, her relentless commitment to pacifism and personal responsibility to the poor has continued to be an inspiration (Fox, 2015). Day’s legacy leaves a challenge, live out the Gospel and bear witness in everyday life (Ellsberg, 2010).

dorothyday (1)
Dorothy Day in 1970 (Bob Fitch Photo Archive © Stanford University Libraries)

 

Reference list

All Biblical texts are from the  New Revised Standard Version

Allaire, J. & Broughton, R. (n.d). An introduction to the life and spirituality of Dorothy Day. The Catholic Worker Movement. Retrieved from http://www.catholicworker.org/dorothyday/life-and-spirituality.html

Allison, D. (n.d). The Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7). Bible Odyssey. Retrieved from https://www.bibleodyssey.org/

Bailey, S., Ohlheiser, A. & Zak, D. (2015, September 24). Pope Francis praised Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton. Here’s who they were. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com

Barnette, S. (2011). Houses of hospitality: The material rhetoric of Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker. University of Tennessee. Retrieved from http://trace.tennessee.edu/

Barrett, L. (2017). Taking to the streets, and beyond. Yale Divinity School. Retrieved from http://reflections.yale.edu/article/god-and-money-turning-tables/taking-streets-and-beyond

Borg, M. (2001). Readings the Bible again for the first time: taking the Bible seriously but not literally. San Francisco: Harper San Francisco

Catholic News Service. (2016, April 22). Inquiry into Dorothy Days life next step in sainthood cause. National Catholic Reporter. Retrieved from https://www.ncronline.org/news/people/inquiry-dorothy-days-life-next-step-sainthood-cause

Chapp, L. (2015). The precarity of love: Dorothy Day on poverty. International Catholic Review. Retrieved from http://www.communio-icr.com/files/Chapp_-_42.2_Poverty_and_Kenosis.pdf

Coy, P. (1988).  A revolution of the heart. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Dear, J. (2011, January 25). Dorothy Day’s letters show heartache, faith. National Catholic Reporter. Retrieved from https://www.ncronline.org

Ellsberg, R. (2010, November). Day by day: The letters and journals of Dorothy Day. U.S Catholic Worker, 75(11), 34-36

Forest, J. (n.da). What I learned about justice from Dorothy Day. US Catholic. Retrieved from http://www.uscatholic.org/culture/social-justice/2009/02/what-i-learned-about-justice-dorothy-day

Forest, J. (n.db). Servant of God Dorothy Day. The Catholic Worker Movement. Retrieved from http://www.catholicworker.org/dorothyday/servant-of-god.html

Fox, T. (2015, September 24). Day and Merton: The Catholic radicals Francis cited. National Catholic Reporter. Retrieved from https://www.ncronline.org

Hinson-Hasty, E. (2014). Dorothy Day for armchair theologians. Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press

Howell, J. (2017). Worshipful. Oregon: Cascade Books

Parachin, V. (2016, April 29). Dorothy Day, Social conscience of American Catholics. Our Sunday Visitor. Retrieved from https://www.osv.com

The Catholic Worker Movement. (n.d). Dorothy Day. Retrieved from http://www.catholicworker.org/dorothyday/themes/On%20Poverty%20(Dorothy%20Day).pdf

Xiaoyu, P. (2010). The conversion of a radical – Dorothy Day and the Catholic social thought. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 2(5), 7470-7478. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sbspro.2010.05.112

Zwick, M. (n.d). What is the Catholic Worker Movement. Houston Catholic Worker. Retrieved from http://cjd.org/about/what-is-the-catholic-worker-movement/

Student Showcase 3: Fishnets, Fetishes, and Faith – Religious Themes in The Rocky Horror Picture Show

From yesterday’s focus on the Bible and politics, we move to a most fabulous essay that considers religious and biblical themes in cult musical, The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975). The piece is written by another student from our Bible and Popular Culture course, Kate Bodger, who hails from New Zealand and is studying a Bachelor of Arts majoring in English and Classics. Kate doesn’t know what the future holds for her, but she hopes that it involves art, writing and traveling. She has always found religion fascinating even before she started going to church, and loves exploring its relationship to our everyday lives and culture. So she decided to take a few TheoRel papers as part of her degree, which she confirms was “an altogether good choice” as it meant she could put her excessive viewing of the Rocky Horror Picture Show to some use. Enjoy!

Rocky Horror poster
Images taken from TRHPS, dir. Jim Sharman, 20th Century Fox (1975)

Religion in Fishnet Tights

The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Religion

Kate Bodger

Ordinarily it would be easy to dismiss The Rocky Horror Picture Show (TRHPS) as having little in common with Christianity. But TRHPS dismisses the ordinary, and this 70s hit actually has numerous religious ties. The way fans have built such a following around the film makes it seem like its own seductive faith. Within this religion stands Dr. Frank n Furter, a contemporary messiah, saving those who feel like outsiders. In contrast to this a look inside the text exposes a different Frank n Furter who resembles more of a subverted bacchic messiah, bringing about the fall of humanity. It is clear that this midnight horror is not just dripping with blood and sex, but also religion.

TRHPS has spawned a particular following that can be likened to that of a religion. Popular culture can be seen as a religion when it displays parallels in form and function (Forbes 2005, p.15). TRHPS clearly mimics the form of a religion with the various traditions that have been created around the film. Audiences adorn the appropriate attire, fishnet tights and high heels, and head to their chosen place of worship, the cinema, to engage in various rituals, song, and dance. Fans of TRHPS do not just watch the film, they interact with it. Call and response techniques, just like in a Sunday mass, are used by the audience as they speak to the characters on screen. During the time warp audiences do the pelvic thrust with the Transylvanians, worshipping through song and dance.

timewarp gif

Props are also used with the audience throwing rice at the wedding scene, these props symbols of the Rocky-Horror-faith. TRHPS has birthed its own set of rites and routines, much like a religion. ‘Virgin Sacrifices’ are even a tradition with new comers or ‘virgins’ being initiated into the Rocky Horror family through challenges, or sometimes a pledge. This tradition references a sacrifice, something associated with appeasing or thanking a deity. These ‘virgin sacrifices’, also tie in with modern churches as they can be viewed as contemporary altar calls, or baptisms, with the ‘virgins’ saying goodbye to their old selves with this proclamation of faith. The crazy spectacle of TRHPS has led to it being described as a religious experience, and one writer called themselves “a true believer” (Berman 2015) after their first Rocky Horror experience. Aside from form TRHPS also mimics religion in terms of function. The enticing excitement of the cult classic has created its own community with a sense of security for outsiders and the marginalized. And at the center of this safe community is TRHPS’s very own seductive and sexy savior.

Frank 1
Frank n Furter

TRHPS attracts many outsiders, there is something welcoming about being told to be confident, and let go of any worries. The community that surrounds this cult classic feel they have been ‘saved’, in the sense they have been given a place where they can be themselves and gain a sense of freedom. The main figure revered in this community is the sweet transvestite himself; Frank n Furter. Frank n Furter has become a cultural icon, telling people to love themselves with an I-am-going-to-do-me-while-being-proud-and-loud attitude. “Don’t judge a book by its cover” (O’Brien and Sharman 1995) is one of Frank n Furter’s entry lines onto screen. The absurdity of the whole film and the fantastical escape the audience is taken on is mostly directed by Frank n Furter himself, being the king, or perhaps God, of his respective castle. Fans herald him as their savior from normalcy and the judgments of life. This liberation and acceptance also includes social justice, and a commitment to justice is one characteristic of a modern messiah figure (Reinhartz 2011, p.431).

