Tag Archive: religion


Introduction:

I’ve decided to start a new series of posts here on my blog.  It’s called, “Why Everything You’ve Ever Loved is Terrible” (or WEYELT in the tags).  These posts are more Pop Culture inspired than aesthetics inspired.  That doesn’t mean that aesthetics doesn’t play a role though.  In fact I think there’s a real give and take relationship between pop culture and aesthetics.  Pop culture is made up of images, which means aesthetic theories can be applied to them.  In turn, it seems a bit naïve to think that the pop culture of the time had no influence on these philosophers’ theories of aesthetics.

I supposed before I get started I should just clarify what I mean by Popular Culture.  While there are numerous definitions of what pop culture is, many of which make a distinction between high culture and pop culture, for me pop culture is simply culture that is popular.  I make no judgments of quality.

On with the show!

 

Christmas:

Since Christmas is only a few days away, I decided to use it as the start of this series.  Though Christmas isn’t terrible per se, especially if you embrace is for what it really is.  I suppose the alternate title for this is really, “Why People Who Complain that Christmas has Gotten Too Commercial are Idiots.”  But that doesn’t really roll off the tongue.  Anyway, those readers who know me probably know that this semester I wrote a paper about Hallmark Christmas ornaments (and now everyone else is caught up), and it’s the research for that paper that’s inspired this post.

The Christmas that we think of and celebrate today (in America) is largely influenced by the “traditional” English Christmas, which was invented in the mid-1800s.  The Victorians were great at inventing traditions and making it seem like they had been around for centuries.  This version of Christmas has been commercial from its inception.

Theologically speaking, Christmas has never really been the big holiday.  Easter is really the more important one, since it celebrates Jesus’ resurrection, which is generally seen as being more significant.  We don’t even really know Christ’s actual birthday.  December 25th was chosen to compete with the various non-Christian winter festivities.  Before the Victorians Christmas wasn’t really a big deal, and often wasn’t celebrated at all.  So why did the Victorians reinvent the holiday?  It’s no coincidence that the holiday became popular only after the Industrial Revolution.  The Industrial Revolution brought with it the ability to make a lot of stuff.  And the new jobs brought a new class who had money and wanted to buy well, a lot of stuff.  All these changes also brought a nostalgia for simpler, better times (that never actually existed, by the way).  It was out of this nostalgia and looking for an excuse to buy things that the traditional Christmas was born.

Nearly every aspect of the new Christmas had consumerism at its base – Christmas cards, trees, buying gifts, even Christmas carols.  Essentially the traditional Christmas was a celebration of a new market economy, with a religious aspect tacked on to ease some guilt.  Does this mean Christmas is terrible?  No, not really.  Christmas can be a joyous time, a time of family and generosity.  It’s a time that many people look forward to all year, and not just for the free stuff.  And hey, if the holiday helps some people get more in touch with their religion/spirituality, that’s great too.  Just don’t go yelling about “keep Christ in Christmas” when from the beginning he’s barely been a part of it.

There’s also Santa. In America Santa Claus is a jolly old elf with a stomach like a bowl full of jelly. His past is a bit more sinister though. His ancestors were far more mean and way more into corporal punishment. If you were a child back in old Germany, Holland, and the like if you were bad, you didn’t get coal. You got a beating. Even the original Christmas trees had a judgment aspect to them, similar to that of St. Nicholas.
 

I won't even get into the fact that the most popular image of Santa was designed for Coca-Cola.

I won’t even get into the fact that the most popular image of Santa was designed for Coca-Cola.

If you find this topic interesting I recommend reading The Battle for Christmas by Stephen Nissenbaum, Christmas in America: A History by Penne L. Restad and/or Christmas, Ideology, and Popular Culture by Sheila Whitely.

Or if you want to yell at me for being a blasphemous heathen, I also recommend reading those books.

And if you need another reason Christmas can be terrible, make sure to check out the Weird Fetish of the Day over at Pizza Clubhouse.

