Pretty, Fizzy Paradise

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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Conventions, Constantine and Catholicism

Okay, so I'm going to get to go to my first comic convention in June. Heroes Convention, in North Carolina! Yay! I've been to a few anime cons, but never a comic one, so I'm excited. Hope it's fun.

In other news, I finally saw Constantine (in my Anthropology/Religion class here at Michigan State. Fun class, really, but I digress). I have to admit, it wasn't as bad as I expected. It made for a passably decent occult movie.

Of course it wasn't anything like Hellblazer, but that's life.

I even thought Keanu Reeves wasn't that bad. I admire him for sticking to roles that consist of him being broody, close-mouthed and pretty. He's good at that and does it well.

Of course, John Constantine shouldn't be such a role, but that's not his fault, he didn't write it. I also didn't like the revisioning of Chaz as would-be apprentice. Chaz is appealing to me because of his opposite status to John, he's the physical guy, the brawn, and even if John is a manipulative bastard, he can punch him, and things are oddly balanced. The subordinate role takes that away...but then this Constantine doesn't need the humanizing element of the comic one.

I thought the redemption element was decently done, if cliched. Comic!John wouldn't have one of course, at the end of the movie, he'd be still smoking away. And it wouldn't have been God and Lucifer fighting over his soul but rather Lucifer and yet another demon. And the girl would have ended up dead too.

One thing bothers me, the rampant "Catholicism" in the movie. Now I'm placing Catholicism in quotes because the Hollywood portrayal of Catholicism never bears any sort of resemblance to the real thing. People have such a fucked up idea of real, everyday Catholicism that it's really freaking weird.

A) Since Vatican II, very few masses are conducted in Latin. There are usually 1-2 churches that still practice in Latin per diocese, official church documents are in Latin. Your average everyday Catholic doesn't speak Latin, and probably has only heard Latin a few times in their entire lives.

B) Exorcisms are rare and not really conducted like you see in most movies. They're actually reasonably quiet, sedate, somber affairs. There are very few practicing Exorcists in the United States, and most are in Archdioceses (or whatever the plural of that is, I'm a bad ex-Catholic).

C) The average Catholic is not very dogmatic or extreme in belief. You will not see a lot of bible-thumping Catholics. There's a reason for this. When the center of your religion condemns *condoms*, you tend to take what they say with a grain of salt. Seriously. Do what you want and Confess later is the most common philosophy. (Or as my mom says: "If God really wanted us to follow all that, he'd have carved it on a rock.")

Religion actually doesn't play a huge part in the average Catholic's life. At least no more than other religions play in the lives of most Anglicans, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Methodists or Secular Jews. (Just to name a few examples.)

D) Most Catholics won't be able to quote verse or passage from the Bible. See, Catholicism tends to teach out of their own translations, the Catechisms and the Gospels seperately as well as other church traditions. In my experience, though it probably varies with particular groups, sects, you'd be more likely to hear a devout Catholic mention the Gospel According to Matthew/Mark/Luke/John than to hear one say "Corinthians 2:18" or "John 3:16". That shorthand is more common among Protestants, I think.

Besides, King James I was an Anglican Heretic, why the heck would we be quoting his version of the Bible. :-P

E) Catholics do not worship Mary, Mother of Jesus, or the Saints. they *venerate* them. There's a big difference. Catholics only worship God in his Holy Trinity. (Father, Son, Holy Spirit). They do pray to other beings sometimes, but it's not the same...see, *this* is the "Hail Mary":

"Hail Mary, Full of Grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed are thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, Pray for us Sinners, now and at the hour of our deaths. Amen".

That's not worship, that's the spiritual equivalent of asking for a *recommendation letter*.

F) We don't have any more experience with the Occult than the rest of you. Seriously. Stop it.

Serious. *Hellblazer* didn't/doesn't have anything to do with Catholicism. I'm pretty sure John Constantine isn't even Catholic. (If he's anything, I'd imagine he's Church of England). Why the hell are Catholics all over this movie then?!

Oh wait, I know, it's the robes and the Latin and the crucifixes, the candles and the wine and the altars, the Gothic Cathedrals with all the stained glass, buttresses, gargoyles and hunchbacks in the belltowers. All that lovely imagery to play with. It's "exotic". Hmph.

I'm not Catholic anymore, I'm very much ex-Catholic. I'm the spiritual equivalent of a College Freshman on her first week on campus and all that entails. But this is still my *culture*, you're fucking with here. Please, just one time, try to get it right.

