First thing first, let me offer a cry of personal outrage about one passage in that interesting New York Times piece about God and the annual Super Bowl of American pop culture -- Comic-Con. We're talking about the news feature that ran under this headline: "At Comic-Con, Faith-Based Entertainment Stays in the Shadows."
(Cue mock voice of indignation) What? There is no one on the copy desk of the world's most influential newspaper who knows the Doctor Who canon? That newsroom is a Whovian-free zone?
What does this question have to do with this story? Well, the interesting thing about this piece is that it seems to define the missing "faith" content at Comic-Con 2015 in terms of products produced by the niche-entertainment industry that strives to appeal, for the most part, to pew-sitting evangelical Christians. It seems tone-deaf to the religion content in mainstream culture, including some of its most popular products.
In that context, there is the following passage:
... There was almost no obvious contemporary, faith-based cultural presence on a convention exhibit floor that was crammed with gods, spirits and cultic outcroppings of almost every stripe.
The Christian Comic Arts Society was supposed to have a spot in the small press pavilion, but was not to be found in its assigned spot on Thursday and Friday. If the group indeed showed up, it was lost somewhere in the crowd of 130,000 attendees. The closest approach to Christian imagery was a large drawing that portrayed a dragon-conquering woman beneath a halo.
A couple of “angels” were strolling about, but they were ominously covered, head to toe, in dark makeup.
#DontBlink #WeepingAngels #DUH
Doctor Who is a major force at these conventions and I would say the odds are about 1000-1 that these dark angels were, in fact, weeping. Did the Times reporters spot any folks in bow ties, full-length duster overcoats or long, long, long multi-color wool scarves? Back to the angels. Click here to surf into that scary corner of the Doctor Who universe (part of a 51-year-old franchise that has raised many, many, many religious questions).
This brings me to my one criticism of this interesting piece. You can see the problem right at the top of the story.
SAN DIEGO -- What would Jesus do at Comic-Con?
Perhaps work the miracle of getting some attention from the comics crowd.
Faith-based entertainment, though it is increasingly a staple of mainstream movie and television studios, had only a small visible presence among the zombies, “Star Wars” Stormtroopers and, of course, superheroes whose annual Comic-Con International fan convention at the San Diego Convention Center ended on Sunday.
Hello? People have been arguing about the religious implications of "Star Wars" since day one, of course. I mean, there is the whole Force thing. And then, concerning the origins of one Anakin Skywalker, there was that striking claim (in the novel) by his mother: "There is no father." Now I hear that there's a new Star Wars episode on the way, or something?
Meanwhile, in the world of high-end cable television, the "Walking Dead" franchise has inspired another generational round of debating about the religious implications of zombies.
So, was the goal of this piece to focus on faith issues at Comic-Con or was it to note that the niche world of Christian pop culture is, as always, not cool for school?
It would seem we are dealing with the second option. That's fine, but I wish that the article had been a bit more open about that in the headline and at crucial stages in the article. This is the rare mainstream news article that isn't all that interested in the "spiritual but not religious" factor in a story.
But let me raise another question: Might there have been strong Christian pop culture in the room -- even in the comics themselves -- that the Times team missed? I ask this question because I have a friend who is a mainstream graphic novelist and I have talked to him post-Comic-Cons and he always sees interesting Christian content there, somewhere.
Publishers Weekly said: "It's the story of the battle between the abrasive good-guy scientist Dr. Ong and the resurrected Dr. Jameson, a malevolent 19th-century occultist-mad scientist who sought to rule the world. Ong ... returns to his hometown after being appointed to direct a research facility locals call Creature Tech. There, he opens a crate housing the Shroud of Turin. Things get complicated when the ghost of Jameson ... steals the shroud, resurrects his own body and resumes trying to take over the world with the help of an army of conjured hellcats and a gigantic space eel."
Wait, there's more. Ong is also a seminary dropout and his father is a pastor who used to be a scientist. Then there's the 7-foot mantis the U.S. government sends as a security team and the symbiotic alien parasite that clamps onto the hero's chest and, strangely enough, makes him a better person.
Now, was there anything like that in the obscure back corners of the room? Probably. For me, this side of the pop-culture marketplace is way more interesting than the stuff being cranked out to appeal to the evangelical choir.
So, hey, Times editors: Send reporters back next year and try again. You produced a really interesting story, but there may be even more interesting religion wrinkles in that event to cover. Several kinds, in fact.