RHPS laverne poster
Laverne Cox in the new TRHPS

TRHPS was released in 1975, and pushed the boundaries of its time with its sexual freedom and gender fluid identities. The cult classic became especially popular within the LBGTQA+ community. Laverne Cox who played the contemporary messiah in the new remake (2016) remarks, “After I saw Rocky Horror for the first time, it became a turning point in my life. It’s part of what gave me the courage to truly transition” (Baysinger 2016). And a gay fan has written about the experiences of “having two very special men come into [their] life” (Townley 2011), one being Jesus, and the other Frank n Furter, and in the course of the article Frank n Furter does more of the blessing and saving. Frank n Furter has not revolutionized queer rights, but he has become an icon for many who feel they are different, with TRHPS allowing a space for people to feel free from societal norms. The way Frank n Furter is heralded as such a symbol of sexual freedom and acceptance makes him the modern messiah of this contemporary religion. This interestingly is juxtaposed in contrast with the Frank n Furter’s character inside the film, who is more related to hedonism and havoc.

Frank gif

When we look at the Frank n Furter inside the film we are presented with a man with a very hedonistic lifestyle, who likes to manipulate and control others, a man who is both a murderer, and a cannibal. This Frank n Furter juxtaposes with the heralded figure mentioned earlier, making him a subverted messiah. Frank n Furter plays the role of a bacchic devil, “a postmodern, gay version of the god Dionysus, followed by his intoxicated Maenads” (Aviram 1992). In fact, the story of his hedonism influencing Brad and Janet, mimics the biblical story of the fall of humanity, where the serpent tricks Eve and then Adam into eating from the tree of good and evil (Genesis 3).

Brad and Janet
Brad and Janet, with Magenta and Riff Raff

The plot of TRHPS shadows this storyline, we have Brad and Janet, a perfect, clean cut couple, representing Adam and Eve, and Frank n Furter as the serpent, who offers them each a taste of the forbidden fruit, or sex. Janet is even ‘corrupted’ first, paralleling the biblical story with Eve being the first to eat the fruit. Their indulgence becomes a turning point as eventually both Janet and Brad are shown to be completely overwhelmed by desire in the floor show. The overarching story of TRHPS replicates the original sin, or the fall of humanity. And inside it Frank n Furter is the slithering snake that whispers and suggests; “give yourself over to absolute pleasure” (O’Brien and Sharman 1995).

Rocky and Frank
Frank and Rocky

Frank n Furter as a subverted savior is also highlighted through some of the film’s religious references. Rocky is brought to life by Frank n Furter. Not only is Frank n Furter elevated to god-like status by creating life, but he is paralleled with God as he sings “in just seven days, I can make you a man” (O’Brien and Sharman 1995). When biblically it took God seven days to create the universe (Genesis 1-2). However Frank n Furter does not see Rocky as his child, or his creation, but rather he made Rocky to satisfy sexual desires, as Frank n Furter sings in Sweet Transvestite, “he’s good for relieving my tension.” This subverted and perverse presentation of creation is again implied with a picture of Michel Angelo’s The Creation of Adam displayed on the floor of the pool, where Frank n Furter leads the way to hedonistic indulgence.

Frank with 2 women
Frank the great creator of life

The birthday dinner scene in TRHPS can also be seen as an inverted biblical reference. In the Bible Jesus said “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life” (John 6:54). This dinner scene can be viewed as a twisted version of Jesus’ words and actions where the bread symbolized his body and the wine his blood (Dika 2003, p.113). Here Frank n Furter actually serves Eddie’s flesh and blood, and this particular scene is introduced by the criminologist with a picture of Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper in a book open behind him. The character of Frank n Furter presents itself as a seductive, serpent, and this begs the question how that is compatible with his alter-ego of the liberating messiah-like figure. It seems that TRHPS satirizes fears of the LGBTQA+ community, using the absurdity of the film to mock those who thought that anyone queer was a sex-mad alien sent to corrupt humanity. Meaning that Frank n Furter’s corruption as a character, makes him more of a savior-like figure.

birthday gif

TRHPS has become its own religion. A contemporary faith that is staying strong for a new generation of outsiders. The new Sunday best comes with fishnet stockings and bright red lips, and amazing grace has been replaced with Sweet Transvestite for worship. Frank n Furter sits on his throne at the head of this religion, as both a figure for the marginalized, and a character who mocks 70s homophobia through his devilish ways. All in all TRHPS presents itself as a religion of terrible thrills…

Frank B&W

 

Bibliography

References to the Bible are taken from the NRSV edition

Aviram, Amittai F. “Postmodern Gay Dionysus: Dr. Frank N. Furter.” Journal of Popular Culture 26, no. 3 Winter, 1992

Tim Baysinger. How Laverne Cox made Dr. Frank n Furter her own on Fox’s Rocky Horror Picture Show re-make. The Hollywood Reporter, 20/10/2016, accessed 3/10/2017, http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/live-feed/laverne-cox-foxs-rocky-horror-939846

Berman, Judy. We Live in the World ‘Rocky Horror’ Created. Flavorwire, 25/09/2015, accessed 3/10/2017, http://flavorwire.com/539534/we-live-in-the-world-rocky-horror-created

Dika, Vera. Recycled culture in contemporary art and film: the uses of nostalgia. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, UK, 2003.

Forbes, Bruce David. ‘Finding religion in unexpected places’ in Religion and popular culture in America ed. Jeffrey H. Mahan (University of California Press: 2005) 15

O’Brien Richard and Sharman, Jim. The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Directed by Jim Sharman. 20th Century Fox, 1975.

Reinhartz, Adele. ‘Jesus and Christ figures’ in The Routledge companion to religion and film ed. John Lyden. Routledge: USA and Canada, 2011.

Kevin Townley. There is a light that never goes out. Rookie, 10/03/2011, accessed 20/09/2017 http://www.rookiemag.com/2011/10/rocky-horror-townley/

Student Showcase 2: Politics, Prophets, and Jacindamania

Today’s student offering comes from Mathew Sherlock. Mathew hails from Devonport in Auckland and is currently studying towards a Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Laws conjoint, majoring in Spanish. He hopes to work in politics some time in the future. Mathew took our Bible in Popular Culture class because religion and the Bible were completely new subjects for him – thankfully, he found the course very interesting, especially our discussions around contemporary prophetic figures and the American Monomyth, or ‘supersaviour’ in pop culture.

Mathew’s essay was incredibly timely in its focus on the rise of Labour Party politician Jacinda Ardern, who stood as the party’s leader during the 2017 General Election. The election resulted in a hung parliament, with neither Labour nor the incumbent National Party having an adequate majority to form a government. After a nail-biting few weeks, on October 19th, New Zealand First party leader Winston Peters declared he was prepared to form a coalition government with Labour. So, exactly one day after Mathew submitted this essay, Jacinda was declared NZ’s new Prime Minister. Serendipity. To learn more about her impressive rise to power, read on and enjoy this most fabulous essay.

