Alexander Hellene

No, I Mean It

By Alexander Hellene

Writers should read. Unfortunately, I spend most of my free time writing, and I read woefully less than I should. That changed, when on the recommendation of friend and writer Alexandru Constantin, I picked up Inherent Vice by world-famous recluse Thomas Pynchon.

I liked this book a lot. I spent very many nights up past the point of reasonableness reading it even though it is one of those books where one should only read a chapter per session in order to savor it instead of plowing through like I did. I had heard that Pynchon was famous for dense novels with complex plots, and while Inherent Vice was written from the POV of a drug-addled, though amiable, pot-head PI, and though the plot incorporated elements of noir, conspiracy theory, crime drama, SoCal hippie culture circa 1970, MK Ultra, surf music, and maritime law, it never felt confusing. To be fair, I have heard this book called “Pynchon lite,” so maybe his other works will prove more difficult to read.

In any event, I have to say that I do not like hippies and at least philosophically found myself rooting somewhat for the counter-subversive elements in the story, though they were not always sympathetically portrayed.

But they were not unsympathetically portrayed either. A very delicate balance.

*     *     *

Every Christian reading can picture this: you settle in for a book or a movie or some hot new episodic TV drama on one of the major streaming services. You have your little drink, maybe a snack, or maybe nothing because you’re health-conscious like that. Things start off good, perhaps even intriguing, and then you come to it: the character trope that lurks in wait any time the R-word rears its head in any modern work (no, not that R-word, you retard).

Yes, it’s the Hypocritical Christian™! And guess what: they’re the real bad guy!

This Hypocritical Christian™ embodies all of the worst stereotypes you can imagine. They are, in no particular order:

  • Bigoted
  • Low IQ
  • Violent
  • Anti-intellectual
  • Misogynistic (if male) and self-loathing (if female)
  • Sexually repressed
  • Greedy
  • Lack a “serious” education

And so on.

In general, the Hypocritical Christian™ has a faith which is an obstacle to be overcome, either by the protagonists, or themselves if they want to enter into the ranks of the truly good people and not superstitious weirdos. The Hypocritical Christian™ can be saved—I don’t mean in the sense of saved by the Lord’s grace—if only they renounce those pesky religious beliefs.

There are a few caveats here. There is far more leeway for non-white Christian characters to be non-Hypocritical. Members of other religious faiths are also allowed to be non-Hypocritical and sincere in their belief, a courtesy never afforded to the archetypical Hypocritical Christian™ who is often both totally superstitious and only believes this stuff because it gives him some sort of power over others.

The best Christian in modern works—and I’m using 1965 as my demarcation for “Modern” for reasons beyond the scope of this post—is the one who is willing to compromise core beliefs, or even jettison them altogether.

This is all pretty standard stuff if you’ve been paying attention.

The point is, have you ever voiced your displeasure with this? Have you ever mentioned to someone in person, or online, or if you’re willing to admit your age written a letter, pointing out these offensively negative portrayals?

If so, what has the response been? I bet even with my rudimentary powers of ESP, I can tell you what a good chunk of them have been:

“If you see yourself in the Christian character who goosesteps to Wehrmacht battle hymns in full Third Reich regalia while beating poor and marginalized POCs with a giant iron Cross, well then maybe that’s because you’re a bigot!

I am throwing down the bullshit card on this one.

Art is powerful. Art can say things people will listen to because how things are said by whom matters far more than the actual informational content. Tale as old as time.

It doesn’t matter that these Hypocritical Christian™ characters are grossly offensive stereotypes with little basis in reality: they are put out in slickly produced entertainment packages and portrayed by actors skilled in manipulating emotion in order to elicit a deeply primal response in viewers who think that, if something appears on a screen, then by golly it’s real.

Besides, “Well, some Christians are like that.”

Really? Let’s play this game with other groups of people and stereotypes about them and see how comfortable you are mouthing these platitudes.

If you are offended by something you see in a work of art, there is a near-100 percent chance it is because the creator intentionally put it there to piss people like you off. It is tailor-made to both trigger you and create a negative connection in the minds of others between that identity and very bad things that society says are mean and nasty.

