Solving the problem of evil in the twenty-first century

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Throughout history, the tale of a deal with the devil has been represented in Christian culture. Human’s ability to sell their soul to the devil to achieve earthy desires has been a continuous theme in literature and artwork. Song writers and artists throughout history have been thought of as particularly vulnerable to the devil and often play the role of the human making the deal. As the popular view of the devil developed the results of the deal with Satan altered. Usually the story takes two forms after accepting the bargain with the devil, the individual realizes nothing is worth their soul and repents or the individual realizes the same importance of their soul but simply can’t repent. Saturday Night Live presents a different possible conclusion to the deal with the devil story. Garth Brooks plays an employed man trying to break into the music industry. After being left by his girlfriend, the man feels one hit song would turn his whole life around. In this moment the devil, played by Will Ferrell, appears in a cloud of smoke with a guitar and promises to write a hit song for the man if he agrees to give over his soul. The man agrees to the deal. The devil tries to writes a song, but nothing seems to be working at one point he even starts playing a Smash Mouth song and claiming it as his own. After several failed attempts at writing a song including “Fred’s Slacks,” the man decides the deal is off and he will continue to write the song himself. This Saturday Night Live skit presents a Satan that is completely unable to deliver on his part of deal. The human has better song writing skills than the devil and ultimately the devil has nothing to offer the young man though the experience gives him inspiration for a song idea.


Deal with the Devil Taken to Court

This Saturday Night Live Skit pokes fun at the Faustian deal with the devil trope and the stereotypical Christian view of the devil. The plaintiff a young hair dresser is suing Mephistopheles to nullify a contract and the cost of damages. The devil, played by Jon Lovitz, enters the court room in a cloud of smoke. He is horned and is wearing a red onesie and cape. The entire skit takes advantage of a widely held view of the devil as a shape shifting trickster who will make deals for your soul that prove never to be worth it.  The hair dresser, a big haired eighteen year old accompanied by her mother, claims the devil first came to her to make a deal in the form of a large dog. She made a contract with the Devil using her blood to exchange her soul for success as a hair dresser. As the judge gets testimony from the hair dresser and the Devil, it is revealed the language in the contract is not clear. The hair dresser said she wanted a successful business and the devil made her a magical hair dresser so that anyone who gets a haircut by her will never need a haircut again. Due to the devil’s manipulation of the hair dresser’s desires her business has actually lost business. The Devil argues that this is merely the nature of entering an agreement with the devil.  After hearing both sides, the judge rules in favor of the hairdresser due to her young age and the devil’s trickery. This is another example of a human‘s ability to outwit the devil. Additionally it presents a version of Satan that is accountable to a human legal system, another play on the limitations of Satan’s powers. He is even escorted out of the court house after trying to persuade the viewers to become his followers.


Traitors Unite

This political cartoon shows the devil, Benedict Arnold, and Jefferson Davis dancing around a pot of treason and the scene is labeled “a proper family reunion.”  Benedict Arnold and Jefferson Davis are both widely considered traitors to the United States of America, but this cartoon suggests traitors, or more specifically traitors to the U.S., are a part of the agency of evil and betraying the US government is on par with the ultimate traitor, Satan who betrayed God. Benedict Arnold, considered one of the biggest traitors in US history, was a general during the American Revolution. Frustrated by his soldiers’ poor performance in the war and tempted by brides from the British, Arnold began making arrangements to surrender American territory to the British, but was discovered. Arnold was able to escaped capture from Washington’s army. He is still infamous for his acts of treason and in America his name is synonymous with treachery.  Jefferson Davis is a more controversial traitor in American history because following the Civil War not everyone would agree Davis was truly a traitor. Davis was the president of the Union throughout its existence. At the end of the Civil War, he was charged with treason though never tried. During the turmoil following the war, Davis remained a symbol of the South and strong resistance. Many Southerners regarded Davis as a hero and a true embodiment of their values. The political cartoon echoes Dante’s Inferno in that the lowest level of Hell is designated for the worst sinners, traitors. Although in the Inferno treachery to a benefactor is considered the highest form of betrayal, an act of treachery toward your political party or nation is still considered inexcusable and particularly horrendous. Betrayal during a time of national conflict or war seems to be a key theme in this political cartoon as well.