Jacindamania herald
Image from New Zealand Herald 3 August 2017

Jacindamania: Analysing the Election of Biblical Proportions

Mathew Sherlock

The General Election of 2017 seemed to be a guaranteed victory for the National Party. Until Jacinda Ardern entered the picture. After her appointment as leader of the Labour Party, Ardern swept the nation, in a craze nicknamed “Jacindamania” (Kwai 2017). Marcus Borg identifies that biblical prophets disturb our sense of normalcy, possess a passion for social justice, and bring hope to the oppressed (2001, pp.111-44). Through analysing Ardern’s views and her corresponding policies proposed throughout the election, we can see that she matches these requirements. Comparing Ardern’s actions with biblical prophets Amos and Deutero-Isaiah will reach the conclusion that Ardern can be regarded a contemporary biblical prophet.

labour-billboard-2017-andrew-little-jacinda
Election billboard with Jacinda Ardern and former Labour leader, Andrew Little. newstalkzb.co.nz

Borg (2001) identifies that a biblical prophet disturbs our sense of normalcy and challenges dominant discourses within society. Ardern certainly disturbed the political normalcy of the 2017 election, which seemed to be a landslide victory for the National Party with an anticipated fourth term in government. Under previous Labour leader Andrew Little’s reign, the main party in opposition was polling at 24%, its lowest point since the 1990s (Trevett 2017). There was no foreseeable chance of a non-National victory. However, after assuming leadership, Ardern drastically increased the party’s polling percentage, peaking at 44% at one point during the election (Small and Walters 2017). This unprecedented twenty-point advancement for Labour in the electoral race changed the course of what seemed to be an obvious continuation of the National-led government, into the most enthralling election campaign in recent New Zealand history (Du Fresne 2017). Throughout the campaign, Ardern challenged New Zealand: choose between risk and hope (“Stuff Leaders’ Debate” 2017). There is risk attached to sticking to the status quo, whereas hope can make change for the better (ibid.). New Zealand’s sense of normalcy was greatly disturbed; placed at a political crossroad between stagnancy and change.

leia
Dunedin artist Sam Sharpe with his Jacinda Ardern-inspired artwork. Stuff.co.nz

Ardern challenged the dominant neoliberal discourse shaped by the National Party’s nine years in government. Neoliberalism’s key features promote the value of the free market and individual choice in addressing inequalities (Mirowski and Plehwe 2009). Their main election promise was a tax-cut, reducing the responsibility on the state for poverty and other social injustices (“Tax and Finances 2017” 2017). Ardern’s social democratic views contrast greatly from this, which promote legislation to redress inequalities and oppose tax cuts when other pressing social issues are present (Heywood 2012). Ardern challenged National’s policies that sought to benefit the wealthy, as child poverty had not decreased significantly over National’s term in government “Stuff Leaders’ Debate” 2017). Ardern’s view on societal issues were seen through her proposed policies, reinvigorating the discourse on how to address social inequalities. Examples of this were her free tertiary education policy, Maori-centred attainment standards, and stricter rules on land ownership to promote more first home buyers (“Labour’s Plan” 2017). These challenged the discourse shaped over the past nine years which placed individual responsibility on solutions. Despite this, they were generally well received by the New Zealand public, as reflected in Labours large increase in polling.

Ardern’s actions can be compared with biblical prophet Amos. Amos became prominent in the northern kingdom of Israel, a society where the rich were living extravagant lives while the poor were suffering (Thompson 1992, p.72). Amos disturbed their sense of normalcy, condemning the severe social and economic disparity (Bergant 2006, p.94). Amos challenged that the rich “trample on the needy and bring to ruin the poor of the land” (Amos 8:4). This critique of the wealthy citizens of Israel challenged the discourse surrounding the gap between the poor and rich. Both Ardern and Amos disturbed a society where the ruling class had failed to identify social and economic disparities, challenging the way they should be addressed. Thus, Ardern fulfils this requirement of a biblical prophet.

otago658876
Jacinda Ardern with Kelvin Davis, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party

Borg also identifies that a biblical prophet has a passion for social justice (2001, p.118). Ardern’s passion is seen through her views and policies proposed during the election. Ardern centred her campaign around her social democratic beliefs; emphasising equal opportunity, communal responsibility, and the power of effective social justice (Murphy 2017). Ardern’s social justice focuses on the marginalised and disadvantaged groups in New Zealand, aiming for a more equal society. One example of this is the implementation of Maori education programmes that emphasise Maori learning methods and measures of success (“Labour’s Plan” 2017). This redresses the disadvantage Maori students face in the current education system, possessing a disappointing 50.6% secondary school retention rate as opposed to 75.4% of non-Maori (Marriot and Sim 2015, p.5).

lets do this
Ardern on the campaign trail. Stuff.co.nz

From her social democratic viewpoint, systemic inequalities and disadvantages are argued to be a result of colonisation and ongoing disregard to differing values between cultures (Humpage 2015, p.450). As such, the implementation of such targeted policy helps distribute justice and equal opportunities to the groups that need it most (ibid.). Another example is Ardern’s assertion to reduce child poverty, claiming it was the initial reason for her interest in entering politics (“New Zealand 2017 election debate – LIVE| Newshub.”). Borg suggests that biblical prophets understand that sin comprises primarily as injustices, therefore placing such great emphasis on addressing social inequalities (2001, p.120). This is reflected in Ardern’s focus on marginalised groups in New Zealand society whom are impacted by such disadvantages. Reducing injustice is a key feature of a biblical prophet, and a characteristic that is prevalent in Ardern’s views and policies.

Jacinda foghorn 2
Ardern visits the University of Auckland. Wikimedia Commons.

Ardern’s passion for social justice mirrors that of biblical prophet Amos. Amos viewed injustices not as crimes of warfare, but social issues (Borg 2001, p.118). His passion for social justice emerged through his indictment of the wealthy for exploiting the poor (ibid.). Amos saw a large class disparity, where the rich were gaining influence, while the poor became disempowered (Bergant 2006, p.91). This disparity eroded communal responsibility for societal problems within Israel (ibid.). Like Ardern, Amos’ focus on communal responsibility emerged through his passion for social justice. The wealthy had an obligation to help address injustices face by the peasantry that had become disenfranchised (ibid.). Amos brought these issues to light after first increasing his following through announcing God’s judgement against Israel’s neighbouring enemies (Borg 2001, p.118). Then, Amos took advantage of his growing audience to turn and indict Israel itself for its social and economic inequalities (ibid.). Amos deplored the economic differences solely benefitting the wealthy while disadvantaging the poor (Bergant 2006, p.91). Amos thus increased the power of his message and following through addressing social issues that stemmed from the economic class gap present in Israel. Although Ardern did not come from a religious perspective in her campaign, nor used God as a justification for her passion for social justice, she used similar techniques to Amos. Criticising National’s apathy to address social issues, notably income inequality and rising house prices in New Zealand helped increase voter support for the Labour Party, and Ardern’s electoral campaign (“1 NEWS Vote17 – Vote 2017 – Leaders Debate 1” 2017). Framing the social inequalities as the result of nine years of inaction from the National government similarly identifies Nationals “sins” as social injustices, as Amos did to the wealthy people of Israel.

kiwi dream
Jacinda Ardern speaking in Auckland, 2016. Wikimedia Commons

Borg also identifies that a biblical prophet has a vision, a dream that brings hope to the oppressed (2001, p.130). Prophets may engage in prophetic energising, which values the use of language to create hope and bring forth a bright future (ibid.). Ardern’s incredible achievements in the 2017 General Election in seven weeks of her campaign brought hope to many New Zealanders that the government can strive to do better. New Zealand could be greater than what it already was. Ardern made use of prophetic energising in her speeches and debates, using almost poetic language to inspire voters. An example of this was her response to claims that her effect on the election polls was vapid; she was merely stardust that would soon settle and fade. Ardern responded elegantly that “this stardust won’t settle”, because New Zealand should not have to settle with what the current government was providing (“Stuff Leaders’ Debate” 2017). Bringing forth a prophetic message that New Zealand could do better, Ardern provided hope to the large portion of the public that had felt left out during the nine years of a National-led government (ibid.). She made use of this energising effect, imploring voters to choose change, and a better New Zealand.

