Artistic Obscenity?

Terribly sorry about the lateness of this post. The last couple weeks have been busy for me, as I just completed and released a new EP for my band while at the same time Audio Casablanca just completed and released its first podcast. It’s been an exciting time, but also very busy. Anyway, now that I’ve made my excuses, it’s time to move on and begin my next blog. I want to address a question:

What is the place of obscenity in art?

Over the course of the last couple years, I have been slowly becoming a comic book nerd. I couldn’t tell you the obscure villain who the Green Lantern battled x number of years ago, but I have been learning to appreciate the art form of the graphic novel. One of my favorite graphic novelists has been Doug TenNapel. Gamers may recognize his name from such accomplishments as Earthworm Jim or The Neverhood. Anyway, he’s a very creative man involved in lots of creative projects. His graphic novels have their own unique personality, and one of his more interesting works is a crime drama called Black Cherry.

Doug TenNapel is a devout Christian man and was at the time he wrote Black Cherry, but I’m sure there are some who might question that after seeing the cover, which advertises the graphic novel in bright, red letters as “a lurid tale of sex, violence, and the supernatural.” But the story is deeply spiritual and makes a profoundly Christian point.

Black Cherry is a powerful story about redemption and makes the point that when Jesus came to die, he came to die for everyone, including the most screwed up and dirty people we can think of. So the story centers around a screwed up and dirty man. He drinks. He smokes. He swears like a sailor, has sex with married women, and falls in love with a prostitute. But even this man is not beyond redemption.

Now, when Christians come to entertainment, we tend to balk at any objectionable element that isn’t violence. So what if we cleaned up this story and for every time our main character says “Oh s*** I’m so p***** off right now,” we substitute “Oh darn. I’m feeling upset”? What if, instead of sleeping around, he sneaks into his parents’ basement and listens to their Led Zeppelin albums? What if, instead of falling in love with a prostitute, he can’t control his feelings for a sweet girl who just doesn’t go to church? All of a sudden, this screwed up, messed up worm of a human being is just the kid who is sometimes a disruption in Sunday school.

If you want a scriptural example, there’s a passage in Philippians where Paul lists all of his earthly accomplishments and then says that compared to what he has in Christ, they are all “dung.” In the original language, Paul wasn’t being so tame. He used the most offensive form of the word he could. A more accurate translation for today might be “compared to what I have in Christ, all these religious credentials I have are just a steaming pile of shit.”

And you know if Paul says it, that means there has to be some place for it.

So obscenity can be very effective, but I at the same time, we need to realize that it’s still obscenity. Obscenity is offensive. We need to make sure that when we use this powerful tool, we’re not just using it to use it. It needs to be a vital part of a story that makes a vital point.

Well, that’s all I have to say on the subject. Hopefully my next blog will be on time. Now that the new EP is completed and the podcast is out, I should have more free time to scribble down my thoughts.

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