Revelation and the Modern Pop Culture Apocalypses

I have poured a vast amount of time into studying the Apocalypse of St. John, better known as the Book of Revelation. To the modern reader, whether Christian or non, it seems confusing and bizarre. Yet it’s effects are everywhere. Whenever someone says the numbers 666, you know they are talking about something evil. However, there is an easy way to see the effects of the Revelation. Go into any store and you will likely find merchandise for two TV series, one American and one Japanese: The Walking Dead and Attack on Titan

Both of these deal with the apocalypse, albeit in different ways. Attack on Titan, a Japanese anime, deals with the Apocalypse as both an external threat in the form of Titans and an internal threat in the form of conspiracies and mysteries within the world. Most of humanity has been wiped out by the man eating Titans, and a small group survive within a massive walled off country that is governed by people who may have had something to do with the creation of the Titans.

In a way, this series is truer to the meaning of the word Apocalyspe, which means “unveiling.” The thrill in Attack on Titan is watching this mysterious world gradually unveil before your eyes as the characters struggle each step of the way. However, in Attack on Titan, you are rooting for characters who are resisting this onslaught of Titans and gradually trying to put an end to this nightmare by discovering the secret to finally put mankind back on top.

The Walking Dead on the other hand doesn’t give such hope. The world is over, zombies are everywhere and your worst enemy are other humans. The show flat out tells you that the real walking dead are the humans. The characters spend every day trying to survive and work together against foes both living and dead. It has often been described as a zombie soap opera due to the various dramatic interactions between the characters. In this reality, the Apocalypse cannot be resisted and humans simply have to do what they can to survive, even though they are the Walking Dead. In one scene, a character named Hershel Greene says that he knew the Lord promised the resurrection of the dead, he just didn’t envision it would be like this.

However, one might point out that a key difference between the Revelation of St. John and these shows is the lack of a divine presence. In Revelation, even with these horrifying events, God intervenes and creates a new heavens and new earth where even the nations and kings that were persecuting the people of God get to enter and receive healing.

However, the divine is not completely absent from many apocalyptic works. For example, in Attack on Titan the main character Eren can transform into a Titan and uses his power to give humanity its first victory over the monsters. Throughout the series, the main characters are struggling to get back to his hometown to find a power that will end the Titan reign. In any case, it is a transcendent power or ability of some sort that allows the main characters to survive and even overcome the end of the world.

What I am getting at is that these works are simply being honest. Without something transcendent or the better angels of human nature, there is no hope in the face of the apocalypse. But, as I mentioned before, the word apocalypse might bring up images of complete destruction, but it actually means “unveiling.” It unveils the plan for the end of this age and it unveils the true character of those who experience it.

Modern apocalyptic tales often unveil that humanity is too messed up to pull themselves up. Humans in Attack on Titan spend a lot of time plotting and fighting against each other, and people in the Walking Dead are too divided and selfish to unite against the undead. Thus, the only way to overcome the end of the world is to use some good aspect of humanity such as teamwork and self-sacrifice or some transcendent power such as turning into a Titan.

In the end how one views the apocalypse depends on how one views human nature and God.

 

Nostalgia and the ever changing past

Looking at old photos is like grabbing a single piece of cloth from a massive tapestry. You can envision the full tapestry in your mind, but that piece of cloth influences what it looks like. Maybe it’s more dark blue or maybe white and gold. Maybe you feel happy about fun days, or you feel saddened that you cannot relive those days. Nostalgia is a strange mistress, because the way she appears depends not on her but on us.

When you are 15, remembering when you were 5, you might feel a number of things such as embarrassment. You might be embarrassed that your parents kept that photo of you running around in your underwear in the house. Or you could feel a sense of freedom that you can do more things now than you could when you were 5. However, when you are 25, you might long for those simpler days when Mom or Dad were close by and you had no real worries.

In the same manner, nostalgia can be both a positive and negative force. It could inspire someone who has been dragged down by life to remember the carefree days and attempt to emulate those feelings in his or her life, rather than continuing in negative thoughts. It could also be a good collective activity among a group of friends or family. On the negative side, it can lead to one creating, as Neon Genesis Evangelion puts it, a rosary of good memories that one clings to rather than dealing with the present. It can also lead to destructive patterns in a quest to restore the past, such as Gatsby’s obsession with restoring his old romance with Daisy in the Great Gatsby.

Pop culture currently is obsessed with nostalgia. From Star Wars to Power Rangers, they are all attempting to grab a piece of that nostalgic pie. The Force Awakens was a love letter to every little boy and girl in the 80s who grew up with Luke Skywalker. Yet for some, the new movie will never quite capture the original feeling, but it will remind viewers of some part of the tapestry that is Star Wars.