Look at Nazis. The Nazis were bad, no doubt, and the world is better of with them not in it. But they have been turned into the embodiment of ultimate evil to such a ridiculous degree, that people find Satan less-evil than Mean Mr. Mustache and his Merry Band of Teutonic Terrors.

And this embodiment of evil is deliberately linked to you by creators of fiction who hate you.

If you see yourself in portrayals like this, whether you’re a Christian or some other despised group in America today, it’s not on you. It’s on them. Because you don’t see yourself in the “Nazi” part of the Hypocritical Christian™, you see yourself in the Christian part.

And that’s the point. These people hate you.

*     *     *

Thomas Pynchon almost made me like hippies. Almost.

See, Doc Sportello is such a unique character, a hippie private investigator with a heart of gold underneath the haze of marijuana smoke. He wants to do the right thing because it’s right, degenerate ways aside. But I can’t quite come out and say he’s doing the right thing on the moral level because he, like most of the freaks and weirdos he calls friends, literally screw anything that moves. And I get that this was a part of the hippie lifestyle, but other than one junkie couple, nobody seems to face any consequences for engaging in such a destructive lifestyle. No VD, no unwanted pregnancy, no heartache and heartbreak from purely transactional relationships, nothing.

I also get that it’s a book which presented a dreamlike view of the entire time and place, but as we all know, fiction is powerful.

And yet . . . and yet Pynchon does a beautiful job of not unduly praising Doc and his crew, nor of unduly condemning his antagonists save for a few who are pure evil because they’re evil and not because of their immutable characteristics.

It’s a really delicate dance that only master novelists like Pynchon can pull off. He presents these characters as they are and leaves it up to the reader to make their own value judgments. Maybe you are sympathetic to Bigfoot Bjornsen and his hippie-hating ways. That’s cool, even though Bigfoot is hardly perfect. Bigfoot is never portrayed as the butt of jokes because he’s a conservative type of anti-hippie Nixonite. He’s just an interesting character with his own goals and motivations for achieving them who sets out to get what he wants come hell or high water. Just like every other character.

If you see yourself in Bigfoot, great. If you see yourself in Doc, that’s great too. Neither are particularly insulting characters. But they sure are interesting.

*     *     *

I would like to remind everyone that it’s okay to be offended. This goofy “Only immature and insecure losers get offended” attitude is neither mature nor proof of one’s solid mental constitution. It’s a deliberate repudiation of one’s natural disgust reflex.

Gross things should offend you. Unnatural things should offend you. Perverse things should offend you. Lies should offend you. Especially if these lies are about you.

“But if you see yourself in this disturbingly graphic depiction of Catholics as kiddie-diddlers, well then, that’s on you! It’s just art.”

No. Nothing is ever “just” art.

*     *     *

This raises a broader point about our moment in culture. Do you notice how you don’t see gay villains? You just don’t. You don’t see black villains unless the hero is also black, and even then, the black villain will be sympathetic with a cause that is just and whose fault is solely the methods used. Female villains with a male hero are clearly out of the question.

Remember after 9/11 when we weren’t even able to have Muslims portrayed as bad guys on film or TV? Why is that? The fear that Muslims might see themselves in these portrayals? Did the makers of motion pictures have the same deference to the sore feelings of German-Americans during the 1930s and 40s?

So instead, the real villains in post-9/11 fiction tended to be disgruntled soldiers, the U.S. government (plausible), and—get this—Christian fundamentalists.

But if you saw yourself in that, it must be because you are a Hypocritical Christian™, and a terrorist to boot!

*     *     *

I would like to remind everyone that if you’re offended by a portrayal of a certain type of person in one of my books, chances are that its deliberate.


Check out my books here and let me know how you think I did.

8 thoughts on “No, I Mean It”

  1. Alexander,

    I’ll go one further. The queer a folk show is a brazen unapologetic normalization of the dysgenic, mentally disordered etc. I only saw the commercials for the show and I was both repulsed and thoughtful.

    Why now? Why do the cultural elites trot out such a show at this time?