Jacinda portrait
Ardern being sworn in as PM. Governer General NZ

Ardern’s energising prophetic vision draws parallels to Deutero-Isaiah, an unnamed prophet in the later chapters of the Book of Isaiah (Borg 2001, p.131). Deutero-Isaiah brought hope to a large group of Jewish exiles, using similar prophetic energising methods to mitigate the widespread panic and despair (ibid.). He energises the disenfranchised Jewish exiles, all survivors of the deadly Babylon conquest by reaffirming their love through God’s sight (ibid.). Deutero-Isaiah used language to promote a sense of hope in the exiles, assuring them in God’s vision that they should “not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand,” (Isaiah 41:10). Deutero-Isaiah and Ardern both spoke to a group that felt denied of rights and freedoms in their society, and used prophetic language to bring forth a brighter future inspired by their vision.

Ardern can be considered a contemporary biblical prophet. Although she does not come from the traditionally religious foundations of traditional biblical prophets such as Amos and Deutero-Isaiah, she matches many of the key requirements proposed by Borg. Ardern disrupted the normalcy of the New Zealand General Election, challenged dominant discourses with a promotion of social justice, and used prophetic energising methods to bring hope to many New Zealanders looking for a better future. Negating any successes or defeats for her and the Labour Party, she is an inspiration for New Zealand.

lovely pic of Jacinda

 Bibliography

All references to the Bible are from the NRSV

Bergant, Dianne. Israel’s Story, Part 1. Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2006

Borg, Marcus. “Reading the prophets again.” In Reading the Bible again for the first time: taking the Bible seriously but not literally. 1st edition, pp. 111-144. San Francisco: Harper, 2001.

Du Fresne, Karl. “The political drama is real this time as National faces stiff challenge for power.” Stuff. August 23, 2017.
https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/opinion/96012551/the-political-drama-is-real-this-time-as-national-faces-stiff-challenge-for-power

Heywood, Andrew. Political ideologies: an introduction (5th edition). Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.

Humpage, Louise. “The Treaty and Social Policy.” In New Zealand government and politics, edited by Janine Hayward, 6th edition, pp. 449-459. Victoria: Oxford University Press, 2015.

Kwai, Isabella. “New Zealand’s Election Had Been Predictable. Then ‘Jacindamania’ Hit.” The New York Times. September 4, 2017.

“Labour’s Plan.” Labour Party of New Zealand. Accessed October 17, 2017. http://www.labour.org.nz/policy

Marriot, Lisa. Sim, Dalice. “Indicators of inequality for Maori and Pacific people.” Journal of New Zealand Studies, no. 20 (2015) pp.1-30.

Milne, Jonathan. “The last pitch: Labour leader Jacinda Ardern answers tough questions from Bill English, voters.” Stuff. September 17, 2017. https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/96867354/The-last-pitch-Labour-leader-Jacinda-Ardern-answers-tough-questions-from-Bill-English-voters

Mirowski, Philip., Plhewe, Dieter. The road from Mont Pèlerin: the making of the neoliberal thought collective. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009.

Murphy, Tim. “What Jacinda Ardern wants.” Newsroom August 1, 2017. https://www.newsroom.co.nz/2017/07/31/40717/what-jacinda-wants

“New Zealand 2017 election debate – LIVE| Newshub.” Newshub. YouTube video. 1:38:02. Posted 4 September 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=20KBI7vV_-U

Small, Vernon., Walters, Laura. “Labour leaps into the lead in new poll, as leaders prepare for first debate.” Stuff. August 31, 2017. https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/96370074/labour-leaps-into-the-lead-in-new-poll-as-leaders-prepare-for-first-debate  

“Stuff Leader’s Debate.” Stuff.co.nz. YouTube video. 3:08:59. Posted 7 September 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M2dZ42gx1qI

“Tax and Finances.” National Party of New Zealand. Accessed October 17, 2017. https://www.national.org.nz/tax_finances

Thompson, Michael. “Amos – A Prophet of Hope?” The Expository Times 104, no.3 (1992): pp.71-76.

Trevett, Claire. “Labour leader Andrew Little says he considered stepping down in face of bad polling.” The New Zealand Herald. July 30, 2017. http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11896970

“1 NEWS Vote17 – Vote 2017 – Leaders Debate 1.” TVNZ. Video. 45:05. Posted 31 August 2017. https://www.tvnz.co.nz/shows/vote-2017/debates/s1-e1

Salome – victim, seductress, or both?

Today’s advent student offering is a marvellous essay written by THEOREL 101 student Wen-Juenn Lee. WenJuenn is a third year student majoring in English Literature and Media Studies. She tells me that she likes to read, write and discuss everything related to Harry Styles being a contemporary messiah. But, for her Bible and Pop Culture essay, she tore herself away from Harry and wrote this excellent piece on that most enigmatic biblical figure – Salome. Read on, and enjoy.

The Dance of Seduction: the Power of Popular Culture on Shaping the Portrayal of Mark’s Dancing Daughter in the Bible

by

Wen-Juenn Lee

Although religion and popular culture are often perceived as two distinct categories, the relationship between the Bible and popular culture has often been dynamic. This is seen in the biblical portrayal of Herodias’ dancing daughter in Mark, and her subsequent afterlives in film, literature and art. As society alters and gives meaning to biblical characters in a way they can understand, we see the dialectic process in which popular culture, societal attitudes and religion shape one another in an ongoing evolution.

In Mark 6:21-29, Herodias’ daughter danced before King Herod and his guests, which delighted the King. As a reward, he offered her “anything you like and I will give it to you.” Herodias, furious that John the Baptist had condemned Herod’s marriage to Herodias, told her daughter to ask for John’s head. So the daughter requested, “I want you to give me John the Baptist’s head, immediately, on a dish.” In front of his guests and in swearing an oath to the girl, Herod was reluctant to break his promise to her. So Herod sent his guard to execute John, and to bring his head on a dish.

As Mark simply referred to the dancing daughter as “daughter of Herodias,” inevitable gaps surrounding the daughter’s identity and motivations emerge. In Flavius Josephus’ historical account The Antiquities of the Jews, a stepdaughter of Herod’s is referred to as Salome. (Book XVIII, Chapter 5, 4) In this way, people came to identify Salome as the same person as the dancing daughter, explaining why the daughter is only ever referred to as Herodias’ daughter and not Herod’s. Thus, the dynamic between “Herodias’ daughter” and Herod becomes a crucial factor in the way artists and writers understood Salome’s dance. According to Josephus, Salome was born around 14 A.D and married twice. Her name, deriving from the Hebrew word Shalom, means peace. Her status as a daughter of a queen, and eventually becoming queen herself, gives her a position of relative power, not to mention indicating her wealth.

