Oh, My Pop Culture Jesus: The Whitewashing of Christianity

So this is kind of sort of a Christmas post, but before you say that Christmas was several weeks ago, technically Christmas lasts until the Baptism of Christ. That’s today, so that makes this post in January acceptable.

Not too long before Christmas this past year, Fox News once again stirred up some controversy about race in a debate of whether or not Santa was white. This eventually led to a comment that Jesus was also white.

Pictured: What Jesus most likely actually looked like.

Pictured: What Jesus most likely actually looked like.

As someone who studies theology for a living, both comments are utterly laughable to me. But it’s also pretty par for the course when it comes to Christianity. Many figures from Christianity, especially early Christianity, were not white, but as Europe became more Christian, the myth of a white Christ started to predominate. Now, there is nothing wrong with white people having pictures of Jesus, Saint Nicholas, or any other saints/religious figures that look like them. In the same way that people should be able to see themselves in pop culture, people should be able to see themselves in religion. This is why, if you look hard enough, you can find religious iconography of Jesus portrayed as almost every nationality. As religious scholar Reza Aslan says, though, there is a difference between a personal Christ and the real-life historical figure, Jesus. Jesus was a poor Aramaic-speaking Middle-Eastern Jew, not the blonde haired, blue-eyed white guy you see in most Jesus movies.

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Manga Mondays: Jingle All the Way

We all know the childhood tale of the large, kindly man in a red suit popping down our chimneys on Christmas Eve to deliver presents to the good children and coal to the not-so-good children. But really, what does Santa do the rest of the year? Hang out with his elves? Not according to Paul Dini. His Santa—still kindly, but much more worn—has to deal with an issue that many parents deal with: a disconnect with their teenager. In this case, his spritely, rebellious daughter, Jingle.

In her self-titled series, Jingle Belle, we follow the life of this daughter—formed from the big man in red himself and his wife, the queen of the elves—as she lives through her teenage years as…well, a teenager. She’s angsty, she’s bitchy, and she likes doing things her own way (aka: the ‘naughty’ way) but she also harbors a nice side as well. In her introduction, we find Jingle making mayhem through Santa’s workshop (darn that newfangled rock ‘n roll dancing), destroying most of the toys that are to be delivered, until Santa comes in. At his arrival, she shows off the toy she developed—which happens to be a rocket launcher—and is rather off-put when he doesn’t appreciate its genius. After being effectively sent to her room, she takes off trying to do her fathers job but ends up crashing into the lair of the Blizzard Wizard, who dupes her into retrieving an evil artifact from Santa’s storage. This story takes the assumed adventure route with Jingle eventually sending a rocket through the wizard’s face and effectively saving Christmas but this part isn’t what makes the story interesting.

Rather, it’s the dysfunctional relationship between Jingle and every other person she meets that drive this story. From the first panel on, we can tell that Jingle is hard to get along with but she’s not a straight up horrible bitch beyond redemption. A few panels past where she destroys the toy factory, we find one of her friends, an elf named Gretchen, comes to her with word of the destruction. Instead of being angered by the fact that Jingle messed up so royally, Gretchen just counters with a cynical yet sympathetic “have you considered therapy?” And, in fact, Jingle has a bunch of friends—a witch, an arctic sheriff, and an anthropomorphic snow leopard for starters—which carries a good message that as a person, and especially as a female, you don’t have to be nice/perfect to enjoy your life and have people to enjoy it with. Also, surprisingly, all of the females that have more than two lines of dialogue are strong characters. And, also surprisingly, none of their desires are centered on men.

I’ll give you a couple of seconds to recover from that one.

While it is completely arguable that Jingle’s main motivation is driven by her father, I would say that it ends up where Jingle starts wanting to prove that she can do the whole ‘good kid’ thing for herself. It would have been so easy for her to just pretend to be sweet and kind for her old man, but the way it seems is that if she can’t be ‘nice’ in her own way then she wants nothing to do with it. That’s empowering.

This brings me to the most compelling relationship in the series: the one between father and daughter. Now, I know a couple things about having a somewhat dysfunctional relationship with a parent (I’m sure many of us do). Call me sappy or whatever, but my heartstrings were honestly tugged when I saw Jingle trying so hard but not living up to her father’s wishes. Imagine it. If you were Santa’s kid, could you live up to the hype? I’m not positive many of us could. They try. They honestly try to connect with each other—Jingle by doing the whole ‘good elf’ thing and Santa by talking to her—but they always seem to come up just short of anything that would make a solid relationship. That’s how it should be, though. Real life and real families can’t be tied up neatly with a little bow; there’s always effort required and sometimes we all have to settle for ‘good enough’. There’s such a raw beauty in the imperfect that if the relationship happened any other way, the comic probably would have been a failure.

When I first received these comics for Christmas a couple years ago I was for certain put off by the stereotypical “sexy comic book girl” art style it had going on but the characters are fleshed out so well that, while still somewhat problematic, I can excuse it.  I would highly recommend Jingle Belle if you can get your hands on it. While not necessarily a seasonal classic, it offers a solid story and interesting, relatable characters. Overall, I would define it as an excellent underground alternative to modern day comics.