    To me it reeks a mix of hubris and real fear the freaks are losing the culture war. The repudiation of Roe and now hints that Oberfall will be rejected is really freaking them out. For the 1st time in a century, their march through the institutions has faced a serious reversal.

    What does this have to do with writing? I’m struck at how independent cultural creation has reached an inflexion point first Brandon Sanderson; now Eric July for comics. People hunger and thirst for good entertainment exalting (as best as they can) the true, good and beautiful allowing them to escape with inspiration and aspirational goals. The good guys win, gets the girl, the world rebalances and the bad guys get justice.

    So hypocritical Christian(tm) trope is about to fall to the wayside. Not immediately but the tide’s turning.

    xavier

    1. Xavier,

      I can’t say I’ve ever seen that show. But like most stuff on the premium cable, it comes across, to me at least, as shocking and perverse for the sake of being shocking and perverse, épater le bourgeois and all of that. However, I would say it does have an ulterior motive, which is making this sort of stuff acceptable and normal.

      To you rother point, it does seem like there’s a big market for alternatives. It’s good to see, and it’s healthy for everyone involved. If the Hypocritical Christian trope could at least be given a rest for a while in favor of something different and less predictable and boring, I’d consider that a win.

  2. I bought the Blu-ray of Paul Thomas Anderson’s movie adaptation of “Inherent Vice” at Dollar Tree about a year ago (back when everything there actually cost $1, instead of $1.25 like it does now), but haven’t gotten around to watching it yet.

    When it comes to hypocritical Christian characters in stories, there are some instances that, in my view, don’t seem to be meant to demean all Christians, while there are others that do seem to be created with that intention.

    For example, in Davis Grubb’s 1953 suspense masterpiece “The Night of the Hunter” and its equally great 1955 movie adaptation starring Robert Mitchum, the villain is Harry Powell, the very epitome of the evil pastor archetype. He has the words “love” and “hate” tattooed across his knuckles and stages “wrestling matches” between his hands in which the “love” hand always comes out on top, but he is in fact viciously hateful. He’s a thief and murderer who hides his true nature under a facade of piety and twists scripture to justify his evil acts. However, there’s also a major character named Rachel Cooper (an elderly woman living in the woods who is a genuinely devout Christian and takes in orphans), so it doesn’t feel as if the story is trying to paint Powell as representative of all Christians. It just tells a classic tale of a wolf in sheep’s clothing without painting all sheep as wolves. I have no issue with stories like this. Wolves in sheep’s clothing exist, and stories to remind us of that are welcome as far as I’m concerned.

    On the other hand, the execrable 2013 movie “The Lone Ranger” portrays all Christian characters as either stupid (such as the out-of-tune Christian choir singers on the train, one of which gets shot by an outlaw for trying to preach peace and nonviolence to him) or evil (such as the praying and scripture-quoting main villain Latham Cole, the whore-mongering Presbyterian missionary minister who takes part in a mob pursuing Tonto, or the calvaryman who shouts “For God and for country!” when giving the order to massacre a tribe of Indians). The heroes, on the other hand, consist of the Lone Ranger himself, who is portrayed as an atheist (he disses the Bible in favor of John Locke’s “Two Treatises on Government” in an early scene, never mind that said book is written from a Christian point of view and references the Bible over 1,500 times in support of its arguments) and Tonto, who is portrayed as a highly mystical shaman-type whose religion is Cherokee mysticism. The movie clearly made a point of associating Christianity in general with villainy and low intelligence.

    “Do you notice how you don’t see gay villains? You just don’t.”

    There are a few, like Javier Bardem’s character Silva in the James Bond movie “Skyfall”, Ewan McGregor’s character Roman Sionis in “Birds of Prey” (2020), and Benedict Cumberbatch’s character Phil Burbank in “The Power of the Dog” (2021) (although in the last instance, Burbank’s self-loathing and “toxic masculinity” is portrayed as the cause of his villainy). And it’s not uncommon to have the killer in an episode of a detective television series turn out to be a gay character (such as in this year’s season of “Blue Bloods”, in which the murderer of a gay character in one episode turned out to be his partner).

