Blogs > Cliopatria > Greenspan and Pooh; Gibson and Satan

Feb 27, 2004 10:24 pm

Greenspan and Pooh; Gibson and Satan

Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, etc., has a voice that sounds just like Sterling Holloway, who voiced Winnie the Pooh for Disney for many years. Does it mean anything? I don't think Greenspan is taking his cues from either Disney or Milne, nor has he ever described the economy as"blustery." Nonetheless, when I hear his voice, I think of a Disney animation. NPR reports a Kaiser study that shows.... Advertising Works! And it's not good for kids, either.

And Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ, which purports to be a Gospel-faithful account, includes at least one detail which isn't in the original sources: Satan, either in Gethsemane or at the crucifixion (the review wasn't entirely clear and I'm not going to pay good money to see this film), and portrayed by a woman. It's not bad enough that Jews are unhappy: he had to go and make Satan a woman? He's either culturally tone-deaf or really playing to the lowest impulses, or both.

P.S. I just listened to David Edelstein's review of Gibson's film in which he says Gibson is calling critics of the film agents or dupes of Satan and sums up the movie itself as"the Jesus Chainsaw Massacre." I haven't seen a single positive review of the movie yet in secular press. If anyone has run across one, I'd like to hear about it.

P.P.S. The Iowa City gay marriage protest went about as expected. 39 couples applied for and were were denied marriage licenses. Interesting, the County Recorder in question is openly gay, but nonetheless chose to follow the law rather than stage a SF-style challenge.

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Richard Henry Morgan - 3/1/2004

Oops. The fallible memory strikes again. The alternative Old Testament meaning is adversary or enemy (he appears as "the tempter" in Matthew 4.3). Still, in Gibson's Gethsemane scene (so I'm told) the satanic figure tries to talk Jesus out of submitting to his fateful crucifixion (an adversary of sorts).

The Hebrew tradition supposedly draws on concepts from Persian dualism. Luke 10.18 has Jesus saying "I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning". Apparently this gets merged with the biblical tradition of the Morning star in Isaiah 14.12. Revelation 20.2 equates the Devil and Satan with the dragon, which seems to draw on ancient myths. Early Israel traditions identify angels as morning stars, who sit as part of God's council (Job 1.6 and 38.7), and act as his assistants. These are the seed elements of the Christian mythology of fallen angels, who roam the Earth until Judgment Day, only to be banned to hell. It's all rather complicated, but I understand it is explained in Jeffrey Burton Russell's Lucifer: The Devil in the Middle Ages. So says my Oxford Companion, and therefore so say I.

Jonathan Dresner - 3/1/2004

At what point does Satan become a fallen angel, a la Milton?

Richard Henry Morgan - 3/1/2004

I just find the whole satanic thing a bit weird. Gibson says his film just is the Gospel brought to film, and then he introduces a fictional dramatic device, the satanic figure, that does not appear in the same way in the Gospels (there is no satanic figure in Gethsemane in the Gospels). The other Old Testament meaning for satan is tempter, and the figure does fulfill that role in the film in Gethsemane (so I'm told).

The reviewer from the National Catholic Register called the figure androgynous, rather than feminine, but then also says it seems to fill an anti-Marian role. I can't understand why Gibson would depart from the Gospels on this issue -- it's not like the story needs pumping up.

The nature of Satan is not well-defined in the Gospels, or even in the New Testament, so it was matched up by believers, in syncretic form, with figures from other religions and folk beliefs, and grew to such florid dimensions that the Council of Braga and later councils clipped back his wings.

Jonathan Dresner - 3/1/2004

I was wondering that myself. But since no reviewer has had any trouble identifying Satan in the movie, I have to assume that she's pretty obvious, somehow.

Richard Henry Morgan - 2/29/2004

Since I haven't seen the film, I'm entering purely into the realm of speculation. The trailers merely show a darkly-hooded person staring in the direction of Jesus. The meaning of satan in the Old Testament is merely accuser (as in an accusatory stare). I'm wondering what the "satanic figure" in the film does that reveals itself to be a satanic figure in a Christian sense, since there is a long Christian tradition that one can't recognize Satan, he comes in disguise -- certainly a problem for the filmaker, I would imagine.

