Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: Women, Sexuality, and the Devil

906bf8b935a4eab74c1d91f443f3970aNothing bothers me more than the fact that religion has such a bad relationship with sex. In my particular experience, I am sick and tired of Christians having so many hangups about sex. I don’t necessarily have an issue with some Christians wanting to wait to have sex until marriage—I don’t agree with it, but as long as Christians don’t judge people who chose to do something different with their sexuality, then I’m fine with it. But that tends to not be the case. Individual Christians might be fine with it, but many Christian institutions tend not to be. I can’t tell you how many times as a kid I attended events that said “sex is a gift from God” but then proceed to say things like “but if you ever masturbate you’re sinning, if you think about sex you’re sinning, if you have sex ever then not only are you sinning but you’ll probably get a sexually transmitted disease, get pregnant, and even (especially if you’re a woman) you’ll be used up and broken.” This might not always be the intentional message, but I have seen and talked with enough teens to know this is the message that often gets through. The constant push from Christians to avoid any sort of sex or even exploration of sexuality certainly diminishes the belief that sex is a gift from God. But these modern problems aren’t the only thing that makes it seem like sex isn’t a gift from God. It’s Christianity’s long history of portraying sex as evil. Christianity has long listed numerous demons whose whole purpose was to tempt humans into some sort of “sexual perversion”, from Satan to Lilith and many others. There is also an obsession in Christian history with regulating peoples’ sex lives. There was a time when even married sex was considered lustful if it wasn’t done for procreation. Anything beyond married procreative sex was seen as the temptation of the devil.

Unfortunately, that’s not all. According to many religious teachings, this temptation into sexual sin was often seen to manifest itself primarily through women. Women were often thought to be more susceptible to lustful urges and temptation. Women were furthermore thought to have a closer connection to the devil because of this and because of their connection to Eve, the first woman, who was believed to have caused the downfall of man. And this is even reflected in our pop culture. I’m more than a little annoyed that more often than not in our pop culture, any and all sexuality is connected to the devil or demons, and that is all often wrapped in a nice sexist bow. While it’s understandable that our pop culture gets these ideas from religious sources, it’s certainly not healthy or helpful.

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Oh, My Pop Culture Devil: Prince of Lies, Speaker of Truth?

I obviously have my bones to pick with Penny Dreadful, but from a horror series point of view, I was pleased with its level and style of horror. The clear stand-out performances came from the one and only Eva Green, whose character Vanessa Ives had some extremely notable scenes in which she was possessed by malevolent forces. These scenes got me thinking about an extremely common plot device in demonic/spirit possession stories: when possessing a body and in general wreaking chaos in the lives of those around the possessed, a demon loves to ruin everyone’s day by… telling the truth. Truth is something that is extolled as a virtue and associated with goodness and morality, and one of Satan’s many nicknames is “the Prince of Lies”. Yet we consistently see demons using not lies, but rather the truth, when seeking to unsettle or harm humans. Let’s take a closer look.

Penny Dreadful SeanceMajor spoilers for Penny Dreadful and American Horror Story: Asylum after the jump. Continue reading

Race Against Time: The Question of Race in Period Pieces

Race against time… get it? Wordplay! Okay, for serious, my interest in writing a post about race in period pieces is something that branches directly off of my review of the Penny Dreadful premiere. Well, the first season of Penny Dreadful has come and gone, concluding last week, and while it was a great horror show, the iffy race issues from the premiere never went away. Speaking of race, the finale even had a few brief scenes with a one-shot Native American character, rounding out the variety of ethnic minorities barely acknowledged on the show. However, despite it being mentioned that this man had been forcibly acculturated by white, Christian schools and society (something that totally happened historically), he still had stereotypically long “Indian” hair and at one point, when the protagonist gets away from their clutches, the Native American’s companion actually says to him, “You’re Apache, track him!” #MagicIndianSkills

Slight spoiler alert for Penny Dreadful‘s first season to follow.

In a deleted scene, Mr. Kidd (far left) teaches Ethan how to grow maize.

In a deleted scene, Mr. Kidd (far left) teaches Ethan how to grow maize.

There was a “main” character of color in Sembene, an African transplant to Britain… and house servant to the explorer Sir Malcolm Murray. I use “main” in quotations because despite being featured in promotional materials, he was extremely underdeveloped. My prediction was that, being in an urban fantasy/horror show, Sembene would be a trope-y “Magical Negro”, but he wasn’t even developed/interesting enough to really qualify. Literally all he did was open doors and serve as an extra hand/muscle/blade in the fight scenes against spooky vampires. Frankly, I think it was rather misleading at best—and insulting at worst—to feature him so prominently in promotional materials and then not bother to develop him at all. “Ooh look,” producers could say, pointing at a poster for the show, “we’re so inclusive!” No, you do not get any bonus points just for having a character of color in the background of some scenes.

One of these characters is not like the others; i.e. he is really boring

One of these characters is not like the others; i.e. he is really boring.

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Penny Dreadful? More like Penny Wonderful!

Penny Dreadful is finally here! A few weeks ago I reviewed the trailer and talked a bit about my anticipations for the show, and now I get to experience the dark, brooding magic that is the supernatural underbelly of 19th century London. Come with me as we enter the demimonde! Spoiler alerts below the jump.

Don't they just look absolutely dreadful?

Don’t they just look absolutely dreadful?

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Trailer Tuesdays: Penny Dreadful

About two months ago or so, I found out about a new horror show that really piqued my interest. I’ve been an avid fan of American Horror Story since day one, and who doesn’t love a good period piece? Give me provocative scares and a time when men wore vests on the regular. American Horror Story: The Gilded Age or perhaps simply Victorian Horror Story would be right up my alley. Well, neither one of those is coming to a TV network near you, but something close enough is on its way: Penny Dreadful. First off, what is a penny dreadful? They were actually an early form of pop fiction: 19th century small, serial publications with sensationalist material, geared toward working-class youth and costing only, you guessed it, a penny. The genre has lent its name to this upcoming Showtime series, a period horror show also set in the 19th century. Let’s take a peek at the trailer below. Warning: this looks to be a show extra heavy on the horror, not for the faint of heart.

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