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God in today’s web series: more Rambo than loving shepherd

Poster of Good Omens.

Poster of Good Omens.  

Gone are the days of the hippie Jesus posters; you’re far more likely to come across a authoritarian, muscle-flexing god in films and on TV/ streaming shows

If you, like this writer, are a big fan of god being used as plot device — or even better, a character — in films and TV/ streaming shows, these are interesting but also confusing times to live in. God no longer has a halo, he likely wields a harpoon instead.

In the recent Amazon Prime release, Good Omens (based on the novel of the same name by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett), we see the forces of both Heaven and Hell rooting for the Antichrist (reincarnated on earth as a mortal boy), so that he can usher in the End of Days — and Heaven and Hell can have the decisive, no-holds-barred battle they always wanted. ’Tis all, as the Archangel Gabriel (Jon Hamm) says several times, part of god’s plan. The Netflix show Lucifer has an equally trigger-happy god, who has no qualms about sending (divine) goons after his own son or banishing his wife (goddess) to Hell. As god’s beloved son Amenadiel says, “He (god) has a bit of an overreacting problem.” American Gods, another Gaiman adaptation, is all about the old gods (Odin, Loki, Kali and so on) fighting the new gods (Technology, Media, ‘Mr. World’ aka Globalisation) in an apocalyptic showdown.

Mighty smiters

Clearly, we’re having a cultural moment where god needs to be more John Rambo than loving shepherd. Gone are the days of the hippie Jesus posters; you’re far more likely to come across a authoritarian, muscle-flexing god in films and on TV/ streaming shows. The world has never been more in thrall to the military industrial complex than it is today — this much is well-documented by now, especially through (non-fiction) books like William Hartung’s Prophets of War. And there’s nobody better than god when it comes to providing moral and theological justification for acts of unilateral aggression — almost everybody running for public office in America remembers the words ‘One nation under god’, right?

In India, however, visual representation of god is a bit of a contentious issue. And you can’t just hire Frances McDormand’s remarkable voice and hope for the best (as Good Omens did). People who play god are often trapped in that image — the actor Nitish Bharadwaj played Krishna in B.R. Chopra’s 80s TV show Mahabharat. In 1996, he contested the Lok Sabha elections from Jamshedpur and won on a BJP ticket. There are still long-running Delhi plays where Bharadwaj dons the old Krishna gear and waxes eloquent about dharma for the zillionth time.

Desi Guantanamo

The pairing of god and authoritarianism isn’t far from Indian screens, however. Two Netflix India shows in recent times have placed Hindutva-based dystopias as backdrop for the stories they want to tell. Ghoul, released last year, was a supernatural thriller set in a desi Guantanamo Bay of sorts, where Muslim ‘undesirables’ are ‘rehabilitated’ until they fall in line. And last week, Deepa Mehta’s Leila was released — this is based on Prayaag Akbar’s 2017 novel of the same name, the disturbing story of a mother searching for her estranged daughter in the not-too-distant future. Leila is perfectly timed, for several reviewers have noted the terrifying similarities between present-day bigotries and the kind of dystopian setpieces the show employs. And much like how a lot of Republican politicians cloak religious beliefs under the tag ‘will of the American people’, the authoritarians of Leila apply the tag ‘Aryavarta’ to a lot of things that are actually Hindutva spawn.

In an old episode of That ’70s Show I was rewatching recently, Fez (William Valderrama), the only Latino character on the show, tells his white friends, “I bet my god can kick your god’s ass” — this seems to be the dominant mode in which we engage with all matters religious these days.

The writer and journalist is working on his first book of non-fiction.

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Printable version | Feb 22, 2020 11:46:42 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/god-in-todays-web-series-more-rambo-than-loving-shepherd/article28096494.ece

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