Nevertheless, apart from these few inferences we can make, information about Salome, and the dance she became associated with, are scarce and few. Referred to as “the girl”, Salome’s age when she performed the dance could range from a pre-pubescent to a young adult. Her personality, which may have contributed to her motivations to dance, remain unstated. Thus, society is fascinated with a character and a dance about which there is has virtually no historical information. Furthermore, the question of Salome’s motivations for performing her dance, and in obeying her mother to ask for John the Baptist’s head, remains a mystery. In both Mark and Matthew, Herodias tells Salome to ask for John the Baptist’s head, but Salome is the one who makes the specific request “I want you to give me John the Baptist’s head, immediately, on a dish.” In asking for John the Baptist’s head, specifically “on a dish”, was Salome merely obeying her mother, or did she have personal investments in asking for his head?

lapparition
Gustave Moreau, L’Apparition (c.1876)

A hugely significant force that influenced society’s perception of Salome was Gustave Moreau’s L’Apparition, where Salome is interrupted by an apparition of John the Baptist’s head in the climax of her dance. Although the Bible does not describe Salome’s dance, Moreau interprets it in an extremely sexualised manner. Using Jospheus’ report, Moreau understood Salome as a step-daughter dancing sexually in front of her king. A languid leg peeks out from behind the sheer fabric of her dress, and an outstretched arm directs us to the decapitated head of John. Her body, twisted at the waist, directs the male gaze to her fully frontal and almost nude torso. Crowned with ostentatious jewels and Byzantine-like patterns on her skirt, Salome reinforces Western attitudes on the eroticised and oriental ‘Other’ (Said). The power of the gaze is extremely important in L’Apparition.

fig-1-2
Moreau’s L’Apparition, detail

Expressionless, Salome’s eyes directly meet John’s bloody head, floating in mid-air. His mouth is open in horror, while his eyes beseech and plead for Salome’s mercy. In the background, Herod, Herodias and the executioner gaze oblivious to the head of John the Baptist, while a performer looks off in the distance. While everyone averts their eyes, thereby averting their responsibility in the beheading, Salome’s expressionlessly gazes up to meet her victim’s, confirming her guilt. In depicting Salome as defiantly staring at the man she is about to behead, Moreau puts her at the forefront of the beheading, cutting out Herodias and Herod’s responsibility in John’s beheading. In this way, the nature of Salome’s dance changes. Salome is not a pawn who obliviously follows her mother’s orders, but a femme fatale who uses her sexuality to intentionally charm Herod, and simultaneously bring the downfall of a holy man. Like Eve tempting man to sin, Salome dances to ‘charm’ the King, “indifferent, irresponsible, insensible, poisoning,” to the consequences of her actions (Huysmans, 24).

salome-barry-moser
Barry Moser, Salome kissing the head of Iokanaan (2011)

In this way, the gaps of Salome’s dance and character in the Bible are filled in inadvertently by 19thcentury attitudes towards female sexuality. A dancing female who then follows her mother’s request for the beheading of a man can only be understood in one way; sexualised, immodest and manipulative. Moreau interprets Salome as solely guided by her sheer, destructive lust, an ‘enchantress’ intentionally wreaking havoc through dance. Similarly, Oscar Wilde expanded on Salome as evil seductress, seen in his L’Apparition-inspired play Salomé. Salomé, in love and spurned by John the Baptist, kisses John’s mutilated head after the climax of her vengeful dance. In this way, Moreau twists the biblical Salome to become the ultimate metaphor of destructive female sexuality, a metaphor that artists used to perpetuate patriarchal attitudes towards women. Merely referred to as “daughter of Herodias”, she is twisted into a sexualised step-daughter whose “dance”, barely described in the Bible, is interpreted as sexually manipulative. This is what shapes Salome’s appearance and personality, presented as a dark haired “exotic” temptress that is equally seductive as she is destructive.

salome-1
Salome in True Blood (HBO)

More recently, Salome emerges in HBO’s Television Series True Blood, as an elite and powerful vampire and leader of the antagonist group “The Authority.” Speaking to, and engaging in, conversation with her portrayal in the Bible and in art, Salome says, “They made me a convenient villain, a symbol of dangerous female sexuality. But I was just a girl with a severely f**ked up family.” In this way, Salome presents herself as a victim, one who was “just a girl” as opposed to the sexually developed femme fatale Moreau portrays her as. Instead, “they wrapped me up and delivered me to my step-father’s bed,” which was a “dance, of sorts.”

Thus,  Salome is portrayed as a pawn in which her mother “trades” her body in exchange for John the Baptist’s head. The syntax of “wrapped me” and “delivered me” stresses Salome’s passiveness in the face of her mother’s schemes. Helpless to the politics and “f**ked up family” she is a part of, Salome has no personal motivations in “dancing” in front of King Herod, or in asking for John the Baptist’s head. Instead, Salome is coerced by a heartless mother, and taken advantage of by her lustful step-father; the victim of the “dance” as opposed to its perpetrator.  Thus, Herod and Herodias become the vilified agents that drive Salome’s dance and John the Baptist’s beheading. Although Salome’s dance is interpreted with an underlying sexual nature like Moreau’s L’Apparition, True Blood uses the “metaphorical” dance of coercive sexual intercourse to highlight Salome’s vulnerability as a victim of the sexual act, cementing her empathy with the audience. Bill’s horror, depicted in a close up shot of his face, and Salome’s own suppressed emotions reinforce the empathy we are meant to feel for her.

salome-and-bill
Salome and Bill, in True Blood (HBO)

But as quickly as True Blood tries to deconstruct Salome as dancing femme fatale, it perpetuates it. Salome uses her sexuality as a tool for power, in gauging the trustworthiness of Bill and Eric, and in coercing them to join “The Authority.” Her attempts and success, in seducing both Bill and Eric, are depicted as calculative and insidious, rather than acting out of genuine affection. Meanwhile, Bill and Eric, unaware that the other has been “wooed” by Salome, are depicted as helpless victims in the face of Salome’s aggressive sexuality: “She gets what she wants.” The gratuitous panning shot over Salome’s nude body as she slowly disrobes in front of Eric parallels Moreau’s male gaze, directing our attention to Salome’s breasts and hips. Staring at Eric as she undresses, Salome’s defiant gaze also parallels Moreau’s Salome, depicting her sexual agency as diabolical through the power of her gaze. Clothed in black lace and pink silk, Salome’s dark hair, red lipstick and heavily accented speech reinforces her depiction as a “foreign” femme fatale, who uses her sexuality to bring about the downfall of men. As Bill and Salome become lovers, Salome is depicted as bringing about Bill’s moral downfall, coercing him to do increasingly immoral acts. Urging Bill to feed on a pregnant women, and causing him to betray his best friend, Salome “taints” Bill’s moral compass, threatening his notions of good and evil. In this way, Salome embodies the stereotype she claims not be, seducing men for her own evil purposes.

salome-2
Sexualised Salome in HBO’s True Blood

On the one hand, then, True Blood seeks to dismantle the patriarchal interpretation of Salome as destructive femme fatale, by offering an alternative interpretation of Salome as victim, rather than perpetrator of a dance that caused John the Baptist’s beheading. Echoing mainstream feminist thought, Salome draws attention to the misogynistic portrayals of women in art: “I became a convenient symbol of dangerous female sexuality.” But the on the other hand, Salome as victim also has the danger of perpetuating gendered stereotypes. She must either be a damsel in distress or a manipulative whore, there is no in between. True Blood, reflecting wider Hollywood discourses, still relies on simplified and dichotomous understandings of female sexuality to interpret and depict Salome’s dance; as a virtue, with Salome as victim, or as a sin, with Salome as sexual agent. Either way, Salome’s physicality, as an object to be dressed in revealing clothes, and to be gazed at with long panning shots, perpetuates society’s hyper-sexualised treatment of female bodies; Salome, as a biblical dancing woman, is part of that. Perhaps “a progressive straight feminist reading…is actually impossible in light of the heavy misogynist cultural burden the Salome figure has carried for almost two thousand years” (Dierkes-Thrun, 201). Thus, True Blood’s Salome reflects conflicting attitudes towards female sexuality, shaped by a society whose own negotiations with gender and sexuality attempt to be progressive, but are equally influenced by lingering, traditional ideologies.

salome-4
True Blood‘s Salome – sexy and terrifying

From the gaps that emerge in Salome’s depiction in the Bible, her motivations to dance, and her responsibility in John the Baptist’s beheading, popular culture understands and depicts Salome’s motivations and character as a hyper-sexualised femme fatale, reflecting the varying and sometimes conflicting attitudes towards female sexuality. As L’Apparition and True Blood shows us, popular culture has the ability to adapt and shape Salome, through contemporary cultural attitudes that transgress the ambiguous and sometimes static depiction of a character in the Bible.

salome-3

References

Primary Sources

All biblical quotes are taken from the New Jerusalem Bible.

