Greetings, and welcome back to Wyrd Words. Keeping the Thor in Thursdays, every other week here on Agora!
Recently Pagans have been getting a fair amount of media attention. During the fall season the world seems to suddenly remember that we exist, but for the most part it only seems to last long enough to throw some crappy Pagan stereotypes on the screen. Sometimes this can AWESOME! I can even enjoy complete bastardizations of our myths. I’ve watched Practical Magic more times than any sane human being would admit to on the internet.
To be clear I am a HUGE nerd. I absolutely adore comic books and Marvel super heroes. (I can see the DC fans preparing to launch their rotten fruit projectiles!) I am a huge fan of the recent spree of Marvel movies. I thought Avengers was awesome, and I enjoyed both Thor movies. This was not because they were great movies (or even GOOD movies); mostly, it was because Loki was AWESOME and Asgard was pretty.
I’ve met a couple of Heathens who really took issue with the movies, but I never really had a problem. I can enjoy the setting and adventure of Marvel’s Asgard for its entertainment value and overlook the changes to the traditional Lore. Heck, I didn’t even think much of it when they made Thor into a woman, because I see no reason to get up in arms over a comic book. However, there’s a difference between playing with mythology for the sake of a comic and slandering an entire religious community on television.
I had high hopes for ABC’s Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. I was excited to see where they would go with the series — that is until I got ALL THE WAY to episode 8. The episode was going to be a tie-in to the last Thor movie The Dark World. To say that the episode was a disappointment would oversell what was essentially 40 minutes of Pagan bashing.
The whole episode starts off with a couple of Lore enthusiasts tracking down an ancient Asgardian weapon, through poetic clues left in some little known Saga. They do this by vandalizing a nature preserve, graffiti-ing an Othala rune on public property, and cutting down a thousand-year-old tree inside a circle of standing stones. Already we’re off to a rocky start, vandalizing a preserve and desecrating some mixed pagan symbols, but I thought perhaps I was being to sensitive.
So our intrepid heroes inexplicably discover that Asgardian technology has been stolen from this tree, and S.H.I.E.L.D. takes up the case. Here’s where the show jumps from being an acceptable Marvel version of the Lore to something a lot less okay. As the team investigates who the thieves might be, the culprits make themselves known by starting a riot (presumably with the assistance of the Angry Stick), and writing “WE ARE GODS” in burning letters on the street. The couple are then revealed to be leaders of a Norse Pagan group. Oh, but not just ANY bunch of Heathens, NO! Agent Ward announces that they are a (Quote) “Norse Paganist hate group.”
Lovely… First of all, I’m 90% certain that “Paganist” is not a word. Second, OF COURSE it’s a hate group! Because, as everybody knows, ALL Heathens are obviously White Supremacists. They couldn’t possibly be a reprehensible minority opinion who represent the Westboro-Baptist-esque human refuse of our community. If they had at least made a differentiation between the Neo-Nazis and the rest of us, I could have at least enjoyed watching S.H.I.E.L.D. waffle-stomp the schmucks.
The show even built in the perfect opportunity to save themselves and then promptly ignored it. The kindly biologist, Dr. Simmons, pauses to inquire “What’s a Norse Paganist?”, giving the writers an opening to explain that this is a religious community, and not all a bunch of Neo-Nazi trash. It wouldn’t have taken much. ONE line, could have saved it. What answer do we get instead?
“They’re OBSESSED with anything derived from Norse mythology.”
Swing, and a miss! Apparently being religious equates to obsession now. Somehow I don’t think this line would have even made it on the air if the question was about Christianity and the answer was: “They’re OBSESSED with anything to do with Yahweh.” Then it gets even better! We find out that the primary goal of the group is “to ascend and become gods of Death and Destruction!”
Wonderful… So let me get this straight. We’ve now established that all Norse Heathens are White Supremacist egomaniacs who want to bring about Ragnarok?
Who in the world thought this was okay? It’s like somebody decided that all of this pseudo-Norse mythology was giving us Pagans too much good press. So Jonathan Frakes is here to remind you that even though Thor is cool, Pagans are STILL EVIL. They’ll play with our myths, and mass market Nerf Mjölnirs, but “Whoa, Nellie!” let’s not give the Heathens too much good press! We’re supposed to be okay with them stereotyping an entire religion and turning its practitioners into a bunch of cardboard cutouts of White Power Bill. As I said in the beginning of the article; it’s one thing to play with mythology and use it to inspire a new story, it’s quite another to spend 40 minutes bashing an entire religious community.
As far as I can tell, there are two possible conclusions to take away from this.
1- Marvel obviously failed its sensitivity training course, and perhaps Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. just isn’t the show for me. This is sad, but hardly surprising or productive.
2- We can take the setbacks for what they are and look at the bigger picture. The fact that these kinds of exploitative shows are still being made should make it obvious that our situation is not ideal, but compared to where we’ve been in the past, our current status in the public eye is a MASSIVE improvement. In an industry which is controlled solely by the ratings and interests of consumers, that can really only mean one thing. There’s a demand.
There is enough of a demand for media focused on or around our own community that it has started to make a difference in how we see ourselves being portrayed. That’s something our predecessors as recently as fifty years ago would likely have never dared to hope for. Episodes like this, or CSI Halloween specials, are merely a bump on the road.
It’s up to us to tighten our grip and keep on driving.