Oh, My Pop Culture Gnosticism: What if God Isn’t God?

Nothing says pop culture like 2000-year-old theological debates, right? You’d be surprisedand we’ve discussed it before.

Gnosticism—a heretical branch of early Christianity—faded almost entirely from view after its founders were edged out of the Church by what would become orthodoxy. With most of their works lost or destroyed, their ideas survived only in the denunciations from the likes of Tertullian and Irenaeus. The Gnostic focus on secrecy didn’t ensure a broad legacy, either—early leaders such as Valentinius and Marcion privileged access to the deeper nature of the universe for initiates and other worthies. Modern Gnostics avoid the secrecy, and as with many aspects of Gnosticism which may seem troubling, the marginalization of Gnosticism limited our understanding to unfriendly characterizations by their orthodox contemporaries.

But in the 20th century, a treasure trove of Gnostic texts was discovered by a couple of Egyptian farmers at Nag Hammadi in a sealed jar. Ever since, their ideas—which seem stunningly modern in some ways—have started to permeate back into the world, gaining influence well beyond what would be expected from their obscurity, particularly since the texts themselves are rarely read by anyone besides scholars.

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Still, the ideas in these texts are starting to make their way into pop culture, directly or indirectly, and Gnostic ideas are fascinating enough to be talked about far away from their original sources. They feature prominently in the His Dark Materials series, and some concepts pop up in such unexpected places as Young Avengers, Final Fantasy, and even Futurama.

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Reconstruction for White Boys—Role Models in Comics

thankshawkeyeThe toxic masculinity at the heart of nerd culture has been exposed—most noisily through Gamergate, but via plenty of other incidents as well. While sexism has been the most obvious motivator for these reactionaries, spillover into racism, homophobia, and transphobia are par for the course. At a fundamental level, this burst of nastiness is a reaction to the first real challenge to the privileged position of white men in nerd culture.

Things have degenerated into something of a civil war in nerd culture, and while it rages on, it is becoming abundantly clear that the good guys are going to win this one. I’m not so optimistic as to say that hatred and oppression will disappear, in nerd culture or anywhere else, but there is at least a growing consensus that those things are wrong, and deserving of criticism.

The doors are open, and white men no can longer dominate. But this change comes only after generations of being told that those stories are universal and vitally important. For years, white men never needed to share the stage, and the tales of others were pushed away. As we finally start to knock down the worldview that so deeply privileges one identity, it becomes imperative to reconstruct whiteness and masculinity as something new. Before, the construction of these identities was deeply rooted in claiming entitlement to a supreme position. Now, we need a construction which both rejects that entitlement and recognizes what enormous privilege remains.

Terrorist organizations, like the Ku Klux Klan, forced Reconstruction to end in the American South before its time, leading to an enormous and destructive backslide for civil rights. White men in nerd culture are now threatening or executing political violence for the same purposes. We need reconstruction to make sure they do not succeed. Comics, so long at the forefront of everything toxic about nerd masculinity and exclusivity, have taken up the call, and are finally white, male characters into new roles which fit in a diverse world. With any luck, these are not just changing stories, they’re going to be changing readers.

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Oh, My Pop Culture Excelsior: Where Are The Religious Superheroes, Marvel?

Oh, Marvel. I’m only mean to you because I know you could be so much better.

Marvel’s comic book universe is at a peak of diversity right now. Characters of color, queer characters, characters with disabilities, and characters from other marginalized groups are gaining roles of prominence in the 616 Universe.

What makes that diversity supremely frustrating, however, is that barely a whit of it is reflected in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Marvel’s movies remain a relic of the white-bread, sausagefest past of their comic books, and a lack of religious characters is just one strike of many.

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