Monday, March 5, 2012

Hi, My Name Is Satan

Being on my Paradise Lost kick has made me think of all the different artistic interpretations of Satan we see, and how very different they can be from each other. What counts as satanic? I can only assume Milton's Satan would give Marilyn Manson the side-eye and that the Satan of South Park would be horrified by Lars von Trier's Antichrist. What do we, as humanity, think Satan is? The embodiment of pure evil? A victim of circumstance? A champion of free thinking? A ridiculous superstition? A metaphor for a necessary component of balance in the universe? With the devil-as-character, writers, musicians, and artists can express their thoughts on these age-old theological/philosophical questions, regardless of religious affiliation. Here are the first four in a series I have no idea how long will be.


South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut - Trey Parker and Matt Stone

In 1999's landmark movie musical from future Tony Award winners Trey Parker and Matt Stone, Satan is a gentle red giant who dreams of experiencing the innocent joys of Earth like flowers, mountaineering, and gay cruises. Sadly, he's stuck both in Hell and in an abusive relationship with Saddam Hussein. But maybe our favorite young Coloradans can help him find the strength to stand up for himself? Seemingly neither evil nor a charismatic leader, it's unclear how this guy ended up ruling the underworld. Of course, with Parker and Stone both being snarky atheists who yet have a big ol' soft spot for religion, it makes sense that from them we'd get a cartoonish but sympathetic Satan.

The Master and Margarita - Mikhail Bulgakov

Bulgakov's complicated, censored, beloved novel was written mostly in the 1930s, but not published until decades after the author's death. A satire of Soviet Russia, the novel deals with the censorship faced by writers at the time (hence the not-being-published-for-decades-and-even-then-censored thing). The plot concerns Margarita, a party official's wife, whose lover, known as the Master, has been institutionalized for writing a novel about Pontius Pilate - a big no-no in the atheistic and paranoid USSR. But Margarita finds an ally when Woland (Satan in disguise as a professor) arrives in Moscow with his vibrant entourage, including fan favorite Behemoth, a wisecracking demon in the form of a large black cat. They're preparing the most Tim Burtonesque party of all Tim Burtonesque parties, and they've chosen Margarita to play hostess.

Besides some witchcraft and the over-the-top ball for Hell's elite, there's not much traditionally evil about Woland. Although his name references Faust, the bargain here is a force for good. When Margarita is offered a wish from Woland in exchange for being hostess, she uses it to secure mercy for one of Hell's inhabitants and is then rewarded with reunion with the Master. Woland and Jesus (called by the Hebrew Yeshua here) even agree upon eternal peace for Margarita and the Master and salvation for Pilate. Other interpretations of the devil would be so embarrassed!

Woland trolls in Klimowski & Schejbal's graphic novel adaptation.

The Powerpuff Girls - Craig McCracken/Cartoon Network

Him was the most dastardly of all the villains in Cartoon Network's clever, pop-artsy series, and he totally counts as an interpretation of the devil, right? Yeah, Him totally counts. I mean, look at the guy: the red skin, the black goatee, the penchant for evil, the otherworldly realm...classic Satan. But then there's the flouncy pink trim on his outfit, the thigh-high high-heeled black boots, and that eerie falsetto (provided by the prolific Tom Kane). It's a little disconcerting to see another cartoon that has the gender non-conforming character be the devil, but while South Park's Satan is a salt-of-the-earth guy and "out" in a matter-of-fact way, The Powerpuff Girls' Him is mysterious, malicious, and a badass. He's truly scary, and not just because his appearance and mannerisms threaten the gender binary. Plus, his character design - with its stylized lines, bold color blocking, and quirkiness - perfectly encapsulates the series' aesthetic. Props to Cartoon Network for taking a chance by allowing a transvestite devil on TV.

Rock on with your bad boots!

"Devil Went Down to Georgia" - Charlie Daniels Band

This song is awesome and fun. The devil apparently has some sort of soul quota, is a skilled musician, and enjoys a good ol' country hoe-down. He's under deadline to get more souls (seriously, who is he reporting to?), so he challenges fiddler Johnny to a fiddle contest, which is apparently the demonic and fiddle-themed version of a cop waiting for someone to not turn on their turn signal exactly X feet before turning so you can give them a ticket. This Faustian bargain involves the classic elements of pride and promises of a material reward, but here humanity triumphs. Not that there's much fanfare over it. Johnny's more interested in his fiddle skills than salvation, and the devil is a good sport about it. They probably both prefer BBQ to manna.

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