Moreau, Gustave. L’Apparition. 1876, oil on canvas, the Louvre, Paris.

“Whatever I Am, You Made Me.” True Blood: The Complete Fifth Season, written by Raelle Tucker, directed by David Petrarca, HBO, 2012.

“Somebody That I Used To Know.” True Blood: The Complete Fifth Season, written by Mark Hudis, directed by Stephen Moyer, HBO, 2012.

“Everybody Wants To Rule The World.” True Blood: The Complete Fifth Season, written by Raelle Tucker, directed by Dan Attias, HBO, 2012.

Secondary Sources

Cooke, Peter. “‘It isn’t a Dance’: Gustave Moreau’s Salome and The Apparition.Dance Research, Vol. 29 Issue 2, 2012. pp. 214-232

Clanton, Dan. “Trollops to Temptresses.” Daring, Disreputable and Devout : Interpreting the Hebrew Bible’s Women in the Arts and Music. T & T Clark International, 2009.  Print.

Dierkes-Thrun, Petra. Salome’s Modernity: Oscar Wilde and the Aesthetics of Transgression. University of Michigan Press, 2011. Print.

Girard, Rene. “Scandal and the Dance: Salome in the Gospel of Mark”. New Literary History. Vol. 15, Issue 2, 1984. pp. 311-324

Huysman, Joris Karl. À Rebours. London, UK; Penguin Books, 2003. Print.

Josephus, Flavius. The Antiquities of the Jewish. Accessed on http://penelope.uchicago.edu/josephus/ant-18.html

Said, Edward. Orientalism. New York, US; Pantheon Books. 1

Prophecy and M.I.A.

Today’s advent offering is from another Bible and Pop Culture (THEOREL 101) student, Pooja Upadhyay. Pooja is a fourth year student studying Law and Arts at Auckland, who thoroughly enjoyed this course, describing it as ‘a wonderful breath of fresh air’ in their otherwise hectic schedule. Pooja has written about British rap artist M.I.A., comparing her to Marcus Borg’s definitions of the biblical prophets. Enjoy!

mia-first

M.I.A.: Present-day Pop Prophet

by

Pooja Upadhyay

This essay compares Borg’s definitions of a biblical prophet to the popular-music rap artist Mathangi Arulpragasam (M.I.A.), concluding that M.I.A.’s role in western popular culture is similar to that of a biblical prophet. Like biblical prophets, M.I.A. challenges the status-quo, has a passion for social justice, and engages with forms of prophetic speech. Although she does not have the same relationship with God as biblical prophets, her relationship with God still resembles biblical prophetic behaviour in more secular ways. In sum, this essay will conclude that M.I.A. and ancient biblical prophets play similar roles in society.

According to Marcus Borg, biblical prophets challenge the status-quo (2001, 124-5). M.I.A. certainly follows suit. Firstly, many pop-culture artists tend to create mass-produce music that avoids controversial themes (Hirsch 1971, 372). Unlike these artists, she produces music that is politically charged. In her music video for “Born Free” (2010), she depicts US soldiers arresting boys with ginger hair, taking them to a field, and graphically killing them. The video is a shocking portrayal of genocide in modern-day United States, which led to considerable flak for the artist. M.I.A. used this to condemn western institutions and audiences for their outrage against the fictional video, and their contrasting indifference to a real video of “naked dead bodies being shot in the head, blindfolded” that she had tweeted months before. Thus, she challenges the status-quo with her art.

M.I.A. also confronts another convention of the pop culture industry, which requires mass-produced artist to package, market and sell not just their art, but themselves as a commodity (Shuker 2016, 132). She rejects product endorsement opportunities and struggles with the idea of the musician becoming the focus, not the music. Thus, similar to biblical prophets and their role as agitators, she refuses to conform to multiple aspects of the mass-produced pop-culture artist paradigm.

Pursuant to Borg’s work, biblical prophets are also passionate about social justice and advocate for oppressed peoples (2001, 118). M.I.A. is a champion of refugees and persecuted Sri Lankan Tamils. Through her song “Borders”, she brings the harsh realities of refugees to the forefront of western media consumption. In “Borders”, she lists a number of antagonistic ideas such as “identities”, “your privilege”, and “egos”. She ridicules these by rapping, “what’s up with that?” after each one, condemning the powers of the world for their identity politics and general complacency in alleviating the Syrian refugee crisis. M.I.A.’s passion comes through when she advocates for solutions and discusses how multi-culturalism and integrating refugees enriches communities.

A strong parallel can be drawn between the archetypal biblical prophet Moses, and M.I.A. when she advocates for Tamils. Called upon by God in Exodus 3, Moses takes responsibility for leading the Hebrews out of oppression in Egypt (Exod. 3.7). Similarly, through media interviews, she acts as a leader for the liberation of Tamils oppressed by the Singhalese regime. The exile and displacement experienced by the Hebrews in Moses’ narrative (and in other prophetic texts, including Isaiah and Jeremiah) resembles the experiences suffered by the Syrian and Tamil refugees for which she advocates (Slessarev-Jamir 2011, 28). Thus, through her advocacy, she performs the role of social justice warrior that is so fundamental to Borg’s conception of biblical prophets.

mia2

Borg posits that while some biblical prophets arouse feelings of hope through ‘prophetic energizing’, others engage in more pessimistic speech, called ‘prophetic criticising’ (2001, 130). This is where prophets speak critically of dominant systems of power, whose practices oppress others. M.I.A. criticises governments for their sins (their ignorance of others’ suffering and their persecution of particular groups), in a way that is similar to the prophetic critique Jeremiah performs when declaring the sins of Israel (Jeremiah 2). Rather than issuing a prophetic oracle though, M.I.A. uses 21st century media to convey her message, tweeting sarcastic and cynical comments such as, “Can u catch Pokemon Go at these refugee camps tho”, and “#SriLanka rejects international involvement in accountability + denies war crimes…again.” She thus fulfils the more negative function of prophetic speech, offering a voice of protest against those in power.

Despite, M.I.A.’s cynical dialogue, the effect of her prophetic behaviour generates hope. Although no current scholarship can demonstrate the effect she has on audiences, comments from Twitter and web articles suggest she arouses and inspires audiences. For example, Anupa Mistry, writing in the Pitchfork e-zine, discusses how she fears xenophobic attacks in Canada as a woman of colour, particularly after the Paris terrorist attacks (2015). Mistry argues that M.I.A. is a lifeline for outsiders like her. Additionally, on the release of M.I.A.’s new album AIM, some of her Twitter fans tweeted comments such as, “AIM uplifts me” and, “This album is a voice for the voiceless”. These are contemporary manifestations of M.I.A.’s prophetic impact.

mia-4

Lastly, Borg asserts that biblical prophets have a strong relationship with God. This relationship involves ‘call stories’ whereby God appoints individuals with a sacred task (Borg 2001, 124). While M.I.A. may not have received a prophetic ‘call’ from God herself, she does call on God herself through her art, as a means of highlighting God’s absence. In her song, “Born Free”, M.I.A. raps “Lord whoever you are, come out wherever you are”. In the video for this song, images of Mary and the crucifix appear in the context of the ghetto. This Christian imagery, in conjunction with M.I.A.’s demand that God come out, reflects the idea that despite victims of violence and oppression looking to God for protection, God fails to save them. Further, in the song “Story to be told”, M.I.A. raps that she wrote a letter to the Pope but “he never gave me a rope”, highlighting once more God’s silence in her time of need.

However, even biblical prophets have doubted God’s efficacy. In Exodus 5. 22-3, Moses asks God, “Why have you brought trouble on this people?” and then criticises God for not rescuing his people. Furthermore, calling on God to answer for suffering is a recognized feature of contemporary religious prophetic activism (Slessarev-Jamir 2011, 37). Thus, M.I.A.’s apparent doubts about God’s power does not detract from the similarities that bind her to both biblical prophets and contemporary prophetic figures. And, while her proclamations, “I’m not a Christian girl”, and “I don’t even need a religion”, may appear to highlight her differences to religious prophets, I would argue that she still shares with the biblical prophets a passion for social justice, which, as with the prophets (Borg 2001, 123), is shaped and directed by the cultural context in which she is situated.

photo_mia_300rgb-1-_danielsannwald

This essay has compared artist M.I.A. to the biblical prophets, as defined by Marcus Borg. Like these prophets, M.I.A. challenges the dominant expectations that come with being a pop-music rapper signed with a powerful record label. M.I.A.’s passion for social justice resembles Moses, whilst her prophetic critique may remind us of Jeremiah. Although, God did not call on M.I.A., she still has the sense of duty towards her people that biblical prophets inherited from God. Overall, despite being centuries apart and living in hugely different contexts, M.I.A. still shares a similar role with these ancient prophets.

mia

 

Bibliography

Borg, Marcus J. Reading the Bible again for the first time: taking the Bible seriously but not literally. New York: PerfectBound, 2001.

Hirsch, Paul M. “Sociological Approaches to the Pop Music Phenomenon.” The American Behavioral Scientist 14, no. 3 (1971): 371-388. http://ezproxy.auckland.ac.nz/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.auckland.ac.nz/docview/194670965?accountid=8424.

“How M.I.A. is a Lifeline in Times of Terror.” Pitchfork. Nov. 23, 2015. http://pitchfork.com/thepitch/967-how-mia-is-a-lifeline-in-times-of-terror/.

Jones, Gaynor, and Jay Rahn. “Definitions of Popular Music: Recycled.” The Journal of Aesthetic Education 11. No 4 (1977): 79-92. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3332182.

Lewis. Twitter post. Sept. 13, 2016, 1:10am. https://twitter.com/lewniverse/status/775607452653985795?lang=en.

MIA. “Born Free.” YouTube video, 9:05. Posted by “MIAVEVO,” April 28, 2010. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IeMvUlxXyz8&oref=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DIeMvUlxXyz8&has_verified=1.

MIA, interview by Jian Gomeshi. “M.I.A. on Q TV (viewer discretion advised).” Q on CBC. YouTube video. October 18, 2010. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uaK0YBA8Lss.

MIA. “Born Free.” YouTube video, 4:42. Posted by “MIAVEVO,” February 17, 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r-Nw7HbaeWY&list=RDr-Nw7HbaeWY.

“M.I.A. talks about her music video “Borders” on Al Jazeera.” YouTube video, 3:58. Posted by “worldtown,” January 14, 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HTMQXBQMSU0.

“MIA: Pop singer M.I.A’s Interview on Channel 4.” YouTube video, 12:48. Posted by “Tamil News,” January 14, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ezhPp5rK9UQ.

MIA. Twitter post. July 25, 2016, 1:02pm. https://twitter.com/MIAuniverse/status/757667438318260224?lang=en.

MIA. Twitter post. June 15, 2016, 7:05am. https://twitter.com/MIAuniverse/status/743081911703212032?lang=en.

MIA. Sexodus. Interscope, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uOcRiv9BZwU.

MIA. Freedun. Interscope, 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x_Nc1FdTD10.

Shuker, Roy. Understanding Popular Music Culture. Oxon: Routledge, 2016.

Slessarev-Jamir, Helene. Prophetic Activism: Progressive Religious Justice Movements in Contemporary America. New York: NYU Press, 2011. http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.auckland.ac.nz/stable/j.ctt15zc8pw.

Yusuf. Twitter post. September 13, 2016, 12.44am. https://twitter.com/yuzi/status/775600934076448772?lang=en.

Delilah and Judith

Today’s wonderful student offering comes from Elizabeth Newton-Jackson, who focuses on one of my favourite biblical characters – Delilah.  Elizabeth has just finished the first year of her BA, majoring in religion and art history. Elizabeth has a passion for the study of religion and is particularly enthusiastic about exploring the relationships between religion and art. She therefore really enjoyed taking our Bible and Popular Culture course this year (THEOREL 101), describing it as ‘the perfect introduction to the study of religion’. The course has also  increased her determination to study religion at postgraduate level.

So sit back and enjoy Elizabeth’s thought-provoking essay on Delilah and Judith – two biblical women who, despite similarities in their stories, are so often depicted very differently in popular culture.

Struck Down by a Woman

by 

Elizabeth Newton Jackson

To be “ensnared by a woman” (Josephus Ant. 5.8), to be deceived and defeated by one of the fairer sex has long been considered one of the greater downfalls of man. This perceived weakness of men however, seems to reflect more negatively on the women involved. Artistic portrayals of the infamous Delilah of Judges 16 exemplify this perfectly. The deceptively dangerous woman is a trope well established in art, and yet the figure of Judith from the deuterocanonical book of Judith, who betrayed a mighty warrior for her people, is hailed as a hero. The two women, infamous and famous, are treated with vast differences in art. These artistic treatments take liberties in altering and adding to the original biblical narratives to a point where these biblical characters, Delilah the perceived harlot and Judith the virtuous widow, seem almost pitted against each other as the two sides of woman. Not only do these artistic representations reflect back onto readings of the biblical text, they also embody and perpetuate certain ideas of the intrinsic nature of woman in the world outside the text.

rubens-1
Rubens, Samson and Delilah, 1609-10 (oil on wood), National Gallery, London

Delilah’s image as the artful seductress is so entrenched that her name has become almost synonymous with the danger of female allure (Kahr 1972, 282). Art has played a significant role in bolstering this image with Rubens’ Samson and Delilah, 1609-1610 unashamedly presenting Delilah as the “harlot among Philistines” (Josephus Ant. 5.8) The sensuality of the scene heightens the air of shocking betrayal as Samson the great warrior lies in a post coital slumber in the temptress’s lap, his hair gently cut under the soft light of a candle. Tension is suggested by the menacing presence of the Philistine soldiers at the open door, waiting for a signal to strike (Kahr 282). Delilah’s exposed breasts are explicit signifiers of her sexualized role in the scene but viewers are further assured of her status as a harlot through the rich red of Delilah’s dress (Exum 1996, 192) and the presence of the elderly procuress (Georgievska-Shine 2007, 461). A statue of Venus and Cupid perched in an alcove of the dingy wall further emphasises the brothel atmosphere (469). Even the inclusion of so many figures in an otherwise intimate scene helps to define a tone of detachment. Delilah is simply doing her duty, she has seduced Samson and has no qualms about betraying him. Although this Delilah is not vengeful or triumphant in the way she is in another work of the same subject by Rubens, titled Gefangennahme Simsons (Exum 1996, 194), she is clearly a woman who has surrendered to her senses and coerced Samson to do the same. Her utmost fault is in her sexuality.

rubens-2
Rubens, Gefangennahme Simpsons, 1618-20 (oil on wood), Alte Pinakothek, Munich

