During these troubling times, I like to go to my safe space for a while so that I can process things, and for me that often means diving into comics. Recently I was thinking about the 2017 Wonder Woman movie, which I loved, but also had some troubling religious aspects. We talked previously about how Wonder Woman was heavily Christianized, with Ares acting more like the Christian devil and less like the God of War, putting Wonder Woman in the Christ/savior role. But today I want to focus on the lack of goddess figures in Wonder Woman, excluding Wonder Woman herself, of course. Why, in a society of just women, was there so much focus on Zeus as the main god they followed, especially when previous comic incarnations of the Amazons did have them worshiping the Greek goddesses over the gods?
Tag Archives: oh my pop culture religion
Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: “God Johnson” and Fear of Characterizing God
The second season of Lucifer recently ended and I have to say that it was amazing. However, there was one episode in particular that I both loved and was frustrated with called “God Johnson”. In this episode, Lucifer and Chloe head to a mental institution where a man has been murdered. The main suspect in the case is God—or, well, a man who thinks he is God, and who even legally changed his name to God Johnson. Lucifer confronts Johnson to tell him that the real God is an asshole, but he stops shorts when Johnson calls him by his angelic name, Samael. This prompts Lucifer to believe Johnson really is God. Later Lucifer admits himself into the same institution and sees Johnson heal a human, again causing him to truly believe this is really God. I was so excited about this! After the show introduced God’s wife, I was hoping we would eventually get to meet God himself and explore the relationship between God and Lucifer in a more real way. Sadly, though, this episode doesn’t take the direction that I would have hoped. God’s character is not engaged with in the same way that Lucifer’s is. God remains just this impassive, omnipotent, but never present figure. Despite how our media loves to play with religion in its shows, movies, etc., the Abrahamic God appears to be off limits in terms of real character exploration.
Spoilers for the Lucifer episode “God Johnson” below.
Oh, My Pop Culture Islam: Ms. Marvel’s Respectful Portrayal of Religious Characters
Comics and religion don’t often mix, and that’s why it was so surprising when the new Ms. Marvel burst onto the scene and became such a smash hit. Kamala Khan (i.e., the current Ms. Marvel) and her Muslim family and friends provide a respectful, realistic portrayal of a family of faith that anyone from a religious background—especially one grounded in a strong family and ethnic tradition—can relate to. Of course such a story could have been written about any religious family, because the same thing could have come across if the Khans had been Greek Orthodox Christians like my family, or Polish Catholics, or Orthodox Jews, or Indian Hindus, etc. etc. But it’s extremely important that the series instead chooses to normalize a family of darker-skinned Muslims, as they have been such a persecuted group in the Western world lately. Realizing that a group different from your own is, in fact, simply human Just Like You is the first step in encouraging empathy and in changing attitudes, and Ms. Marvel does a great job with that. Now, I’m not Muslim, nor do I know an awful lot about Islam. I’m an Eastern Orthodox Christian with a priest for a father, and I grew up hearing some very Islamophobic opinions from him. It took me a long time to get over that, but it wasn’t until reading Ms. Marvel that I realized that Orthodox Christians and Muslims might actually have a lot more in common than I thought. It’s also just lovely to have representation of a religious character in comics, in which faith is organically woven into the story without being preachy or just surface-level!
Note that I’ve only read through the latest trade paperback of the series (Volume 6, up to issue #12 of the current run). But Saika tells me these points still hold for the latest issues. Mild spoilers up to my current stopping point below!
Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: Rise of the Guardians and Easter
Happy Easter everyone! By the time you read this, I will probably be done with church and knee deep in vegan chocolate. I admit that I struggled a lot with today’s post, because there aren’t exactly many things about Easter in pop culture. I think that’s because Easter is either viewed as silly (bunnies delivering eggs) or “too religious” by our secular culture. But other than resurrection motifs, which we have already talked about, and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, which we have also already talked about, there really isn’t much about Easter in our pop culture. However, one movie does discuss Easter to some extent, and that is Rise of the Guardians. While no reference to Jesus is made in the movie, it still discusses the important religious elements of hope and belief.
Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: Star Wars and Reincarnation
MadameAce: After the release of The Force Awakens, many of us were left wondering just who the hell Rey is. She’s powerful in the Force and certainly an important enough person in their universe to warrant being the star of three movies. So what’s the deal? Is she Obi-Wan’s granddaughter? Luke’s child? Or something else altogether? A less common theory says that she’s Anakin Skywalker reincarnated. The theory posits that due to Anakin’s crimes, he was sent back to the world as Rey to live on a desert planet. There are a number of things wrong with that—being a girl is not actually a punishment, for one thing—but while I disagree with the original poster regarding why Anakin may or may not have been reincarnated, could reincarnation even be possible within the Star Wars universe?
Well, yes. Regardless of whether or not this theory is true, it can easily fit into the narrative, and Lady Geek Girl and I are about to explain why.
Lady Geek Girl: Star Wars borrows heavily from Eastern religions, particularly Buddhism, which does incorporate reincarnation, though many people in the Western world misunderstand what reincarnation is actually about. According to Buddhist teachings, people are stuck in an endless cycle of suffering, death, and rebirth called saṃsāra. This cycle is not a good thing, because it means being stuck in a cycle of suffering. However, one can break out of this cycle by achieving enlightenment. One can only do this by following the Middle Way, aka Buddhism. Through meditation, one can achieve insight about the truth of life and extinguish desire, which allows one to escape suffering and end the cycle of rebirth. The ultimate goal of Buddhism is to achieve enlightenment and break that cycle. But just because Star Wars borrows from Buddhism, that doesn’t mean it follows it strictly. While there is no direct evidence that reincarnation exists in the Star Wars universe, it could certainly be a possibility.
Oh, My Pop Culture Orthodoxy: Why a Russian Orthodox Viktuuri Wedding Would Make History
The figure skating anime Yuri!!! On Ice skated into all of our hearts last year, and I was not immune to its charms. The relationship between professional skater Yuuri and his coach Viktor (thus the ship name “Viktuuri”, alternately spelled “Victuuri” or “Victuri”) was inspirational, heart-warming, and so very, very gay. And as its opening song states, it “made history”: it managed to tell a story in which a relationship between two men was unremarkable, just another part of life for these characters, while eschewing the fetishization and stereotypes typical of yaoi, like the dominant, masculine seme and more feminine, submissive uke. Unlike the vast majority of sports anime, it did not queerbait while never canonizing any queer relationships, instead celebrating how a blossoming romance could become an integral part of Yuuri’s self-expression through his sport. In addition, it’s significant that Viktor, one half of this victorious couple, is from Russia, a country known for virulent homophobia which has even passed laws against “gay propaganda”. While we don’t know if the creators of the anime purposefully set out to show up Russia, the fact that their Russian character is openly queer is still a statement.
I’m here to propose another way Yuri!!! On Ice can make history. By the end of the first season (spoiler alert), Viktor and Yuuri are engaged and have moved to St. Petersburg to both continue their skating careers at Viktor’s home rink. A wedding in the next season (or an OVA) is obviously imminent. If that wedding takes place in a Russian Orthodox church, it would be another statement of protest, since the Orthodox Church currently does not allow same-sex marriage—not to mention that this would be one of the few instances of representation that Orthodox Christians (like me!) would get in media! Also, Orthodox weddings are beautiful and meaningful, and deserve more coverage in fictional media beyond just My Big Fat Greek Wedding. (Note that I am Greek Orthodox, not Russian Orthodox, so I’m not familiar with all the Russian Orthodox traditions and would be happy to hear more from any Russian readers in the comments!)
Let me tell you all about it below the jump!
Oh, My Pop Culture Westboro: Fantastic Beasts and Magic as Metaphor Instead of Genuine Representation… Again
I enjoyed 2016’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them movie, though like Lady Geek Girl, I felt it had a lot of logical issues and problems with racial representation. The film didn’t have much in the way of religious or LGBTQ+ representation either… but it did have metaphors for them. Which—do we even have to say it anymore?—is not enough.
