TV, Movies, Comic books… our popular culture is soaked in depictions of religious people, but what about atheists? How are atheists portrayed in the public sphere? How can we do better? A panel of atheists gets at the real issues.
Hemant Mehta, Ashley F. Miller, Heina Dadabhoy, Rebecca Watson and JT Eberhard
This is already turning out to be the most raucous panel I’ve seen so far, but we have Ian Cromwell, Rebecca, Watson, and JT Eberhard – so that should have been expected! JT has been (self?) dubbed the prettiest princess!
Ian starts the panel by asking if asking if there are any common tropes the panel has noticed in atheist representation of pop culture. Heina talks about the “buzzkill” atheist and cites Glee, where Kirk (who is gay) is rightfully angry at religion and everybody claims he’s taking their happiness away. My first thought was House, who Tauriq mentions next.
Rebecca Watson says that South Park has been a net-good for skeptics. She cites that it has introduced thirteen-year-old boys to skepticism and says they’ve hit the mark more often than they’ve missed.
Heina’s favorite skeptic in pop culture is Sokka, in The Last Airbender. I’ve never watched Last Airbender, but I’m kind of interested in it based on her description of this episode (spoilers).
Tauriq references this awesome XKCD comic!
Rebecca Watson informs the panel that she recently went to a Bigfoot convention, and now I need to find one of these near me! How do I find a local Bigfoot convention?!
Like Heina, I’d never heard the term “Flat Earth Atheist,” a term used to describe depictions of atheists in pop culture who don’t believe in gods/magic/etc, despite there obviously being examples of those things in their world (Example: Tony Stark and Thor, who is a god). Ashley rightfully points out that Thor is more of an inter-dimensional alien – though there are depictions that show Thor as more of a god.
Ian Cromwell saying, “Can god create a curly fry so delicious, he can’t eat it?” sparks a whole new discussion on the deliciousness of Arby’s curly fries. I’m #TeamRebecca on this one, because Arby’s curly fries are amazing.
Ashley Miller: “There is more truth and beauty in ‘Christmas With a Capital C‘ than there is in ‘The Ledge.'” Rebecca talks about how the preview for ‘Christmas With a Capital C’ made it seem like another “Rawr, atheists hate Christmas!!!” diatribe. She ended up being amazed because the actual movie was so much better than the preview made it seem – it was actually a fair portrayal of the separation of church and state as well as atheists. I didn’t know the movie differed so much from the trailer, and now I kind of want to watch it! Apparently she has written about this before, and you can check it out here!
Heina’s reaction to Rebecca saying a Christian rock song about Christmas was terrible: “Ohhh, you don’t say!”
Mentioning Prometheus gets loud groans from nearly every panelist.
This panel just ruined Morgan Freeman for me. I want my money back.
Heina talks about her parents becoming very religious when she was 5 and throwing out her Disney movies. I wasn’t allowed to watch Pocahontas or Hercules because of religion!
The message of Pocahontas according to Heina: “White people can’t portray Native American culture.”
On religion in Mulan: “I believe Eddie Murphy is the bridge to the spirit world in real life.”
Tauriq asks if other panelists like Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. The reactions are split. DEEP RIFTS.
Rebecca: “The West Wing was liberal atheist porn, wasn’t it?”
Richard Carrier has shown up in the chat room to ask the panelist’s opinions on The Big Bang Theory. Heina’s suggestion is to turn off The Big Bang Theory, and go watch The IT Crowd instead. I concur! Ashley Miller calls it geek blackface, which is a little icky – but I get her point.
Hemant hasn’t seen Star Wars?!
JT pipes in saying he worries that skeptics embrace stereotypes about ourselves that are harming. He cites Bioshock who are “dark heroes.” He also brings up a valid point about how there’s nothing inherently wrong with the “atheists are super smart and rational geniuses” trope, but it kind of blocks out the 99% of the community that are music majors, plumbers, etc.
Rebecca talks about Civilization 5 where religion is used as a “tool” to gain influence and power, which an interesting social commentary on how religion is used in the real-world.
Ian asks the panel if they can think of an example in pop culture that would cause a similar backlash that Life of Brian or Jesus Christ Superstar caused back in the day. Rebecca thinks we’re past that point for the most part that a major backlash would happen in the Christian community, though Heina states similar things could still happen with the Muslim community. Hemant mentions there would probably be small pockets (I immediately thought of groups like One Million Moms) that would be against it, but nothing like we saw with Life of Brian or Jesus Christ Superstar.
Now onto discussions about atheists in stand-up! Heina thinks it’s troubling that a lot of exposure to atheists in pop culture is from stand-up, because there’s a lot of punching-up on religion and a lot of punching-down on everybody else. Hemant asks Heina if there’s a better way to get out their message than stand-up comedy – people like Ricky Gervais are great at tearing down religion, but they have other very anti-progressive material too. Rebecca thinks many stand-up comedians are coming around, but Heina says there’s still a huge amount of progress to made (I agree!).
Ian brings up a Bay Area comedian who is progressive – excited to check them out!
Heina: “How are people surprised that Ricky Gervais is an atheist? Did they not see The Invention of Lying?” I do have to say though that my mom saw Invention of Lying and didn’t get the premise.
Something else Rebecca Watson and I have in common? We went through a horrific Christian pop/rap/rock phase. #Solidarity
Ian references Chris Rice’s “What if Cartoons Got Saved.” I’m grossed out that I remember that heinous song, and annoyed that he reminded me of it. Dangit, Crommunist!
The panel seems to mostly agree that “niche” music – like Christian music – isn’t that great, even when it’s atheist niche music. However, there are musicians (like Muse) who have atheist undertones in their music and are awesome. Though Ian is quick to point out they are not skeptics – they are paranoid conspiracy theorists.
Rebecca brings up David Bazan who was a really popular Christian musician (he performed under Pedro the Lion) in the 90s who has since lost his faith – and who even wrote a whole album about that process entitled Strange Negotiations.
“Most pop songs are atheists because they don’t mention god at all.” – Rebecca Watson takes out the panel on that note!