I'm for wine and the embrace of questionable women (missyjack) wrote,
I'm for wine and the embrace of questionable women

the gods must be crazy

Some thoughts on what Supernatural is saying about religion

Kripke recently reiterated his original conception for the show "Star Wars in truck stop America"* and it was a good reminder that this show is telling a story that is very specifically, very deliberately, about America. Interestingly both LOST and Supernatural had their genesis around the same time and back in 2005 Kripke commented that both shows came out of “an uncertain post-9/11 spirit in which an enemy is not only out to get us. He could be living among us." (This early comparison fascinates me given how there has been such a marked confluence of the shows themes particularly in the current seasons, aided and abetted by Mark Pellegrino roles as the yin/yang of Jacob/Lucifer. more discussion on that here oops lets save all this for another meta).

It’s a tale being told at a point in our history where there is much disruption to the stories we’ve believed in, those that we’ve relied on to give our lives meaning and make sense on the world have collapsed, and we are right now working out new ones.

Supernatural is a show exploring the content and role of stories that are uniquely American in their telling – whether it’s urban legends, or the American Dream, or folklore and religion. The religious tradition at the center of Supernatural is Christianity with a side order of Judaism because that is the religious culture of America. (Contrast it to Buffy, a show also written by a humanist but with a more agnostic approach where demons were beings from other dimensions). Of course America is a country where there are many religious and spiritual beliefs, but it would be disingenuous to suggest that they all hold an equal place in the nation’s culture, psyche or institutions.

The mythology of Supernatural has always drawn a world where there is a multiplicity of beliefs and the creatures and deities associated with all these traditions. We first encounter it in Scarecrow, where the metaphor of immigrants transplanting their religion to a new land is made literal with a Norse god and an apple tree.

Kripke is of course a confessed Gaiman fan and follows in that very postmodern tradition of representing not only people’s beliefs as co-existing, but the actual deities as well. One comment here about these types of story telling – I often see fans referring to the writers on SPN as “getting it wrong” in terms the stories it tells whether it’s related the hierarchy of archangels or details of the Apocalypse as related in the King James Bible or something like Samhain’s connection to Halloween. Supernatural is merely using other stories, other texts to tell its own story, in its own way. It has no more commitment to an “accurate” portrayal of its source texts, as our fanfic does. And anyway when it comes to folklore and religion, the “canon” has more versions and interpretations and internal retconning than the ‘verses of DC and Marvel comics combined.

Supernatural has dark and cynical view of religion. With its unequivocal statements “God is dead. God has left the building”, it comments on how religion has failed society. Gods and their minions are portrayed as petty and self serving and certainly not concerned about humanity. Supernatural’s view on religion is quite radical in a country where being an atheist is probably more controversial than being a worshipper of ceiling cat. It’s amazing what goes unremarked if you’re a genre TV on the CW (coming next: my expose on how The Vampire Diaries deconstructs the military-industrial-entertainment complex in late capitalism).

Faith in religion is shown to be misplaced. From Layla to Castiel, faith in a deity is shown as bringing no benefit. The only time faith is shown as worthwhile, as rewarded, is in “Point of No Return”, when Sam puts his faith in Dean. Humans might be deeply flawed but only other people are worth believing in.

Supernatural paints Castiel as changing from an unfeeling, unquestioning minion to a creature who can make meaningful, emotional connections as he eschews heaven’s ways and becomes more human. Gabriel is shown as redeemed when he finally chooses humans over Heaven and his divine family. “They’re better than us” he tells Lucifer, who retorts that humans are flawed.

Damn right they’re flawed. But a lot of them try – to do better, to forgive. And you should see the Spearmint Rhino!

Supernatural doesn’t deify humans either - raising people above others – celebrities for example – is also shown to be no solution. It is apposite that in this show demons are people who have lost their humanity. It is something we can all become. Through Sam and Dean the show has very thoroughly demonstrated that even family, even love, in and of itself is not a panacea to giving our lives meaning, to giving us happiness. There are no easy answers its telling us. As Sam said in Croatoan:

It's supposed to be tough, Dean. We're supposed to struggle with this, that's the whole point.

In “Hammer Of The Gods”, the gods come together in a scene straight out of The Godfather, or The Sopranos. This is pretty good picture on how religions do coexist – in an uneasy truce most of the time. “Do not mock my world turtle!” might be the attitude we aim for, but our reaction to that statement also points out that even when there’s respect, the beliefs of others seem strange or even ridiculous – whether winged creatures with magic swords or deities with elephant heads. (sidenote: it’s a bit like fandoms really – I respect that you like that other show and won’t mock you . *thinks* omg how could you like that crap and can’t you see Supernatural is the bestest show ever broadcast and if you don’t like it you should DIAF.)

Just as Christianity has been already painted in the show, these religions don’t care about humanity. We are nothing but fodder for them, Earth is just their playground.

I think the fact that most of these Gods are killed by Lucifer is a deliberate statement. Obviously they could just bugger off somewhere else (Pandora – LOL!) but they decide to take on Lucifer - and he kills them. This seems to be a metaphor about the hegemony of Christianity in America, or even about how the dark side of Christianity obliterates other religions.

And so the Apocalypse can proceed. I think you can see from this meta why I am doubtful that God will be the deus ex machine in this tale. If God appears at all it may be as a metaphor to illustrate something like “the divine is within us” (the sort of scenario where Dean puts on his amulet and it glows), although personally I doubt this. We seen Kripke’s thesis clearly illustrated throughout 5 seasons of the show, and he stated it clearly at the beginning of this season:

The only thing that matters is family and personal connection, and that's the only thing that gives life meaning. Religion and gods and beliefs -- for me, it all comes down to your brother. And your brother might be the brother in your family, or it might be the guy next to you in the foxhole, it's about human connections. source

* trivia – as far as I can tell while Kripke referenced Star Wars a lot in early promotion for the actual phrase was sort of coined in a USA today article and then attributed to Kripke in subsequent articles. A little bit of oral history in the making.
Tags: meta
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