Richard Henry Morgan - 2/28/2004

I think the chance that the "satanic" figure is going to be male or female would break down roughly 50-50. I'm not sure how much weight to attach to the fact the figure is female (not having seen the film, I referred to she as a he above). I hope that doesn't mean that there may only be harm in casting the figure as a female, does it? Then again, not having seen the damn thing, I'm not even sure how one goes about establishing it as a "satanic" figure. You keep asking interesting questions and I'm going to have to go see it -- and I'm not eager to watch someone beaten to death -- even for my own good.

Ralph E. Luker - 2/28/2004

Ophelia makes a very good point here. I wonder why Satan is embodied as a woman in the film. There is little in tradition which would justify that. And it could be damaging, given all the blame women have borne for Eve.

Ophelia Benson - 2/28/2004

But what if it's about more than mere 'offense'? And even if it isn't, maybe there's actually a better word than 'offend,' which has a sort of PC pejorative note by now. Feminists (for example) are always accused of being offended, when there's usually a lot more to it than that.

It's at least possible, surely, that portraying Satan as a woman in a movie could cause some real harm. Physical, psychic, moral, political, etc.

Richard Henry Morgan - 2/27/2004

You've hit on something there. Just as there are contradictions within Genesis, there are conflicting accounts within the New Testament of Jesus' trial, etc. I'd watch the film to find which of the New Testament accounts he sticks to, or whether he rolls his own combination, but I'm on the squeamish side when it comes to violence.

The inclusion of a "satanic" figure creates no problems for some faiths, as for some Satan is just an abstract personification of evil. As long as he isn't actally called Satan, then the artistic liberties shouldn't offend too many, though I'm sure it will offend some.

Oscar Chamberlain - 2/27/2004

A lot of the discussion surrounding "Passion" has centered on whether it was truly Gospel based.
One good thing that might come out of that discussion is a greater consideration of the range of possibilities that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John allow.

A second would be a clearer understanding of how much each of our imaginations and beliefs add to the accounts when we read them. Gibson sees a satanic figure as accompanying the betrayal of Jesus. Is it in the Gospel? No.

But is it so strange to imagine that as being the truth of things. No. Not if you see Satan as an active force in the world. In fact, if you think that, it would impossible not to imagine Satan nearby, or hoping to tempt Jesus one last time.

Therefore it is true to the Gospel.

Put differently, it is hard to tell from the outside of a faith if a person within it is reading with the guidance of the Holy Spirit or reading with a focused and vivid imagination.

Josh Kaderlan - 2/27/2004

Ebert's positive review came in large part from the fact that he saw the movie as a work of passion (pardon the pun) on Gibson's part, which is a consistent theme with Ebert. He rates movies he believes the creators cared deeply about higher than he would otherwise. (Apparently he didn't think Vincent Gallo cared deeply about "Brown Bunny".)

Jonathan Dresner - 2/27/2004

I would point out, though, that many of the supporters of the film have in the past criticized violent and nihilistic films, as well as high-quality imaginative and thought-provoking ones that take other positions on the subject.

Thanks for the references. I don't have time to track them all down now, but I'm quite curious to see if there's a consensus on the quality of the movie as a movie.

Richard Henry Morgan - 2/27/2004

There are also positive reviews at, the Pittburgh Tribune, and USA Today.

David Timothy Beito - 2/27/2004

There have been several positive reviews in the secular press including Ebert (a former Catholic altar boy) and Roeper. Ebert was extremely enthusiastic calling it a masterpiece.

Frankly, I think some of the critics are blinded by ideology. There is also no small amount of hypocricy. Many of them in the past have praised highly violent and nihilistic movies such as Goodfellows and the one with Woody Harrelson (can't remember the name), etc. Now, they suddenly become critics of violence.

Richard Henry Morgan - 2/27/2004

There seem to be some fairly positive reviews here. I suspect the reception depends heavily on one's religious views.

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