During World War II, in the Allies’ countries Hitler and Stalin were often portrayed as the devil or demons working for evil. Using propaganda and political cartoons during wartime is not an unusual way to rally support or recruit potential soldiers; however it is interesting to see how these representations spread to popular culture and advertising. This poster is part propaganda and part advertisement. The advertisement is a blend of stereotypical images of the devil a red, horned figure and the typical characteristics of a Hitler caricature with parted dark hair and a toothbrush mustache.  This advertisement for bonds, suggests buying victory bonds will essentially defeat Hitler or the devil. The blending of two publicly despised figures is a clear use of a pathos driven persuasion. The message of the ad is very straight forward and direct: Hitler is Satan, Satan is the embodiment of all evil, and therefore Hitler is evil. But not only is Hitler evil, he is a powerful and building force that must be stopped. The ad also provides a simple way to stop this wicked figure, buy bonds. This Canadian ad exemplifies the extremes Canada went to sell bonds. Victory bonds would end up covering about half of the government’s wartime cost during World War II, but when it became apparent the war wasn’t going to come to a quick conclusion the government and agencies selling bonds had to take more drastic measures. For example the Canadian government staged fake but realistic military invasions “to raise awareness and shock citizens into purchasing bonds.” In addition, to avoid competition during bond drives which took place every six months “no other organization was permitted to solicit the public for money.” This poster is an example of the more aggressive form of advertising that came later in the war when the government was considered about maintaining funds for wartime expenses.


Iblis

In Islam, evil is embodied in Iblis (also known as Shaitan), a figure very similar to the devil. Like Christianity’s Satan, Iblis was once a servant to God, but then had a fall from grace. In the Kor’an, Adam is said to be made from clay and Iblis is made from a smokeless fire, because of this Iblis feels superior to Adam. Much like Satan, Iblis’s major flaw is excessive pride. According to the Qur’an Allah created three types of creatures: angels, jinns, and humans. Iblis is not an angel but a jinn, a supernatural creature that has free will so unlike angel’s can violate Allah’s commands.  Iblis refuses to obey Allah and acknowledge Adam as Allah’s masterpiece. For this he is thrown out of Paradise until the Last Day. Thereafter he swears to lead all men and women astray from Allah, like Christianity’s Satan. In the Qur’an, Allah tells Iblis he will have no power over human, so he can merely influence humans by whispering in the hearts of man. Man’s desire to sin comes “From the mischief of the Whisperer (of Evil), who withdraws (after his whisper),-(The same) who whispers into the hearts of Mankind” (Qurʾān (Ali’s translation), sura 114 (Al-Nas), ayat 1-6). This is the only power Iblis has over humans and against Allah so he is known as the “whisperer.” This contrasts with Christianity’s demons, whose powers are never clearly laid out and change over time and from sect to sect. For Muslims fighting temptation is a fight against the whispers put into their hearts by Iblis and his demons. Although Iblis parallels the Devil in many ways, the identification of his capabilities is a huge contract from Christianity. There have been heated debates about the Devil’s capabilities and the ambiguity of his powers leaves room for a lot of fear and strife.


So bad it’s good…

The Austin restaurant Torchy’s Tacos is by no means the first company to use stereotypical images of the devil and references to sin in advertising and marketing, it represents a shift in an American culture and the influences of religion. The mascot of Torchy’s Tacos is a small red devil with long ears, horns, and a pitchfork. Although it is a cartoon devil with clearly no realistic elments it is not all that different from representations of the devil throughout history that were used to elicit fear. The motto of this local chain of “Damn Good Tacos” is not controversial in our cultural. This is unusual considering when paired with the Satan the use of damn takes on religious significants of being condemned to hell.  The modern convention of using Satan and sin to suggest desirability shows the dramatic changes America’s culture has been through. For most of America’s history, Satan was not something is take light heartedly and definitely wasn’t used as a positive advertisement tool. Three hundred years ago during the time of the Salem Witch Trials merely being accused of associated yourself with the devil resulted in public execution. Even during our parents’ and our lifetime association with the devil wasn’t accepted as evident in the backlash against games such as dungeons and dragons and artist such as Ozzy Osbourne. While there are still groups opposed to the use of strong evil and demonic figures, like the Christian groups against the reading of Harry Potter, popular culture has become more liberal. In our culture  the usage of evil is accepted with usually little controversy. Additionally, the use of religious references in advertisements shows the prevalence of Christian beliefs and theology. Whether you are a Christian or not, Christian ideology plays a significant role in the American culture.

Image Credit: http://torchystacos.com/files/gimgs/1_11torchyssignage.jpg