One of the final writing projects of research leave is to put to bed a book chapter on angels and popular culture that I’ve been working on in fits and starts. I’ve tried a few ideas out as conference papers (Greenflame: All about angels this fortnight), as well as in the classroom and church contexts, but have been looking for a unifying theme to wrap this essay around.
The basic idea I’ve been batting around is that there has been a shift from viewing angels as predominantly good, if often naive, characters in popular culture, through to angels as manifesting the full range of human strengths and frailties, which is manifested in manipulation, selfishness, and overt grasping for power. Angels have fallen, while demons are in search of redemption. In fact, that’s the premise of this collection of short stories – The Mammoth Book of Angels and Demons (edited by Paula Guran) – that I’ve been working my way through slowly.
One theme I will be picking up is popular culture where human beings are possessed by angels. The film Legion (2010) and its spin-off TV show Dominion (2014-15) plays with this idea, and sets its ‘lore’ on this out at the Dominion: Revelations website. So too, does the TV show, Supernatural (2005-current), though it requires people to ‘opt-in’ to angelic possession, rather than being forcibly possessed. The film, Fallen (1998), also plays with this trope.
I’m also interested in how biblical (and extra-biblical) material about angels is represented in these kinds of popular culture, as well as how popular culture shapes the religious imagination about the angelic and demonic. The satirical Babylon Bee article “Report: 97% Of Evangelicals’ Demonology Now Based On CW Show ‘Supernatural’” may have more than a ring of truth to it.
And yes, I know there are a bunch of other popular culture sources to mine – from DC Comics/Vertigo’s Sandman, Lucifer, Spectre, Zauriel and Constantine (and their TV and film incarnations) through to Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, Top Cow’s comic book material such as Witchblade, Magdalena, the Darkness and the Angelus, Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series, and all the work produced by Thomas E. Sniegoski. Some of these get a look-in in the essay, while others will have to wait for the next article or chapter.
Also on the reading list: