Oh, My Pop Culture Jesus: Humanity at the End of the World

This week’s post is brought to you by Lady Saika, pinch hitting for Lady Geek Girl. Hopefully I can live up to her level of awesomeness!

The end of the world: when you picture it, you don’t usually give a lot of thought to the regular folks—bog-standard humanity. But without humanity, it’s not really the end of the world—just a showdown between the Big Bad and the Ultimate Good. It’s the humans’ world that’s ending, after all.

In the traditional view of humanity in the End Times, humans are often portrayed with a sort of ‘Onward, Christian soldier’ attitude—that is, they’re shown doing whatever God deems necessary to fight the Devil and speed on Armageddon (since after the Apocalypse happens and God wins, it’s Paradise on Earth, according to Revelation).

This is very contrary to the recent trend in depictions of the apocalypse which gives the characters a whole damn lot of free will and put a very humanistic spin on things: basically, these characters stick it to the man and fight against both Heaven and Hell in order to protect Earth.

The Stand:

The characters in The Stand by Stephen King are very much the former kind of humanity.They are the only survivors of a superflu that has decimated the world’s population, and they flock to the side of Mother Abagail, who represents the forces of Good. These characters will do anything, including dying a violent and horrible death, in the attempt to destroy the ultimate force of Evil, Randall Flagg. They want to rid the world of evil and create a new, free society out of the remnants of humanity.

This sort of character motivation, however, has fallen out of style in scriptwriting. The newer outlook chooses to focus on humans making their own world outside the influence of gods or demons.

Supernatural:

As Lady Geek Girl has pointed out in the posts preceding this, Supernatural’s fifth season is all about the End Times. And a big part of the plot is that Sam and Dean have been destined to be Lucifer and Michael’s human vessels, respectively. They’ll let the two angels in, and the forces of Heaven and Hell will have their grudge match, and the world as we know it will end. Well, this is not okay with either of the boys. Rather than picking a side, they choose to try to stop the Apocalypse from happening altogether. Even at the very end, Sam chooses to sacrifice himself in order to trap Lucifer (and Michael) back in the Pit, indefinitely postponing their big showdown. Because of this, Armageddon is averted and the world keeps spinning as usual.

Good Omens:

A huge theme of Good Omens is that, well, humanity is awesome. This is another series with an averted apocalypse, as Aziraphale and Crowley don’t want to lose the human world which is so much more enjoyable than either Heaven or Hell, and the Antichrist, Adam, (as Lady Geek Girl mentioned in her last post) sides with neither God nor the Devil, choosing to let humanity remain as it is, messed up but generally trying to be good. In this story the major human players are probably Newt, Anathema, and the Them (Adam’s friends). The former two try to avert the Apocalypse, and the Them are probably a large part of why the world doesn’t end—by being Adam’s friends and giving him an explicit example of what good humanity has to offer.

This about sums up our discussion of the Apocalypse. Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments. Otherwise, from here, we’re going in a new direction!

Next week on Oh, My Pop Culture Jesus: Christianity in Anime!

Tune in next time and get some religion!

Oh, My Pop Culture Jesus: The Evil Woman or the Whore of Babylon

So here we go, the first of my End of World posts. Let me start with this disclaimer: I am not, in any way, shape, or form a Biblical literalist. I find taking the Bible literally impossible. I don’t know nor do I understand how people are able to take the Bible at face value. That being said, most Americans tend to take the Bible literally, and that’s reflected in our pop culture, especially when we talk about the apocalypse.

To say that the Bible is problematic when it comes to the portrayal of women is like saying that Jack Donaghy is awesome. In other words, it’s an understatement. Now don’t get me wrong; there are many good women in the Bible, but there are many more evil ones. These evil women are often instruments of the devil and, of course, key parts of the apocalypse, so they make their appearance a lot in these types movies, TV shows, and books.

In the Bible, the Whore of Babylon is representative of the Roman Empire’s powerful but decadent and morally bankrupt ways. In Supernatural, the Whore of Babylon is an evil demon that takes the form of a woman. She, as Castiel, puts it, “‘…shall come, bearing false prophecy.’ This creature has the power to take a human’s form, read minds. Book of Revelation calls her ‘the Whore of Babylon.’” In Supernatural the Whore’s main job is to condemn as many souls as possible. How does she do this? She turns people to religious fundamentalists.

In this way Supernatural invites its viewers to see the harm in blindly flowing something they don’t understand. Those being manipulated by the Whore do so out for fear for salvation. They are so scared of not being saved they are willing to kill people in order to do it. In this way, the show uses the Whore to point out the real sin that is condemning them to hell. It’s not drinking or premarital sex, but hypocrisy and judgment. In the end, Dean kills the Whore and those following her ask the question, “How will we be saved now?” The answer is they have to figure it out for themselves and that the path of righteousness is a hard one filled with difficulty and questioning, not blind faith.

Supernatural managed to take what could have been a very sexist trope (the evil woman) and turned it into a more complex message about religion, allowing them to elegantly side step some of these gender issues that show up in the Bible. There are many other evil women we could talk about in Supernatural, but they pretty much all die before the apocalypse, so we’ll limit it to this one evil lady.

Stephen King’s The Stand is another great apocalyptic story. For the purposes of this article, though, we are going to stick with the TV miniseries. Why? Because I have yet to read the book, and because the miniseries is awesome.

In The Stand, Larry Underwood meets the young, beautiful, and mysterious Nadine Cross. Both Larry and Nadine are attracted to each other, maybe even in love with each other, but Nadine refuses to engage in any sort of sexual activity with Larry, because she keeps on having visions of Randall Flagg. Randall is actually Satan in human form. Through his seduction, Nadine makes terrible choices, which leads to the death of several of the protagonists. Randall Flagg tempts Nadine and draws her too him, eventually they have sex and Nadine becomes pregnant with, presumably, the antichrist. Nadine repents of her actions and rebels against the devil in the only way that is left to her—she kills herself and the baby.

From a feminist perspective, this could potentially be a terrible portrayal of a woman. Nadine is a strong woman that wants great things for herself, but in her pursuit of those great things she ends up getting in over her head and destroying herself… yep. On the other hand, however, Nadine’s character is very human and compelling. Nadine struggles with whether or not she should pursue her own goals or help other people. She does ultimately fail and chooses the wrong thing, but she realizes what she did wrong at the end.

The only problem I really have with Nadine’s character is that at the end when she realizes what she did was wrong she kills herself. This isn’t exactly the type of message I think we need in our pop culture, especially in one with religious overtones. The harder path, the better one, would be for Nadine to live and try to work against the devil, to actively make amends for what she has done. By having Nadine commit suicide, her story becomes completely tragic, which I’m guessing is what Stephen King was going for, but personally I think the story would be more complex and interesting had Nadine lived.

Nadine, like many evil apocalyptic women, is there for one reason: to bring one of the most important apocalyptic figures into the world.

Next time on Oh, My Pop Culture Jesus: The Antichrist.

Tune in next time and get some religion!