We’ve called out the Harry Potter series before for using magic and various conditions in the wizarding world as a metaphor for different kinds of oppression in the real world, such as lycanthropy as a metaphor for AIDs and discrimination against non-purebloods as a metaphor for racism. The problem with these metaphors is that readers might not make the connection to the real-world problem, so in order for them to really have impact, there should be examples of the real-world issue too. For instance, the series could have featured more prominent characters of color who experienced racism in the Muggle world in addition to discussions of blood “purity”. Instead we got a cast of all white protagonists, with characters of color getting very little development.
J. K. Rowling makes no secret of her support for social justice causes (just look at her Twitter feed!). In fact, she’s totally fine with headcanoning Hermione as Black and applauded the casting of Noma Dumezweni, a Black woman, as Hermione in the Cursed Child play, and racebending Hermione helps to relieve some issues about her Muggleborn blood status acting as a stand-in for discrimination rather than discussing any real-life discrimination. But real-life discrimination is still not discussed in canon. You would think that maybe Rowling would have listened graciously to some of these criticisms about hiding real-world issues behind metaphors that not everyone is going to get, and would have worked harder to avoid them in her next work. What is that next work? Fantastic Beasts. Did she listen? Nope. Instead the movie gave us a new metaphor to grapple with: obscurials as coded LGBTQ+ children repressed by overzealous religious families, in this case represented by the Second Salemers. And it isn’t pretty.
Spoilers for many aspects of Fantastic Beasts below the jump!
Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: Rick and Morty and the “No Atheists in Foxholes” Trope
Rick and Morty is definitely a show with some strong atheist themes in it. Rick very openly professes that there is no God, and many of the episodes that deal with religious themes are set up specifically to disprove religious beliefs. Even in the episode where Rick faces the literal devil, the whole point is about how humans are more powerful than these religious figures by showing that Rick is able to humiliate and even beat up the devil. However, there is one moment where Rick’s staunch atheism falls apart, albeit briefly. In the episode “A Rickle in Time”, there is a moment when Rick thinks he is about to die and prays to God, but after he survives, he goes back on his prayers, declaring once again that there is no God. This plays into a rather offensive trope that “there are no atheists in foxholes”, which is the idea that under pressure, everyone believes in God. But is this really the message that Rick and Morty is trying to send?
Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: Faith and the Romantic Child in The Little Prince
I had just recently read the original book version of The Little Prince when I watched the Netflix movie adaptation of it. The movie was gorgeous, and I think it did right by its source material. It managed to include a great deal from the book in beautiful stop-motion animation sequences that looked like folded, textured paper, while adding an additional plot that stayed true to the message of the original. But it drove home (perhaps too heavy-handedly) a few points that I had not fully grasped while reading the book: faith in the improbable and death and childhood innocence as two sides of the divine-encounter coin. This latter idea first became popular during the Romantic period (which peaked somewhere between 1800 and 1850), and has been with us in Western society ever since. Unlike some Romantic poems, though, and even arguably the book itself, the movie manages to convey these messages in a hopeful, uplifting manner.
Major spoilers for both the book and movie versions of The Little Prince below!
Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: Superman: Gnostic Christ Figure or Jewish Prophet?
I have talked before about how Superman is actually a Christ figure, but I have always described and explained it in a mainstream Christian sense. However, there was a form of Christianity that existed on the fringes during the end of the second century called Gnostic Christianity: an interesting form of Christianity that combines Christianity, various Pagan beliefs, and esoteric philosophy. Largely regarded by other Christians as heretical, this form of Christianity eventually died out, though it did have some modern resurgence after some Gnostic texts were discovered at Nag Hammadi in Egypt in 1947.
When I was studying theology in school, I was talking to my professor about Superman as a Christ figure and he argued that Superman was more of a Gnostic Christ figure than a modern Christian one. And it is true that Superman does share some similarities with the Gnostic depiction of Christ. But after doing more research into Superman’s character, I realized that the creators of Superman were Jewish and that Superman actually has a lot more connections with Judaism than with Christianity. Despite this, in recent years writers have taken a more Christian approach to Superman. It’s interesting that Superman, despite being created by Jewish writers, later became more Christian, particularly in regards to the more Gnostic version of Christianity. Gnostic Christianity was more a rejection of Judaism, because it views the God of the Old Testament as an evil god. So is Superman more of a Gnostic Christ figure, or more like one of the Jewish prophets?