Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Gods and Geeks in the Endless American Twilight

The interfaith website Patheos asked me to write a piece about the new gods of pop culture. I discuss the various memes relating to superheroes, Avatar, Twilight, Dragon*Con and much, much more. Here's an excerpt:

The cliché has it that there are no atheists in foxholes and a similar dynamic is at work in modern culture. As the wars, the Great Recession and all of the rest of our miseries grind on, people of all persuasions are finding a place to escape among all of the rich fantasy worlds of Geek Culture. Conventions are flouting economic trends and are growing at an astounding rate. The San Diego Comic-Con now draws upwards of 150,000 people, in a building a quarter-mile long. Besides rich fantasy worlds, Geek Culture offers something else in short supply these days: gods.

As I argue in my book Our Gods Wear Spandex: The Secret History of Comic Book Heroes, superheroes are not so much like the heroes of the ancient world as they are like the gods -- the savior gods, to be precise. Ancient heroes like Ulysses and Achilles were out to achieve immortality through feats of courage and endurance; they didn't much care about anyone else. Hercules (a hero turned demigod turned savior god) is the most direct parallel to heroes like Superman. Creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster deliberately modeled Superman on figures like Hercules and his biblical counterpart Samson, with bits of back-story cribbed from Moses. In fact, gods like Horus and Mercury were explicitly used for heroes Hawkman and the Flash (as well as their many imitators).

If the gods once possessed ordinary people (think the Mysteries or Santeria), it's the other way around today...

Read the entire article here and weigh in with your thoughts.


  1. Ah, A Strieber sync, although I was a little curious about the comment on the Secret School.

    My fondest memory of Thor in the movies was in Adventures In Babysitting.

    Loved the article & really looking forward to The Secret History Of R & R


  2. Hippie + Nerd = Geek! I'll buy it (along with the Secret History of Rock n' Roll).

    One thing that occurred to me as I was reading the article is that the "Tea Party Patriots" see themselves as superheroes, with many of the same underlying psycho-/sociological triggers as your average trekkie. The demo skews older, but the aspirational identification with heroics of the past is still there (sometimes even with cosplay).

    Perhaps this might help to explain why there was so much heat behind the recent Captain America "Tea-Bag" controversy? (The Cap issue and scene in question seems to have some unfortunate resonances with this recent encounter too, maybe.)

  3. Sort of off topic, but does anyone notice how Lot 51 (proposed location of NYC "mosque") is reminiscent of Area 51?

  4. I finally had a chance to watch the pilot episode of Pioneer One last week. Great stuff, especially on a $6,000 budget. I mention it because your statement about Superman and the "bits of back-story cribbed from Moses" connects to the big revelation towards the end of the P1 episode. Well, that, and the stranger in... er, paradise theme.

    I will say, my head was reeling afterwards, and I very much look forward to seeing more episodes.


  5. Ron Howard's most recent work, "Angels & Demons" which I saw again last night, has a wealth of symbolism far beyond Dan Brown's.

    Apparently the Vatican was not amused by "The Da Vinci Code" after all. Even innocuous shots are filled with eye-popping symbolism -- like a brief one early on where the dead pope is carried on an oval track in St. Peter's Square: the track is shaped exactly like an Egyptian ankh and goes counter-clockwise around the Egyptian solar obelisk in the center -- clearly equating Catholicism with ancient Egyptian paganism!

    Also, half the "mistakes" (and there are plenty) were to make Brown's ridiculous plot work, and the rest weren't mistakes at all.

    Like the last line in the movie. Their work done, Langdon and Vetri watch the new pope get ready to be announced to the world. She says, "He's chosen the name 'Luke'."

    Hanks replies, "There've been many Marks and Johns, maybe it's time for a Luke." My response, WTF? Yeah, lots of popes named "John" only one ever named "Mark". How dumb can you get?

    Then it hit me that he meant there have been a lot of papal "marks" and "johns". No doubt! LOL

    Weird Jay