Sunday, March 08, 2009

Jesus Beats Hef, 4-3

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OK, Jesus Beats Hef*, 4-3 is not really the title of this painting. Nor is it called Jesus Is a Playa, nor Jesus Likes 'Em Young, nor even Jesus and His Girlfriends. Instead this is Christ and Young Women by veteran Mormon kitsch-monger artist Del Parson. The picture fails on so many levels, it's hard to articulate them all. But you know me: I'm gonna try.


First, let's consider what the picture is actually supposed to be about. "Young Women" is the LDS Church's organization for girls age 12 - 18. Christ and Young Women is supposed to be depicting Jesus' love for these girls. He's all nice and stuff and like it's OK to get close to him and he's approachable and whatever because he's our Elder Brother and all and omigosh he loves us so-o-o-o much. Or something like that.

So why does the painting fail so spectacularly? (Note to people who actually don't think it fails: It does. Trust me, 99.7 percent of people who aren't LDS and 87.6 percent of people who are see the picture exactly the way I do. And I know those statistics are accurate, because I made them up myself.)

So why does the painting fail so spectacularly? For a start, the pose is far too intimate. Imagine walking into a room and seeing a 30-year-old Sunday school teacher and four teenage girls sitting in exactly that pose. You'd think about calling the police, or at least having a serious talk with their parents.

There's the girl in back with the proprietary hand on Jesus' shoulder. Then there's the girl sitting next to him so closely that she's practically hugging him. Plus the two girls sitting at his feet. Three of the girls gaze at him adoringly. He smirks and reaches out his hand to the only girl actually leaning away from him. "Come closer, little darlin'." Ugh.

Then there are the roses (Alternate title: Valentine's Day Jesus). As my spouse said, "Well... maybe if they weren't holding flowers...." I have no idea what the artist had in mind, but flowers, roses especially, are symbols of romantic love. Even worse, but Jesus' rose stands manfully erect, while the girl's roses lie down submissively yet attentively.

And the white robes. I suppose these are meant to represent purity, which is fine, but they also have the unfortunate effect of making the girls look like brides. So much so that one blogger even asked if the painting was a representation of the old-time Mormon speculation that Jesus was a polygamist.

The sashes probably represent the "Young Women's Values," each of which is associated with a color. Unfortunately, people who don't know that may think that the different color sashes represent kung fu ranks or something. (Alternate title: Jesus and His Deadly Viper Assassination Squad Take a Break in the Park)

Finally, all the girls are skinny and beautiful with long flowing hair and lovely glowing skin. Of course Jesus loves girls like that. Who doesn't? That's why I don't think those are the girls who could be most helped by believing Jesus loves them. In all seriousness, if some or all of the girls in the picture were heavyset, with stringy hair and bad complexions, that might make a big difference. "Other people judge by what's on the outside, but Jesus knows you and loves you for what you really are." It couldn't hurt. And it might make the picture look a little less suggestive.

So how could anyone paint this picture and not recognize how it would look to most people? How could the artist be so spectacularly tone deaf? I have a theory: Some very religious people are so innocent that they are incapable of seeing what seems suggestive (especially sexually suggestive) to other people. They often don't realize when they've made an inadvertent double entendre -- at least not until someone points it out to them -- and they don't see (and will argue against) the sexual connotations of a picture like this one. They're just too sweet and innocent to "get" things that are obvious to dirtier minds. (See here and here [the part about Edward "eating" Bella] for other examples.)

Fortunately, this can be a rich source of comedy for the rest of us.

Hat tips: I first saw the picture here. There's a long discussion (300-plus comments) here.

*Hugh Hefner, Playboy porn-monger and co-star of The Girls Next Door

14 comments:

  1. We've mocked this painting on Main Street Plaza as well, here. I think the flowers are meant to represent the girls' "virtue" (eg. Jesus is giving one of those sexual purity object lessons). But I agree, it's a colossal fail...