Or at least a little less wrong.

Thank you.

(Gabriel was pretty awesome in that movie though.)


  • At April 26, 2006 12:30 AM, Blogger Hale of Angelthorne said…

    Once, after quite a few drinks, I (Protestant) watched fascinated as two friends, one Catholic, one Jewish, argued for hours over which faith endengered the most intense feelings of guilt in its followers. Since they both passed out simultaneously, the universe declared a draw.

  • At April 26, 2006 12:38 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Heh, definitely a draw. :-)

    Though you know what's funny? According to that nice list on, Wesley Dodds is Jewish-Catholic. Heh. That's like *exponential* guilt.

    No wonder he hypnotized himself to forget he turned his sidekick into a sand monster. :-)

  • At April 26, 2006 1:47 AM, Blogger Anthony Palmer said…

    I have absolutely no experience with catholocism so I won't comment on your thoughts here, but instead offer a thumbs up!

    I agree with your assessment of Constantine; Definitely passably decent. I found myself not really caring about the plot of the movie but was totally riveted by the side characters. Peter Stormare was the best on-screen Devil/Satan/Lucifer I've ever seen - A totally greasy, loathesome individual, and Tilda Swinton was sublime as Gabriel. I have a total crush on her. I want to marry her and have a couple kids and smoke a pipe while I read the newspaper.

    I didn't buy the very ending, though. Even being totally unfamiliar with the character in comics, it just felt like it betrayed the character even in the limited time he was set up in the film.

    Also, I'm suprised you haven't been to the Motor City Comic Con before, since it's in-state. I went a a few times, years back and always enjoyed it, even though I wasn't reading comics at the time. Admission price has doubled since the first time I went. I feel old.

  • At April 26, 2006 1:52 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    I thought Lucifer had a strange sort of charm personally. In a weird grotesque way. But the side characters were the best part.

    Honestly, I've only been reading American comics since around January 2005, so I never saw the need. Since then I've been pretty busy, but I definitely *want* to go. It sounds like fun!

  • At April 26, 2006 2:30 AM, Blogger Anthony Palmer said…

    Honestly, I've only been reading American comics since around January 2005, so I never saw the need.

    Ah, that explains it! I only started back up in July 2005, myself. Before that the last time I had bought a comic was 1997, I think.

  • At April 26, 2006 3:01 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    :-) Welcome back!

  • At April 26, 2006 5:40 AM, Blogger Marc Burkhardt said…

    I'm an ex- ex-Catholic, having returned to the faith actively about 7 years ago (around the time my son was born).

    I wanted my son to have some values growing up - so he has a little built-in resistance to "me me
    me" culture, and thought I would be two-faced if I didn't practiced what I preached.

    I found your description of American Catholics pretty dang accurate. I can't say I believe or follow everything the Pope says or does, but I see it the same as being an American citizen. You might not agree with whoever's in charge, but it's hard to argue with the basic principles. (You know, love thy neighbor...etc. etc.)

    Like you say, it's your culture and it remains a part of you even when the entire experience is the furthest from your mind.

    Oh, yeah. Comics...Didn't see Constantine but I used to love Hellblazer when Jamie Delano wrote the strip. Just can't picture Keanu in a role envisioned for Sting (just like I couldn't buy Tom Cruise as Lestat, another character modeled after Sting. How come nobody ever hires Sting?)

    To be honest, media in general never treats Catholicism or any religion all that well. I always remember Marvel's "Cloak and Dagger," where a priest always walked around doubting his faith. Kind of like the guy in "For Tomorrow."

    Is there ever anyone in a comic book, aside from Wonder Woman, who believes in their God(s)?

    And let's not count Thor, ok?

  • At April 26, 2006 6:36 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Actually that's the story of my entire family like four generations back. None of us stuck around to get confirmed, but pretty much all resumed so that the kids could have some religious background. Then kind of operate under a loose vaguely Catholic/vaguely Agnostic whatever it is. :-)

    As for characters: Zauriel, Ragman, the Spectre all seem devout :-P

    Actually, I have to admit, while it's not a huge part of the stories, I generally like the way religions are portrayed in comics. At least in terms of character identity. Helena Bertinelli's a bit over the top, but Kyle Rayner's like any lapsed/ex-Catholic at college. Clark Kent being a Methodist just makes so much *sense* with the way the character views the world.

    And I totally called Batman being Episcopalian.

    This is a fantastic site that catalogues different characters' religions based on creator notes, in comic portrayals/references and other elements. And the nice thing about it, there really isn't any that are a big surprise.

    Even Johnny Thunder as a Mormon makes complete sense thinking about it, even if the initial idea boggled my mind.

    It's a really awesome site. :-)

  • At April 26, 2006 6:37 AM, Blogger Melchior del Darién said…

    It's interesting: I'm a non-practicing, thoroughly secular humanist type, and yet I still identify myself to people as a Catholic, because of what that means about my upbringing and early influences. (Specifically, I tell folks that I was "raised Catholic," educated in urban Catholic schools, and was an altar boy from 4th to 9th grade.)

    In movies and popular culture, Catholicism is to religion as the English Windsors are to monarchy ... it's kind of a shorthand for "an ancient faith with cool Latin incantations and some freaky rituals on the books." Which I suppose is true, but doesn't begin to get at how most people experience the faith.

  • At April 26, 2006 6:47 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    *nod* I wouldn't even mind terribly sometimes (I mean, as movie portrayals go Constantine is lightyears ahead of say Stigmata)...but *honestly*, it's so lazy.

    Italians are always mobsters, and Catholics are always occultists, and as soon as they stop being skeptics, they immediately know what to do, the latin, the prayers, yadda.

    Just once I want an occult film with a ex-Catholic like me. Who doesn't remember *anything* really. Who'll be as confused and frantic as everyone else, searching around for something that'll work, "Come on, come on, a crucifix?! No! Damnit, holy water! Holy water! Where the hell do I find holy water?! Crap! The Rosary? I lost mine when I was six!"

    Heh, I might write that some day, complete with some other guy going, "Oh, come *on*, you're *Catholic*, you should know this stuff!"

    "Well, we didn't exactly cover Demonology in Religious Ed, you jackass!"

    "We learned how to stand in a freakin' communion line, not how to summon *angels*!"

    Stuff like that. :-) It'd amuse me at least.

  • At April 26, 2006 6:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I could go on at great length about THIS subject,but if I were to sum it up briefly,I believe in God more...and Humanity less.

  • At April 26, 2006 7:12 AM, Blogger Melchior del Darién said…

    Yeah, I'd definitely pay to see that film! ("It's a silver bullet we need, you moron, not consecrated hosts!)

    Even though First Communion is the sacrament often depicted in films about growing up Catholic, I think the First Confession holds unmined dramatic potential...

  • At April 26, 2006 9:04 AM, Blogger Diamondrock said…

    Count me in as another Catholic who believes in all the mumbo-jumbo but rarely if ever actually goes to church.

    The funny thing is, I don't remember *what* I confessed in my first Confession. But then, it probably wasn't earth-shattering. I've always been a goody two shoes...

  • At April 26, 2006 10:14 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Melchior: Confession is pretty dramatically rife, but not as visually appealing. First Communion has all the mini white dresses and suits. :-)

    Diamondrock: Heh, I don't remember mine, but whatever it was I made the mistake of answering "yes" when the priest asked if I knew the Act of Contrition. (Not *that* big of an achievement, we said it every day at the end of school). All my friends said "No" and got away with four or five "Our Fathers". Me, I got to say *three* of the Act. Which was as I recall quite a bit longer.

    We were bad kids, exchanging punishments. :-)

  • At April 26, 2006 1:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    So...What is Faith for,exactly?

  • At April 26, 2006 1:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Melchior has it down: in movies with Christian Occultism, they lean twoard Catholic trappings, not because Catholicism is EXOTIC, per se, but because it's RITUALIZED.

    It's got the Latin incantations, the vestments, and all the things that the cultural subconscious associates with, well, SORCERY.

    I suspect that if there WAS a Secret Underground of Christian Occultists Dealing With Demons And Angels, they'd be using those trappings, regardless of whether they were nominally Catholic or not.

    Actually, come to think of it, they DO. If you look at Voudoun, in the real world, draws heavily from those trappings, layered upon syncretions from other cultures entirely.

    It would be interesting to see a film where the Christian Occultist drew from American Evangelical/Pentecostal traditions instead....

  • At April 26, 2006 1:39 PM, Blogger padgett said…

    I've been trying to put together a reply here, but I think my feelings on religion and pop culture are possibly too confused to be able to fit coherently in a comment. But, generally, I am in favor of anything that portrarys characters having a religious life that remotely resembles that of anyone I know. I've known some fairly devout Catholics (several of whom spoke Latin - but they were priests), but mostly I know people who are only occasionally observant (in whatever faith).