This emphasis on sexuality does not come from the biblical text. Judges 16:1-22 discloses nothing of Delilah’s profession or personality. We are told only that she lives in the valley of Sorek, was given money by the lords of the Philistines in return for the secret of Samson’s strength and (depending on the translation) cut his hair or had it cut by a manservant (Clanton 2009, 68). There are many gaps within the story of Samson and Delilah and yet the specificity of the gaps that Rubens’ painting fills results in a clear portrayal of Delilah as a heartless femme fatale. Painting Delilah in this light solidifies ideas of the character that may have no real basis in the biblical text. Artists are known to approach subjects with licence, but in the illustration of biblical narratives there is perhaps an assumption of greater respect for the original source (Georgievska-Shine 2007, 463). Respect of this kind is particularly relevant when considering past uses of biblical art in depicting sacred stories to those who were illiterate or did not have access to the Bible in their own language. Many Northern European artists, likely Rubens himself, used not only the Bible itself as a source but commentary by Flavius Josephus, a Jewish scholar of the 1st century AD. Josephus barely changed the narrative of Samson and Delilah, but he did change it enough by pointing to Delilah’s identity both as a harlot and a Philistine in the very first sentence (Ant. 5.8). The world inside the text of Rubens’ Samson and Delilah depicts a narrative that is at odds with the world inside the biblical text and yet the strength and frequency of the portrayal of Delilah as a deceitful harlot reflects back on the biblical text, making it more difficult to distinguish between these two separate worlds.

caravaggio
Caravaggio, Judith Beheading Holofernes, 1598-9 (oil on canvas), Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica

Although the book of Judith does not have the ambiguities of Judges 16, revealing much about Judith and her defeat of Holofernes, the famous heroine is most certainly a character of paradoxes. She is virtuous (Judith 8:2-8) but knowingly uses her beauty to seduce (10:3-4). She is righteous but lies (11:5) and ruthlessly kills (13:8). Her actions seem to far exceed the mere ‘seduction’ of Rubens’ Delilah. However, Judith is an Israelite and thus cannot fit the femme fatale image her actions may suggest. Caravaggio’s Judith Beheading Holofernes, 1598-99 proves this through its lack of reference to the character’s lies and seduction. Caravaggio paints a figure of pure innocence, dressed in pale, modest clothing and bathed in light, the use of chiaroscuro splitting the canvas in two in a blatant display of good and evil. Viewing only the half of the canvas containing Judith herself, one would find difficulty recognising the murder being committed. Her expression displays pity and she stands as far away from Holofernes as possible, severing his head from his body in a detached, almost meek way.

donatello
Donatello, Judith and Holofernes, 1455-60 (bronze), Palazzo Vecchio, Florence

The painting gives us no doubt as to Judith’s status as a heroine. Yet in the biblical text, Judith lies repeatedly, disrespects the dead by taking Holofernes’ head back to her people (Judith 13:15) and ultimately disregards the lives of her own warriors by sending them after the retreating enemy (15:2-3). However, in artistic representations these unsavoury deeds are brushed aside, likely due to Judith’s status as an Israelite. The point here is not to condemn or defame Judith but instead to explore the reasons behind her depiction in art. In Donatello’s bronze Judith and Holofernes, 1455-60, Judith is again a righteous heroine. This work was commissioned by the Medici family and used as a symbol of power and virtue, proving the dedication of this influential family to the people of Renaissance Florence (McHam 2001, 32). The fact that the biblical character of Judith could be appropriated for this purpose and used as recognisable symbol for power and purity proves how wide the divide is between representations of Delilah and Judith. While one is a heroine and invoked to defend and uphold the virtue and power of a great family and city, the other is used to warn men of the danger of women’s allure. The world inside Caravaggio’s Judith Beheading Holofernes does not quite seem to add up with the world inside the biblical text and yet the two are conflated, resulting in an image of Judith that is far removed from that of Delilah.

Both Samson and Holofernes were struck down by women, charmed by words and beauty before an ultimate betrayal. Surely this common ending for the men of each story must also draw a parallel between the women. Both Judith and Delilah are witty with their words and take it upon themselves whether directly in the case of Judith or indirectly in the case of Delilah to destroy great warriors. There are ambiguities as to whether Delilah does this willingly but the book of Judith makes it clear that the widow formulates and single-handedly carries out her own plan of revenge.

There is far less known about Delilah than Judith but the holes in Delilah’s narrative have been liberally filled by artistic representations. If one was to simply read the biblical text without knowledge of these representations, perhaps it would not be so easy to condemn Delilah and praise Judith. However, there are aspects of the characterisations of these women which make it clear how we are to judge each. Judith is pure. She refuses to remarry after her husband’s death (Judith 8:4) and although she uses her beauty to seduce Holofernes into trusting her, she does not give him her body (13:16). This is emphasised within both biblical and artistic representations. Delilah on the other hand, although the Bible does not comment on her sexuality, is unequivocally labelled as a prostitute in Rubens’ two works and the works of other artists as well as within Flavius Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews. Perhaps this specific alteration of the biblical text is designed to emphasise Delilah’s definite place on the ‘wrong’ side of womanhood due to the part she played in the destruction of one of God’s chosen. However, bringing sexuality into the narrative does more than solidify a negative image, it makes this sexuality the reason for Delilah’s position as the enemy. This is because it is a point of clear difference between her artistic representations and not only those of Judith but of other saintly women of the Bible, the Virgin Mary being the most obvious example. For the world in front of the artistic representations, this makes Delilah and Judith more than two biblical characters. They are instead portrayals of the different sides of women, and respectively connote ideas of Eve (sinful temptress) and Mary (holy virgin). This categorisation marks a clear divide that equates ‘purity’ with self- sacrifice and sexuality with greed and betrayal.

Artistic interpretations of Delilah and Judith seem to work like a form of Chinese whispers. The two biblical women are taken out of the pages of the Bible, passed through the works of artists such as Rubens and Caravaggio who have the power to alter and add, and then presented to us, the world in front of the text as the unaltered originals; in reality, however, they are markedly altered. Presenting the Delilah and Judith of artistic interpretation as the same women as the biblical text also reflects back onto readings and interpretations of the women in the Bible, suggesting that there is always a clear black and white divide between the virtuous ‘virgin’ figure and the deceitful harlot.

The bible is a vastly influential spiritual, cultural and historical text and for this reason artistic portrayals of its characters are far more than depictions of narrative. The differences between Delilah and Judith as portrayed in the paintings of Rubens and Caravaggio do not simply reflect differences between two biblical characters but shape and emphasise ideas of the how the Bible addresses women and even how women are seen in our secular world, the world in front of the text. Although this may not be the explicit purpose of the artistic representations of Judith and Delilah, the division between purity and perceived sexual immorality as a division between right and wrong has and will continue to have a lasting impact.

Bibliography

All biblical references from the New Revised Standard Version.

Clanton, Dan W. Daring, Disreputable and Devout : Interpreting the Hebrew Bible’s Women in the Arts and Music. New York: T & T Clark International, 2009.

Exum Cheryl J.  Plotted, Shot, and Painted Cultural Representations of Biblical Women. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996.

Georgievska-Shine, Aneta “Rubens and the Tropes of Deceit in Samson and Delilah.” Word & Image 23, no. 4 (2007): 460-473. doi: 10.1080/02666286.2007.10435799

Josephus, Flavius. The Whole Works of Flavius Josephus, Translated by Sir Roger L’Estrange. The Seventh ed. Aberdeen: Printed and Sold by J. Bruce and J. Boyle, 1768.

Kahr, Madlyn “Delilah.” The Art Bulletin 54, no. 3 (1972): 282-299. Doi: 10.2307/3048997.

McHam, Sarah Blake. “Donatello’s Bronze David and Judith as Metaphors of Medici Rule in Florence.” The Art Bulletin 83, no. 1 (2001): 32.