Discussion Focusses on The Messiah and Messianic Characters in Entertainment
This week, a panel discussion in Los Angeles took place concerning a somewhat uncomfortable topic in the entertainment industry. Moderated by Jordan B. Gorfinkel, “Heroes, Villains, Faith and the Messiah”, featured panelists David Sacks, Leo Partible, Jeff Schechter, Lisa Klink, and Aly Mawji. Taking place at the Los Angeles Convention Center, the panel discussion occurred on Sunday as part of Stan Lee’s Comikaze Expo.
As to how faith/religion may be antagonized in the entertainment industry, Partible cynically stated that “Hollywood hates everyone equally until the money comes up.” Agreeing with him, Mawji tersely stated, “Money sells.” When Gorfinkel inquired as to whether one’s faith helps or hurts one jobs or job prospects, Partible insightfully noted that that one’s religion/faith can serve as “devices that allow us to ask deeper questions.” Sacks related a story about having his agent tell him about “Third Rock From The Sun” and how Sacks perceived it as a show showing how bodies and souls can be dissonant. He said that he had this notion that souls are a piece of God while bodies reflect the animalistic elements, but was hesitant to share this perspective with the creators of the show when he went to interview to become a writer on the show. Nevertheless, he did, indeed, share this perspective and they were thinking the same thing. He was hired.
Gorfinkel then asked Mawji if he accepts roles as terrorist characters (Mawji is Muslim). Mawji responded that he tries to avoid them, but he weighs out his options, including going through various questions such as “How am I perpetuating these stereotypes? How is my community going to react? Am I going to feel guilty?” When he does accept roles as terrorists, though, he said that what he does is “to try and find a way to humanize the character.” Inasmuch as he generally tries to avoid such roles, Gorfinkel asked him would he do it for $1 million or $2 million. Mawji thoughtfully said that, “Everyone has a price and we all have needs.”
In years past, Gorfinkel’s panel on the topics of “Heroes, Villains, and Faith” had discussed each of those “three pillars” (including last year), whereas this year’s panel included the addition of messiah. Schechter was asked first about the messiah in Jewish tradition. He said that, in Judaism, it is “a human being who goes through normal human trials and tribulations.” Moreover, “in every generation, there’s a possibility of messiah”, but through the person’s or the society’s shortcomings, the messiah revealing oneself didn’t occur. In terms of storytelling, Schechter said that “almost every story tells a version of it” through the development of character. What helps make stories more interesting is that “you might have people who don’t want the messiah or messianic era to come” so the messiah “can be the antagonist of their story.” One thing he pointed out that is not a Jewish version of the messiah is that of a “travelling angel, eliciting change, but is non-changing” – whereas a Jewish version would have the messiah do some changing.
Sacks said that, in the Jewish tradition, the messiah can appear כהרף עין, in the blink of an eye. However, “unfortunately, a lot of blood has been spilled” by different groups insisting their leader is the messiah. Nevertheless, “Judaism believes in evolution in that the world is evolving towards perfection” and that “the endgame is an era of peace.” Yet, it’s not the messiah who will be the focus: “the messiah will be sort of God’s point person to bring this about, but not the headliner” and that “the real headline is the next vision of reality that will unfold.” As part of that next vision of reality, “it’s important to understand that we’re all going to participate in this next era” and to not fight about all of these things.
On a lighter note, Gorfinkel asked Sacks how might one incorporate a messiah in comedy. Sacks responded by saying that it could be “someone who has a prophetic gift, but won’t accept it or maybe someone whose life is a complete mess and is tasked with fixing everyone else.”
“The messiah from the Christian perspective is Jesus and the implications of that is the eucatastrophe, the good chaos”, said Partible. The “stories from here on out, the eucatastrophe” provide for little messiahs. Insightfully, Partible said that, “For me, as a Catholic, superheroes are” those who we imitate and that, “for us, saints are our modern day superheroes.” He said that “the messiah coming has consequences”, although it might “not necessarily be the endtimes as the fundamentalists” have portrayed it be.
Characters who are messianic appear quite frequently in television and movies, as Gorfinkel pointed out, such as Neo from the Matrix, E.T., and Katniss Everdeen. So, how might one create a messianic character? For this question, he turned to Klink, an Atheist. “For me,” Klink said, “the idea of a messiah figure is someone who is chosen, is the one and their process is accepting it”, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Luke Skywalker, or Katniss Everdeen. As to Everdeen, she has to step forward like a messianic figure because she stepped forward. Usually, a messianic figure is either one who is “accepting a responsibility that has been put on to you or taking a responsibility when not obligated to.” For the former, that character is “going to have that conflict until they resolve it”, although she is more interested in the latter situation.
Continuing on the topic of creating messianic characters, Schechter said that, “in the realm of storytelling, it’s a self-contained world”, so we don’t see what happened prior to the story, or, nor do we know what happens after story. So, when creating such a character, one is going to create such characters that have “characteristics that one might find in a messiah.” Sacks said that “when we talk about the messiah, it’s a higher level of magnitude of the repercussions of their actions”, providing a greater interest.
One question that came from the audience concerned the race/ethnicity of the messiah. Klink said that although people are used to seeing these visual images of Christ as a long-haired blonde guy, he was actually a Middle Eastern Jew and that, “if our image of perfection is a long-haired blonde dude, than everyone else is going to be less than perfect.” Indeed, Partible said, “We have this preconceived notion, primarily with American Christianity.” Sacks said that when “we talk about a messiah,” – it’s going to be an individual. He pointed out that the messiah will “have representations from the entire world”, since, “in the bloodline,” this person will “represent the whole world”, including all nations. Also, “when we talk about the messiah, we’re talking about someone who’s going to open their eyes to the one-ness of God.”