Monday, May 21, 2012

Hi, My Name Is Satan 4

Hey, it's the 4th installment of looking at the prince of darkness and his many guises in pop culture and culture culture. What does humanity think of the concept of "the devil," how do artists and writers use Satan as a character, and what does that say about us? Last time we looked at four versions of Beelzebub. This time we're back to good ol' Satan, with interpretations from Dante to Tenacious D. 

Hi, My Name Is Satan 1
Hi, My Name Is Satan 2

Hi, My Name is Satan 3


"Beelzeboss" - Tenacious D

Just like "The Devil Went Down to Georgia," this song (from the Tenacious D movie The Pick of Destiny) features a musical contest between humankind and the devil. But there are no genteel fiddles here - just rock, profanity, and rape jokes. This is an amped-up battle with Dave Grohl belting out "I'm the devil! I love metal!" as he dominates a demonic set of drums. Unlike fiddler champion Johnny, protagonists Jabels (Jack Black) and Kage (Kyle Gass) don't win as much as get lucky, 'cause, you know, it's Dave fucking Grohl they're up against. Like South Park's Satan, Grohl's devil bears the popular red skin and satyr-like horns and goat legs that have become Satan signifiers. It's thought the goat horns and hindlegs were adapted as characteristics of Satan as a Christian reaction against pagan emphasis on Pan. He also has an upside-down pentagram, a symbol of Satanism, carved on his chest, making him everything early freaker-outers about rock-n-roll worried about. The song's title shows the Satan/Beelzebub conflation. The name "beelzebub" (looked at as his own character here), came from Ba'al Zebub, a Semitic/Philistine god. 

The Temptation of Christ - Ary Scheffer

Oh, Ary Scheffer, hipster, using light and dark skin to represent goodness and badness is so mainstream. Try to subvert a little, bro. 1854's The Temptation of Christ is one of the better known works of this Dutch-born, French-trained painter. The painting illustrates the story in the Bible where Jesus, at the end of  his 40-day/40-night fast, is tempted by Satan with stuff like snacks and real estate to no avail (paraphrased from Matthew 4.1-11, Mark 1.12-13, and Luke 4.1-13). This non-horned, non-hoofed Satan is a different classic take on the figure: Satan as fallen angel. Although not disfigured, Scheffer's Satan is dull and dim, devoid of any of his former Lucifer luminescence, and while his angel wings are still there, they're gray and bat-like.

"Turn these stones into bread." "No." "I've got Nutella." "..."

The Divine Comedy - Dante Alighieri 

Like Hieronymus Bosch, Dante does away with any charisma when it comes to imagining Satan in his 1308-1321 epic poem. Shown briefly at the end of the Inferno section (a.k.a. the only section anyone cares about), Dante's Satan is as ugly as he was beautiful before the Fall ("Were he as fair once, as he now is foul"). His depiction is in stark contrast to the later Miltonic Lucifer, who keeps soldiering on and never runs out of inspirational speeches. This Lucifer, on the other hand, has three heads, is trapped in the very center of the 9th circle of Hell, is half-frozen in a lake, and is forever eating Brutus and Cassius (Caesar's betrayers - I guess Dante's a Caesar stan), and Judas. Dante writes, “He wept with all six eyes, and the tears fell over his three chins mingled with bloody foam. The teeth of each mouth held a sinner, kept as by a flax rake: thus he held three of them in agony." So this Satan is a gross crybaby who needs a napkin.

William Blake's illustration of Mr. Pouty Face(s).

Reaper - Ray Wise

As a grieving father dealing with a literal demon, Ray Wise was one of the awesome aspects of awesome Twin Peaks. In the CW's series Reaper, he completely stole the show as the demon of all demons. You can watch the pilot (directed by Kevin Smith) here. Wise plays Satan as a modern evil - the slick businessman who's so charming you forget he's screwing you over. The show focuses on Sam, a young hardware store clerk who finds out his parents sold the soul of their firstborn - him - to the Devil (who had gotten their doctor to tell them they were infertile). Now that he's an adult, Sam is put to work by his new master, who has him rounding up evil souls that have escaped from Hell. Wise does a fantastic job exemplifying how dangerous charm and deceit are when combined. With wit and tough love, his Devil provides his slacker protege with direction and character-building, and you start to think maybe he's not so bad. Then Wise unleashes the malice, you remember this is goddamn Satan. 

Even in a cheap plastic chair, Ray Wise is a fucking boss.

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