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The Squick Factor

A couple of weeks ago I saw a post on Tom and Lorenzo about jewelry made from human hair (http://www.tomandlorenzo.com/2011/07/kerry-howley-jewelry-collection.html).  I immediately had two very different reactions.  On the one hand I wanted to look closely at them because they seemed to delicate and intricate; and on the other I wanted to close the window and shudder because the thought of wearing human hair was so icky.  There was no denying the necklaces had their own type of beauty.  But there’s also no denying the squick factor.

One of the hair necklaces created by Kerry Howley

            So why is it so gross to think about wearing human hair?  We wear other animals’ hair all the time.  Even their skin if you wear leather.  And that’s fine.  So why no human hair?  You might be able to convince me to wear something made of my own hair, but certainly not someone else’s.  I spin animal fibers all the time, but I can’t imagine spinning human hair.  I’m not sure it’d spin up that well anyway though.  It’d probably have to be blended with another fiber.  But I digress.  People wear wigs and toupees made out of human hair and that’s fine too.  Maybe because it’s on a head where hair belongs.  Or there’s still that layer of netting or whatever between their head and the foreign hair.  I dunno.  I guess it’s because we view ourselves as so much better than animals that it’s ok to wear things made of animal parts but not human.  Even though personally I don’t agree with the wearing of real fur, the thought of wearing a fur coat still doesn’t evoke the same icky feeling as wearing a hair necklace. 

            This whole thing also got me thinking about the beauty of the gross.  There are certain things that while icky, are also somehow beautiful.  There are some things that you just can’t seem to stop looking at, even if they are kind of gross (and not just in a train wreck way).  I can think of a lot of examples of art that fit into this category.  Strangely a lot of it is religious art.  There are many Northern paintings of Jesus after his death that are really rather disgusting in their realism, yet the pieces are still beautiful.  There are also a number of various beheading scenes with blood dripping or squirting out of necks and throats.  I’m not sure if in this case the religious aspect of the works sort of negates the gross, or if it just shows that gross and beautiful are not mutually exclusive.

An example of religious squick - Caravaggio's Judith and Holofernes

            Certainly there are certain things that are just plain gross and always will be.  But some things are gross in an interesting way, and even some in a beautiful way.

 

Art and Religion

          The other day I was watching a special on PBS called The Face: Jesus in Art.  Other than giving me flashbacks to my art history classes (which I miss dearly), it got me thinking about religion and art.  The two certainly have a long history together.  From almost the beginning art has been used to depict some sort of religious figures or rituals.  I think it started educational tools, to help tell the stories and teach the rituals to those who couldn’t read.  This causes some conflict though, since some religions forbid the creation of figural representations and/or representations of God.  Most religions seem to kind of ignore that rule though.  In Christian art there are thousands of images of Christ, and God as well.  Or perhaps I could stay Catholic art, since both the Byzantine church and Reformation brought about iconoclasms.  And yes, there are even images of the Prophet Mohammed in Islamic art.  I know, I saw them in my Islamic art class.  Islamic art is interesting because even though Islam is a religion, there are still two categories: the secular art and the religious art.  Most of the figural representations are in the secular category. 

            I don’t really see a problem with depictions of religious figures as long as people understand they’re just that – depictions, pictures.  I think the problems arise when people start worshipping the images themselves instead of what they represent.  Of course that’s at least part of the reason why religions ban the images in the first place, so that can’t happen.  I guess in a way it can even go back to Plato and his view that art can be dangerous and deceitful.  It’s tricky.

            Overall I think art is a good thing (not that I’m biased or anything, :0P).  Beauty, whether it be in art, nature or other things, can help people find the divine in their own lives, no matter their religion.  And in my opinion that has to be a good thing (as long as you don’t get too fanatical that is).  I think art is good at helping teach people about a religion, at least from a historical perspective, if not a spiritual one. 

Bosch, Christ Carrying the Cross, 1510-1535, oil on panel

 

Just a P.S. – I am not a theologian by any means.  Anything I know about various religions I learned either from church or school.  So if I’m horribly wrong about something in that area, feel free to correct me (in a polite manner of course).