One question that emerges from this post is, “How should we relate to nostalgia?” In my own mind, I believe there are a few general principles. First of all, don’t lose your childlike spirit. By childlike, I am not talking about “childish behavior,” but rather a sense of wonder. We all know people who have completely lost their sense of wonder and became angry, jaded and sometimes extremely unpleasant. By keeping that spirit, we can both engage with nostalgic memories and create new ones, which leads to my final point.

Live your life naturally now so that you will naturally create good memories. This does not mean live in an artificial way to create Kodak moments that can easily be quantified and thrown on social media. It means to live your life naturally, with a childlike spirit, so that good memories will come naturally.

You may call that a cliche, but just remember that cliches were once treasured tropes.

Why Super Heroes Are Mainstream Now

Something has happened this decade, something that made every jock cry out “Nerrdsss” only to be silenced by the roar of the crowds.  Something has happened which has led to celebrations among nerds and the occasional lament from conspiracy theorists.  Superheroes are now mainstream.  You can’t argue against that when a movie like Guardians of the Galaxy makes over 300 million dollars in the United States.   We can get into a discussion about advertising or how the internet itself has changed how society views “nerds”, but that wouldn’t get to the heart of the matter of why superheroes are now mainstream.

The issue is one of mediums.  Comic books have been viewed as childish for quite some time, largely due to the Comic Code of the 1950s.  This was a code of ethics that was driven by hysteria unleashed by a psychologist named Fredic Wertham.  Wertham wrote a book called Seduction of the Innocent which argued that comic books were corrupting youth with depictions of violence, horror, and homosexuality.  Thus, in response to this fear mongering, comics were forced largely to self censor themselves, thus comic books’ reputation for childishness was born.    Comic books have tried to shake this reputation several times.  Some have done so by re-branding themselves as graphic novels.  But still the medium wasn’t taken seriously.  They were for children and if you still read them as an adult, that made you a man/woman child.  This was the fate of the superheroes, until the movies came out.

Movies have been taken seriously as a medium for quite some time.  The fact that an existentialist postmodern sci fi movie like the Matrix can succeed is proof of that fact.  So when Thor leaped out of his tights and onto the silver screen, suddenly he didn’t seem so silly and childish.  Suddenly Iron Man wasn’t just for nerds, he was awesome.  Suddenly Spider-man wasn’t just stuck in your friendly neighborhood.

However, in essence has the stories of the superheroes really changed?  The details have certainly been changed around, but the character traits of the superheroes, the villains, and the plots are all drawn from real comic books.  The only thing that changed was the medium.

This speaks to how strange our society is when it comes to the medium.  We don’t take animation seriously because its either for freaks or kids, but we take live action movies seriously.  You can think of it like box art or the cover of a book.  Just by changing what the cover looks like, you can convince a lot people to purchase it even if the content is basically the same.

In the end, almost anything is just one repackaging away from being mainstream.

Trailer Park Boys: Why We Cheer for Petty Thieves

Trailer Park Boys is an interesting phenomenon.  Canada is an often ignored place in the US, yet the popularity of Bubbles, Ricky, and Julian has exploded in the states in recent years.  The show’s premise is fairly basic, it’s about a group of petty criminals who live in a trailer park and engage in various get rich quick schemes that involve thievery and marijuana.  Most of the law figures in the show are either drunks, perverts, or incompetent such as Mr Lahey and the various cops in the series.  Inevitably, the boys end up going back to jail at the end of every season as Julian the leader of the group allows his ambitions to get the better of him.

It seems a bit odd that a country that appreciates hard work and independence would cheer for a group that refuses to get a honest job and instead indulge in various law breaking schemes.  In most stories, the roles would be reversed.  It would be the cops and trailer park supervisor Mr Lahey who would be the heroes and the boys would be the wacky villains.  Yet, when you examine some of the thematic elements of Trailer Park Boys, it becomes obvious why we cheer for the boys.

First is the strong sense of community and family in Trailer Park Boys.  The boys don’t ever plan to move out of Sunnyvale Trailer Park, and despite the often antagonism between various characters, they are all part of one big family, even the idiotic Corey and Trevor and the perpetually drunk Mr Lahey and his lover Randy who refuses to wear a shirt and eats way too many cheeseburgers.  They have a funny sense of neighborly love for each other that many Americans lack and secretly desire.  So many of us are in our own little worlds that we lack a real sense of a community.

Also, on some level I believe we appreciate and respect tenacious bandits.  There are bountiful movies about chivalrous bandits pulling off sophisticated heists.  While the boys are not necessarily chivalrous and their tools unsophisticated, they are certainly tenacious and their actions don’t seem to be particularly hurtful.  At best, their actions are hilarious and par for the course.  It’s even more hilarious seeing the boys justify their actions through such twisted logic as, “As long as you take something to the side of the road, it’s junk and that means you can take it and it’s not stealing.”  On some level, we can appreciate small time crime as long as it isn’t immensely vile.

Third, there is something to be said for protagonist centered morality.  We often tend to give the main characters more of a pass when it comes to moral misgivings because they are the main characters. We relate with them on a deeper level and we automatically assume in many cases that they are doing the right thing simply because of their status in a story.  The same principle applies to the boys.

Third, the Trailer Park Boys appeal to our desires to live uninhibited and fun lives.  The boys do not allow conventions to get in the way of how they want to live their lives.  Even when they are in jail, Julian keeps up on his readings and Ricky starts hockey teams.  The boys are independent and don’t allow authorities to determine how they live their lives.  Even Bubbles, who is the most moral of the bunch and most likely to try to stay on the right side of the law, lives an uninhibited life of getting high in the streets and play space with his buddies.  Bubble’s kitties are free range kittens who are allowed to roam free throughout the Trailer Park, and that type of desire to live an independent, hilarious, and bizarre life deeply appeals to us.

Comedy is a powerful tool that allows us to laugh at the absurd and topics that would normally fill us with depression.  Yet, it can also appeal to our basic desires for independence and community.  It is easy to see why Americans cheer for the boys and their bizarre schemes.

Of course, any discussion of Trailer Park Boys would be intellectually dishonest if it didn’t discuss the downside of all this.  The boys never truly profit from their ventures, and their chaotic life in and out of jail prevents them from having settled lives.  In addition, the rather ludicrous gun fights where no one ever dies is unfortunate for more reasons for one.  That being said, the series is obviously not taking itself seriously, so such absurdities can be forgiven.

But perhaps it is none of these elements which drive people to cheer for the boys, but rather it is the boys themselves.  Ricky’s loveable idiocy and sayings, Julian’s over the top schemes, and Bubble’s love for his kitties are certainly endearing and can easily draw us into cheering for them.

Or perhaps it is all because of that one song written by Bubbles:

Kitties are so nice.

Kitties are so nice.

Take em down spin em around and tickle their bellies

Not once but twice!

Heroes – Light Yagami

Many of you are probably thinking right now, “Light Yagami isn’t a hero!”  Well that depends on your definition of a hero and if you believe there is such a thing as a deeply immoral hero.

Light Yagami is the genius main character of the anime Death Note.   In the first episode, he receives a mysterious notebook called the Death Note which allows him to kill anyone whose name is written in it.  After a bit of experimentation, he decides to use the notebook to rid the world of all evildoers and become the god of a new world.  He is eventually given the title of Kira.

In other words, he’s quite a humble guy.

Light’s descent into immorality is slow but steady.  At first he’s killing criminals.  Then he moves on to anyone who opposes him, such as FBI investigators, then it spirals out of control from there.   Yet, in the end, Light justifies his actions by claiming he has made the world a better place.  Crime drops significantly, all wars end.

Light is a heroic figure in that he puts aside all distractions to pursue a vision to improve the world.  He is an idealist, yet his methods fall more under the pessimism of thinkers such as Hobbes.

Hobbes argued that most people are basically monsters who require an absolute power to keep them in line and prevent their lives from being “brutish, nasty, and short.”  Hobbes’ ideas were used by absolute monarchs across Europe in the 18th century to justify their power.  Light Yagami rules like an absolute monarch, creating a society of fear where people “behave” only because of the fear of Light’s judgement.

This is where we can begin to see why Light is an immoral hero, aka a villain.  Light is so prideful he believes he has the right to judge the entire world.  He is so certain of his “intelligence” and “righteousness” that he is unable to see how rotten and wicked he is.

A moral hero stands beside other people and recognizes his or her faults.  A villain fills themselves up with pride and stands above others.  Both the villain and the hero perform actions at times that could be called heroic.

A character like Light Yagami is so blind that they believe themselves to be the pinnacle of righteousness.  Few people set out to be a villain, and even the most vile of individuals believe themselves to be righteous.

A true hero is one that recognizes their own flaws and stands with humility not with pride.

Justin Bieber and the American Dream

So you might have heard that outside of tween girls, not many people like Justin Bieber.  The infamous pop star has been accused of being a blight upon the face of the music industry.  He has been called every dirty name under the sun.  Also Legolas tried to beat him up.

One might ask, does this young Canadian pop star deserve all this hate?  I’m not here to answer that question, but I do want to get to the root of why people despise Justin Bieber so much.  I believe it has less to do with Bieber’s musical abilities and more to do with how we define the American Dream.

The American Dream means different things to different people, but it usually involves three elements:  gaining wealth, creating a legacy, and leaving behind something of worth.  Some people give greater weight to certain elements or the other, but most would agree that successful businessmen like Steve Jobs and inspiring activists like Martin Luther King Jr. lived the American Dream.

However, there are also two underlying assumptions regarding the American Dream.  The first is that the person who achieves it will be a hard worker.  The second is that the person who achieves it will do it through the sweat of his or her brow.

Thus, we come to Bieber.  He appears to be living the American Dream, as he has immense wealth and fame.  But musicians and others despise him, because he did not follow the  underlying assumptions regarding the American Dream.  For one, his success is mostly owed to luck.  Someone noticed him online and believed he was a marketable teen pop star.  Also, Bieber does not appear to be contributing anything of value.  His music is mediocre at best, and many struggling musicians write music vastly better than anything Bieber has produced.

When one thinks of the American Dream, one drinks of an ingenious businessman who produces something of value, not a teen pop singer that everyone save for tween/teen girls believe is terrible.

Justin Bieber is a firm example of why the idea of success being related to superior work ethic, and  general superiority all around is not necessarily true.  This doesn’t mean that one shouldn’t work hard or that hard work is never rewarded, but our favorite Canadian pop star shows us that luck and marketing play a rather large role in material success as well.

Also, it is important to remember that material success is not and should not be the only part of the American Dream.  Wealth is both fleeting and corrupting.  Leaving one’s mark, improving the life of others, and lifting someone else up, those are dreams that last.

Toradora: Faces and Expectations

From the day we are born, there are expectations of us.  Based on how we look, talk, and act, people make judgements about the type of people we are and the type of people we should be.  While we cannot truly change the faces we are born with, we can control the faces we wear.  Toradora presents an interesting examination of faces and expectations.

For the uninitiated Toradora is a anime series which follows a boy named Ryuji and a girl named Taiga who agree to help each other gain the affections of their crushes.  Ryuji is a boy who grew up in a single parent household.  He inherited the aggressive features of his mobster father, so people believe he is angry and violent even though he is a fairly domestic man. He has an obsession with cleaning and cooking.  Taiga on the other hand is a small girl who appears delicate but makes up for it by being an aggressive and angry girl.  This earns her the nickname of the Palmtop Tiger.  Taiga lives by herself in the apartment next to Ryuji due to her differences with her divorced parents.  Her angry aggressive attitude is also a face to disguise her own broken heart over her parents by and large abandoning her.  They meet her financial needs but nothing else,

By the second episode, these two characters have already become inseparable in their own way.  In one particularly powerful scene, Ryuji sees Taiga kicking a poll angrily.  He joins her as well and they both shout about how unfair it is that people judge them.  They also ask what’s so wrong about not being normal in the first place.  Yet, even then, the two characters still put on their faces.  Even as they begin to realize their true feelings for each other, they maintain the face of friends so as not to get in the way of them pursuing their “true crushes.”  Yet these crushes are little more than fantasies.  Both Taiga and Ryuji put their crushes up on pedestals and can barely even talk to them.

Yet another layer of the show are the expectations the parents set for the children.  Ryuji’s mother is rather childish but she still works herself extremely hard with the hope of Ryuji one day going to college even though he doesn’t want to go.  Taiga’s parents also have expectations that she will want to be close to them even though they have broken her heart over and over.

It is only when Ryuji and Taiga acknowledge that they are not necessarily normal people and there’s nothing wrong with that, that they can truly move on and begin to connect with others.

We all learn from birth to put on certain faces in certain circumstances.  In some cultures, such as the Japanese one that Toradora takes place in, this has a far greater emphasis.  In time, we may have difficulty finding out what we truly think or believe because we put on faces for so long.

We try to meet the expectations of others, the expectations of normality.  But in the end for many of us, we only wind up in agony because we cannot accept ourselves.  The Golden Rule implies you have to accept and love yourself first before you can love others like yourself.

Sometimes, our ideas about normality can also be downright dangerous.  Taiga and Ryuji’s notion that normal love is this kind of adolescent worship for an unreachable person is a dangerous idea, but it is one that is normalized through much of culture.  Love isn’t just a feeling, its an action.  CS Lewis once argued that you should never try to like or love your neighbor, because sometimes your neighbor is a complete jerk.  You should simply act in a manner that is loving.  The same goes for romantic relationships, as people much smarter than I have said.

In the end, we must choose whether we are going to live in accordance with expectations or by our true nature.  We must recognize the faces we wear and have the courage to take them off and see what is right in front of us.

In the end, it’s okay not to be normal, because normality is nothing more than faces and expectations.

Or as your parents always said, “Just be yourself.”