Friday, August 2, 2013

You Don't Even Understand Us

That's your problem, mate. The whole bloody lot of you just wander about like a pack of wankers, seeing everything in black and white.
You were right that you'll never understand us, okay--and I'll tell you something else...
You're the sodding problem, not us! You're the ones that make the frigging rules for us, and you don't even understand us!
No wonder we're so screwed up!!
- Hellblazer #43
by Garth Ennis and Will Simpson

In the above panel, John Constantine confronts the angel Gabriel and exchanges strong words with the supernatural entity. Constantine argues that the cosmic paradigm is inherently unjust, since Michael and his heavenly lot do not understand humanity yet have decreed all the rules for humans to obey.

As is the want of Wednesday Theology, instead of dismissing this assertion as nonsense or ludicrous blasphemy, I choose to entertain the idea. Further, let's take it one step further. On a primal sense, who understands humans better, the forces of heaven or the forces of hell? As I've pointed out recently when talking about Northlanders, the teachings of Christ are an inversion of human expectations and desires. Selflessness, servitude, and sacrifice go against our natural instincts of survival and striving for personal success. But these altruistic commandments lead to a better big picture for society at large. A community that follows a law stating "thou shall not kill" is a much safer community than one where murder is rampant.

But sometimes it would make my life so much better if a certain person just ceased living. And that is the allure of sinful ways. Somewhere on this blog I believe I have observed and confessed that when I engage in a sinful act, it is usually because on some level I find that sin to be fun and enjoyable. This is because I am putting myself and my wants first. Maybe it hurts someone else, but I don't care, because it makes me feel good. And that immediate satisfaction can be so much more enticing than some far off heavenly reward for a life of sacrifice, pain, and death.

Allow me to shift gears a moment and focus from the broad to the more narrow topic of popular culture. When it comes to pop culture, does heaven or hell understand us more? The answer seems obvious. I mean, how does that old line go? Why does the devil have all the good music?

Because the devil doesn't nag and complain that the music is too loud or the syncopated rhythm is going to damn your soul.

As Wednesday Theology has shown, graphic literature talks about God and religion often. But it usually doesn't have the nicest things to say about either. I think a big reason for this is because an opposing view (a pro-God view, I guess?) has essentially excused itself from the pop culture marketplace of ideas.

Allow me to elaborate on this while simultaneously engaging in some shameless self-promotion by quoting from my own thesis, aptly titled Wednesday Theology: Theology and Language in Graphic Literature. On the self-ghettoization of "Christian" graphic literature (which can also be applied to Christian entertainment in any medium), I write:
     Further, by setting itself up as a distinct, “Christian” genre, these comics further distance themselves from criticism and, ultimately, credibility. Kate Netzler takes great issue with this development. “By labeling these books 'Christian,'” she says, “publishing houses, critics, and consumers are effectively removing Christian comic books from a place in the medium as a whole” and these works subsequently elude “the criticism or standards of secular media.”1
      Christian creators may celebrate this result, fearing mainstream critics would attack their work solely because it speaks of God or Christ. Even if this fear proved true on occasion, the reality of this lack of critique is ultimately detrimental to Christian graphic literature. Professional criticism holds creators accountable and forces them to continually strive to present better stories and better art. While art not subjected to criticism can still be good art, the lack of criticism only fosters the impression that it is inferior. Further, because the Christian community judges their own media largely on criteria of evangelism, Netzler says that the “standards are so dramatically different that comparing a Christian comic with a mainstream comic becomes futile. Thus Christian media plays a trump card and continues to perpetually isolate itself”2 If the non-Christian graphic literature industry cannot critique these books, then it will simply ignore them. This means only Christians will likely ever read, or even know about, “Christian” graphic literature. Further, if lack of criticism perpetuates a subpar product, then Christian readers will also only be exposed to an inferior iteration of graphic literature, missing out on all the grand potential the medium has to offer.
1 Kate Netzler, “A Hesitant Embrace: Comic Books and Evangelicals,” in Graven Images:Religion in Comic Books and Graphic Novels, ed. A. David Lewis and Christine Hoff Kraemer, 218-229 (New York: Continuum, 2010), 227.
2 Ibid.

Later on I continue to address the notion that Christians should stop segregating their own art apart from the rest of pop culture:
     In their book Exploring Ecclesiology: An Evangelical and Ecumenical Introduction, Brad Harper and Paul Louis Metzger address ways in which the church engages culture. They are generally critical of how evangelical Christians in North America have gone about this task. The authors shun the desire of many Christians to embrace a Christian mimicry of popular culture and ignore all the rest. They state that “there need be no such label as 'Christian' music or 'Christian' art. There is just art – good or bad.”1 Good graphic literature is good graphic literature, no matter who creates it. The same applies to graphic literature about religious subjects.
1 Brad Harper and Paul Louis Metzger, Exploring Ecclesiology: An Evangelical and Ecumenical Introduction (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos, 2009), 228.
So why does the devil have all the good music, movies, and books? Because the devil is more interested in making art than evangelistic material or "safe," "family friendly" alternatives mimicking pop culture. In my little niche, what would happen if Christians stopped trying to make "Christian" comics and just tried to make good comics?

No comments:

Post a Comment