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  2. Um Jesu is not our elder brother.. He is the ONLY son of God ... Read John 3:16 in the King James Holy Bible!

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  3. Actually, he's the only begotten son of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I dare you to prove otherwise.

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  4. I think whats a rich source of comedy is this post. Pathetic. That's all I have to say.

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  5. I agree. This post is a source of comedy, and all you have to say is pathetic.

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  6. Some folks just need to get their minds out of the gutter. . . .but as Forrest Gump said....Stupid is as stupid does, and folks with hate issues will always try to find perversion in even the purest of forms.

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  7. Naivete is cute -- in children. In adults, maybe you're right, stupid is as stupid does. So what does that say about adults who are unable to see the obvious?

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  8. I think you are a bunch of fools. What word Jesus say if He were here? Maybe get a life? As for me I think you are a bunch of clowns. Either you have too much time on your hands or you fallen and pumped your heads!
    Show me pictures of him with children and He's what then.....I can't even say it. Repent!

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  9. Of course, neither of us would understand what Jesus would say because he spoke only Aramaic, but if he were to suddenly find himself in 21st century America, he would probably say something like "Where am I?"

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  10. Fifteen minutes later, and the artist wouldn't have had to go to the trouble of painting all those white robes. But then skin tones are tricky to paint, I hear, so maybe it wouldn't have saved a lot of effort.

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  11. On a related note, Arnold Friberg has died. His work may have served as the inspiration for all this glurgy Mormon junk we get nowadays, but I can't hold it against him. His paintings were the shiz.

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  12. Yeah, Friberg and his crazy circus-freak musclemen prophets were awesome.

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  13. I am not nor was I ever a member of LDS. Nor have I ever been a Christian, come to that. But I was steeped in the ethos and rituals of the Church of England, known elsewhere as Anglicans or Episcopalians.

    I think it's a very jaded view to say that the picture fails. It's very reminiscent of Catholic iconography. Nuns are the Bride of Christ, after all. The sexuality is completely intentional, because the image represents a safe and innocent sublimation of the sex instinct, from the painter's and sponsor's point of view.

    It's a fantasy image as much as all those in Playboy but put in the service of God, so that makes it OK.

    In nineteenth-century England, when drunkenness was a problem amongst the working classes because they were tempted to spend their pay-packet in the pub instead of delivering it unopened to the wife to make sure the children were fed and shod, and then give anything left over to the virtuous husband, the Salvation Army was formed. Distribution of its newspaper, the "War-Cry", was by female Salvationists who went into the pubs in their chaste bonnets and long chaste costumes---with tight bodices and waists. See for example this site which coyly suggests an opposite reason for the uniform.

    In the Seventies there was a group called the Children of God operating in London, whose young women offered themselves as bait for membership. Allegedly. I never tested.

    When you say

    In all seriousness, if some or all of the girls in the picture were heavyset, with stringy hair and bad complexions, that might make a big difference. "Other people judge by what's on the outside, but Jesus knows you and loves you for what you really are." It couldn't hurt. And it might make the picture look a little less suggestive.

    I think you miss the point. The picture tells those heavyset girls how Jesus sees them on the inside, so that by joining the LDS Young Women group, their fantasy will be realized. On the inside, where no one can see and mock their presumption.

    Isn't this what membership of religion is all about? Knowing that, despite appearances, despite the ignorance of those on the outside, you are one of the inner circle, in intimate contact with the sexiest incarnation of God yet revealed to mankind?

    There. All my comments belong to you, even my impromptu sermons, which are actually easier to write when one is wolf outside the fold, rather than the pastor protecting the poor lambs.

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  14. Vincent,
    I think your reading of this painting is a little too sophisticated. Mormons tend to be extremely literal-minded about their religion, and this kind of semi-official art, with its Heroic Realism, is no exception. The idea that there could be any sexuality implied at all (sublimated or not) in this painting would be anathema to many a Mormon. Many of them would find my post 9And your analysis) shocking and offensive for saying otherwise.

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What do you think?