Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: Brother vs. Brother in Supernatural

CainMany of you who used to read my Supernatural reviews know that I am no longer watching the show because I could no longer handle its rampant racism, sexism, and constant queerbaiting. But as always, Supernatural finds ways to drag me back in, and it started when I saw this gifset and realized that Supernatural made Cain the good guy and Abel the bad guy in the Biblical story of Cain and Abel. Now, even in a very secular society, I think most people know this isn’t how the story of Cain and Abel goes. I know it works better with Supernatural’s mythology and I suppose that the writers assumed that they were being clever by revealing the Biblical character everyone thinks is evil as good, but actually following the original Biblical narrative would have been more profound.

Let me explain.

supernatural-dean-winchester-8In Supernatural the older brother is always the “good one” and the younger is always the “bad one.” Of course this is in relative terms, considering that Dean and Michael are both assholes and Sam and Lucifer are… also assholes, but you can see what Supernatural is going for. And having characters be complex instead of black and white is what TV shows are supposed to do. But the attempt to say the older brother is the good one and the younger is the bad one actually goes against the message of the Bible.

Now, I’m not saying that the Bible says older siblings are evil. In Biblical times the eldest son was the one who got everything. The oldest son inherited the land, the money, and everything else from his father, while the younger son got nothing. In the socio-political and historical context of the Bible, it was extremely hard to be the second son. However, one thing that all Abrahamic religions have in common is that they are supposed to be about identifying with and helping the oppressed, which is why the Bible always sides with the younger son. Abel over Cain, Jacob over Esau, and so on. To ancient readers, the fact that God always chose the younger brother as his favored one would have been shocking.

Supernatural-characters-Michael-290x400Even in Michael’s and Lucifer’s story, Michael is actually the lower level angel. And before I get a whole bunch of theologians yelling at me I’ll say, yes, we don’t know that for certain. Theologically speaking, we know almost nothing about the angels. A lot of it is speculation and guess work. So while Michael is seen as the leader of all angels, he is also most often said to be an archangel. And while Supernatural has claimed that archangels are the most powerful, they are actually only one step above guardian angels, who are the lowest choir of angels. Lucifer, meanwhile, is most often associated with being a Seraphim, the absolute highest choir of angels. But after Michael defeated Lucifer, he became one of the most revered angels.

“So the last shall be first, and the first last.” (Matthew 20:16)

Promo-supernatural-Lucifer-mark-pellegrino-9299710-967-1450The Bible has always identified with the least in society, whether it’s the younger brother, women, slaves, prostitutes, taxes collectors, or lepers, all the outcasts of the time. By telling viewers to identify with the elder brother as the righteous and just one, we are actually being told to identify with the established power and authority in the world. I don’t think this was the intent of the writers of Supernatural, but the writers’ theology or philosophy definitely seems to identify with the opposite world view shown in the Bible. Dean, Michael, and Cain are the righteous older brothers who must protect the tragically misguided younger brothers Sam, Lucifer, and Abel. Dean always has to play the role of “his brother’s keeper” to keep Sam in check. He does everything from lying to manipulating Sam in order to keep him away from “bad decisions.” In this way the younger brother is portrayed as having good intentions, but is almost inherently evil and needs to be guided away from bad decisions and kept on the righteous path. What’s creepy about that is that the same argument has been used against women, people of color, and people of lower classes. These groups were viewed as being particularly drawn to evil because of their base nature and needed to be guided toward correct behavior by the white male masters. And yes, religion was used to justify this, but a closer reading of the Bible, keeping the historical context in mind, actually reveals the exact opposite mentality.


3 thoughts on “Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: Brother vs. Brother in Supernatural

  1. Very interesting post. Lots of food for thought. I have given up on Supernatural a few seasons ago. I think I threw the towel at the end of Swan Song. I loved the earlier seasons, but to me it’s just gone down the drain for so many reasons.

    Anyway, I find it weird and counter productive that they go against actual theology/history and I don’t see the point either. Thanks for writing and sharing this post.

    While I have always liked Dean and John Winchester and got tired of the Dean and John bashing I saw in the show (which to me massacred some of the most interesting characters on TV back then), I think that character destruction, including in terms of sexism and racism as you mentioned, is one of the worst issues the show has.

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