    I should also point out that the LDS Johnny Thunder on that list is the DC cowboy character, not the JSA'er.

  • At April 26, 2006 2:17 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    anon: Faith is faith. That's just my point. The Hollywood portrayal of Catholicism ignores that in favor of all the trappings. We're more than just Latin and fancy clothes and candles, just like every other religion is more than just their pretty toys too.

    athelind: I see what you're saying, but really, those rituals aren't usually *like that* and haven't been for a long time. These movies and stories are taking the barebones of the Latin, the vestments and turning them into something their not. Associating them with sorcery, making them Other.

    And that's the definition of Exoticism.

    Actually, most Ceremonial Magic (the k looks pretentious) draws heavily on Judeo-Christian beliefs, but nothing particularly *Catholic* innately. More rituals use Hebrew than Latin, from the books I read at least, the archangels are called upon, spirits, the vestments are merely what they are because the practitioners tended to be upper class. Many *were* Catholic, but there's actually very little Catholic imagery in most of the rituals. More of it's based on Kabbalistic ritual than anything else, and the Catholics don't tend to go for that. (I was very bored in high school...)

    And the most famous occultist of all, Aleister Crowley, was certainly not Catholic and didn't use Catholic trappings. Considering Hellblazer's setting and theme, Victorian Occultists, Crowley and the Golden Dawn would have been a far more interesting and relevant choice thematically.

    Really though, the fanciful portrayal wouldn't bother me so much if it weren't such an unequal balance. I mean Pentacostals have the speaking in tongues, the faith healing, the bizarre rituals too, but they're never used. Voudoun is an issue all of its own, tying as it does Catholicism with other faiths. If we saw randomly some Catholics who had no experience with the occult and knew nothing about it...not just the skeptic who just happens to speak Latin and know exorcism rites just in time for her/his beliefs to kick back in...

    Mostly I'm just annoyed though because it's lazy and ill-researched. A Catholic quoting Corinthians is dumb. A Catholic amazingly knowing what to do as soon as she gets past her skepticism is ridiculous. We don't learn demonology, occult rituals in Sunday School. And while, in Occult based movies, you can have Protestant characters who are just protestant characters, there is no Catholic that's just a Catholic.

    It's like the Italians and Mob ties thing again. It's dumb and lazy, and shows a complete lack of research. (Research, I strongly believe, should be required by law before writing *anything*. :-P)

    Besides, it's not like they can't *ask* a real Catholic/lapsed Catholic/ex-Catholic what it's really like. (So they don't make stupid mistakes like quoting the *King James* Bible. Honestly. To the Church, he's a *heretic*, we're not going to be memorizing his Bible)

    Or better yet, they could ask an *occultist*. Go to the bookstore, find a book, look up the author and dial him/her up. Wouldn't be that hard. Or...they could just read the book!

    dr. flem: Ahh, good to know. :-) I tend to like the portrayal of religious life when it's got some relevance.

    Catholicism tends to get the really weird portrayals though. The kind where *I'm* watching going, "how can anyone possibly believe that stuff?!" and I'm actually (ex-)Catholic!

    Oddly I think the best media portrayal I've ever seen (not counting their molestation-Spider Queen episode, at least, :-P) was in, of all things, South Park. Where it's just there, a part of their lives, more important for some than others. We see characters in church, we see them at home, and the Catholicism doesn't define who they are.


    It's not something that keeps me up at night, or even keeps me from enjoying a movie. But it does get decidedly irritating after a while, because it's usually unnecessary and almost always lazy.

    And laziness in writing is a really really big pet peeve of mine.

  • At April 26, 2006 3:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    the fortress keeper -nod- I'm also a practicing Catholic but my disability and lack of weekend buses keep me away from church. Therefore I live my life according to those GENERAL values. Oddly this give me a closer link to God which is what matters. Last, having been helped in life by a doctor of every color/creed in my life I believe that if you are agood person heavens yours regardless
    Peace be with you

    Kal 3 things: 1. Enjoy the Con,:) Motor Cities in may&Nov.
    2.One good catholic example is the Father in DareDevil, he has some of the best lines to.
    3Gaberelle's one of those thats always been awesome !) "Behold I am the Archangel Badass! Ahem!)