    “You don’t see black villains unless the hero is also black, and even then, the black villain will be sympathetic with a cause that is just and whose fault is solely the methods used.”

    That’s usually true (and “Black Panther” (2018) is the absolute epitome of this trope), but not always. Some exceptions include “Kingsman: The Secret Service” (2014), “The Predator” (2018), and “Uncharted” (2022). That last example features a lame twist in which Antonio Banderas’ villain gets killed off so that a black female villain (who isn’t nearly as interesting) can be promoted to main villain from there on out, a creative decision that comes across as if it was made for the sake of Diversity™.

    1. Harwicke,

      I bought the Blu-ray of Paul Thomas Anderson’s movie adaptation of “Inherent Vice” at Dollar Tree about a year ago (back when everything there actually cost $1, instead of $1.25 like it does now), but haven’t gotten around to watching it yet.

      The movie version is next on my movie-watching list, and let me tell you, “I’d buy that for a dollar!” as well.

      For example, in Davis Grubb’s 1953 suspense masterpiece “The Night of the Hunter” and its equally great 1955 movie adaptation starring Robert Mitchum, the villain is Harry Powell, the very epitome of the evil pastor archetype. He has the words “love” and “hate” tattooed across his knuckles and stages “wrestling matches” between his hands in which the “love” hand always comes out on top, but he is in fact viciously hateful. He’s a thief and murderer who hides his true nature under a facade of piety and twists scripture to justify his evil acts. However, there’s also a major character named Rachel Cooper (an elderly woman living in the woods who is a genuinely devout Christian and takes in orphans), so it doesn’t feel as if the story is trying to paint Powell as representative of all Christians. It just tells a classic tale of a wolf in sheep’s clothing without painting all sheep as wolves. I have no issue with stories like this. Wolves in sheep’s clothing exist, and stories to remind us of that are welcome as far as I’m concerned.

      These just sound like interesting characters. And like you said, they don’t portray all Christians as being like that villain, or try to insinuate as much, like that horrible-sounding Lone Ranger movie sounds like it did. No wonder it tanked.

      “Do you notice how you don’t see gay villains? You just don’t.”

      There are a few, like Javier Bardem’s character Silva in the James Bond movie “Skyfall”, Ewan McGregor’s character Roman Sionis in “Birds of Prey” (2020), and Benedict Cumberbatch’s character Phil Burbank in “The Power of the Dog” (2021) (although in the last instance, Burbank’s self-loathing and “toxic masculinity” is portrayed as the cause of his villainy). And it’s not uncommon to have the killer in an episode of a detective television series turn out to be a gay character (such as in this year’s season of “Blue Bloods”, in which the murderer of a gay character in one episode turned out to be his partner).

      “You don’t see black villains unless the hero is also black, and even then, the black villain will be sympathetic with a cause that is just and whose fault is solely the methods used.”

      That’s usually true (and “Black Panther” (2018) is the absolute epitome of this trope), but not always. Some exceptions include “Kingsman: The Secret Service” (2014), “The Predator” (2018), and “Uncharted” (2022). That last example features a lame twist in which Antonio Banderas’ villain gets killed off so that a black female villain (who isn’t nearly as interesting) can be promoted to main villain from there on out, a creative decision that comes across as if it was made for the sake of Diversity™.

      We’ll I’ll be . . . counter-examples proving me wrong! I guess I don’t watch enough stuff. Thanks for pointing these out.

  3. “The movie version is next on my movie-watching list, and let me tell you, “I’d buy that for a dollar!” as well.”

    One day, that very phrase came to mind for me when I happened across the Blu-ray of the original “Robocop” (Director’s Cut) at Dollar Tree. They also had the remake there the same day, so I got it as well.

  4. Alexander,

    The hypocritical Christian trope needs to be deep sixed permanently.
    I’m still toying around with how to do the law and order knock offs with the Inquisition. At the same time, I also want to a takedown of the Hand maiden’s tale. I have a somewhat clearer plot for that one but I need to write it down and let it simmer for a while. There are certain plot elements I need to think how to do them properly because I’m conflicted between satire, parody or straight up earthiness. Or just mash them up and see what the play doh looks like.

    xavier

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