  • At April 26, 2006 4:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    MDD: See/read "Do Black Pantant Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?" it uses confessional scenes to Great comedic effect Thats also what I liked about DD forget angst Matt the Irish(Padre+Bullseye) stole the show!)
    Yes I am IRISH CATHOLIC, NO I DID NOT give up beer for Lent:)(My twin ,however, did:))
    you all have a pass to commence w/ the jokes.:)

  • At April 26, 2006 10:09 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    :-) Insert-Irish-Catholic-beer-joke here.

  • At April 26, 2006 11:42 PM, Blogger Melchior del Darién said…

    Green, I do know that book! Sadly, I'm not aware that it's ever been made into a movie.

    Me, I was absolutely terrified at my first confession. I don't think I slept for the entire week before the event.

    And the King James version thing gets to me, too, K. Especially since the different translations of the text (or whether it should have been translated at all) were central controversies in the reformation.

  • At April 26, 2006 11:53 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    That's what gets to me. I mean, the controversy over translating the sacred text is why a lot of churches teach religious ed strictly from seperate translations of the Gospels as well as the Catechisms.

    And given that the Anglican Church came about because Henry wanted to divorce his wife, as well as seize the considerable holdings and assets the Church had in England (probably more of the real reason, really), and James I, for all his Catholic mother, ended up the head of the Anglican Church...well, the Catholics are not going to adopt his translation.

    It's not even bad research. It's an utter lack of common sense.

  • At April 27, 2006 9:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    MDD: As far as I know there isn't a movie but there is a play I've seen twice, glad to help!)


  • At April 27, 2006 5:36 PM, Blogger Ferrous Buller said…

    "That's not worship, that's the spiritual equivalent of asking for a *recommendation letter*."

    OK, that's pretty much the awesomest quote about religion I've read all week. If it was within my power, I'd buy you a latte for that one. :-)

    "Gabriel was pretty awesome in that movie though."

    Tilda Swinton's pretty much invariably awesome. God only knows how they talked her into doing this, but I'm glad they did. :-)

    Cool post like usual, though once again you talk about something I know nothing about. :-) But you're right, "Catholic exorcists" is as much of a cliche as "Italian mobsters," so much so that it becomes a kind of cinematic shorthand for indicating what someone does. If they sound like they're from "The Exorcist" or "The Godfather," you can guess where their character is going...

    Soooo, probably not looking forward to the Da Vinci Code, I'm guessing? :-)

  • At April 27, 2006 7:20 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Ferrous: Hee, thanks. It's something I hear a lot, the "you guys aren't really Christian, because you worship Mary"

    Which is pretty much the most ignorant thing you can say to a Catholic. Aside from asking them to quote Bible verses. :-P

    I have to admit, I've never seen her in anything else. Well, I might have, she seems like the sort of actress that becomes their roles rather than "Julia Roberts as..." or something like that. Which is rare enough for men but even rarer for women.

    The Da Vinci Code's a different kettle of fish. :-) I'd have to read the book first though. I haven't yet. It seems interesting.

    But there, it looks like at least, the Catholicism has a point and the initial writer knew what he was talking about. Of course, as in the case of Constantine, that doesn't guarantee anything for the movie version, but I'm willing to withhold judgement.

  • At April 28, 2006 12:38 PM, Blogger Ferrous Buller said…

    Tilda's what you might consider one of those "weird indie actresses," as most of her roles have been in odd little movies most people never watch. I first saw her in Orlando 14 years ago. Constantine and Narnia are her most high-profile mainstream roles ever; hopefully she'll get some long-overdue recognition now. :-)

  • At April 28, 2006 12:40 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    One can only hope. :-)

  • At April 28, 2006 9:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    "I thought the redemption element was decently done, if cliched. Comic!John wouldn't have one of course, at the end of the movie, he'd be still smoking away. And it wouldn't have been God and Lucifer fighting over his soul but rather Lucifer and yet another demon."

    Unless I'm mistaken I believe that was what happened in one of the issues Garth Ennis wrote. If memory serves John made some sort of soul-selling deal with three demons at the same time. Since none of them are powerful enough to defeat the others they decide to cure John's lung cancer and promise to return for his soul at a later date. And he continues to smoke.

  • At April 28, 2006 9:57 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Heh, awesome, ph33r my mad preternatural character insight! :-P

    Lucky guess really, but heh, any excuse to ironically use L33t speak...


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