Does the Pope read Ex Machina?

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The Mayor undergoes exorcismSpecifically, has the Pope read Ex Machina numbers 32 and 33? I wonder, because the very day after I had put down issue #33, in which the man-machine hybrid Mayor Hundred undergoes a forced exorcism by the Pope, I read the news that Pope Palpatine--or whatever his name is--will be introducing new "exorcism squads" to fight the rise of godlessness and the occult.

This "Say No to Satan" campaign will be led by the Chief Exorcist of Rome, Fr. Gabriele Amorth. It's too bad that the AMPTP is allowing the writers' strike to drag on; I think these exorcism squads could be the subject of a S.W.A.T.-style drama, with special guest targets like Christopher Hitchens and J.K. Rowling.

Perhaps the timing of Ex Machina's storyline and the Pope's announcement was just synchronicity (a godless concept, I'm sure), since I just encountered an instance of exorcism in the novel I'm currently reading as well. The novel, Trance by Christopher Sorrentino, is set in the 70s and includes a passing reference to the bestselling book, The Exorcist, which it describes as being about authority figures trying to change a young girl's personality.

I mention this third instance of exorcism because it dates from a time period, the early 70s, that has many interesting similarities to the current period in U.S. culture and politics. Why is this significant? Well, as Fr. Gabriele Amorth states in an excerpt from his book, An Exorcist Tells His Story, there are times in history that are more oppressed by Satan. I find it fascinating that Amorth points to another period often compared to our own, the period of Rome's decline:

Even if this battle against Satan concerns all men and all times, there is no doubt that Satan's power is felt more keenly in periods of history when the sinfulness of the community is more evident. For example, when I view the decadence of the Roman Empire, I can see the moral disintegration of that period in history.

Amorth sees "decadence" as the point of connection between today and the end of the Roman empire. I'm sure he'd find the early 70s, once dubbed the "me decade" for its individualistic (or narcissistic) concern with human potential, were morally decadent, although Amorth is quite approving of both the book and movie versions of The Exorcist, artifacts of that era. So there is one conservative interpretation of a connecting thread between these three periods.

One doesn't have to stretch to see political connections between the 70s in the U.S., the U.S. present, and the late Roman empire. The continuing debate over presidential impeachment, the comparisons between Nixon's and Bush's approval ratings, and the presence of former Nixon administration officials within the Bush White House make that part of the equation a no-brainer.

The last several years have seen a profusion of dramas and documentaries about the rise and fall of Rome in which comparison to the present is implicit. The HBO series Rome, which recently covered this subject matter, took its inspiration from the famous 70s series, I, Claudius. One of the most pointed documentaries I have seen linking the Roman empire to present day designs on empire is the four-part BBC series billed as "an alternative history of Rome," Terry Jones' Barbarians.

A mashup of these three periods in history results in quite a vision of the powerful under pressure: Pope Benedict XVI herding the diminishing faithful under increasingly authoritarian doctrines; the Romans deploying their army and an arsenal of rarefied torture techniques to subjugate the far-flung nations and peoples under their rule; Nixon's stonewalling under the scrutiny of the press; U.S. neoconservatives' brute use of propaganda to deflect and contain criticism.

But now let's turn away from the powerful and towards the voice that must be silenced, exorcised, disciplined, or reprogrammed. There's Regan, of course, the possessed girl of the Exorcist. Women often stand in for the demonic in patriarchal religions; she is a demon's most conducive host. (And a casting natural: women played the role of the devil in the Catholic horror films The Exorcist and in The Passion of the Christ.)

But more importantly, women are the voice of hysteria, and it is their image in popular culture that the voice of society's hysteria can be heard. Women like Linda Blair's character, Regan, who are seized and possessed by the public. Women who are, to be sure, interesting in their own right, but become sensations for their ability to stage the public's fear and anger, to vomit the culture's resentment and loathing into the face of unjust power and authority.

There are other women in 70s popular culture who serve as vehicles for public hysteria: kidnapped and converted Patty Hearst, whose free will became a national obsession; abused Sybil, whose shockingly multiple personalities seemed to mirror the emergence of variant and controversial lifestyles existing outside the confines of the traditional and fragmenting family unit.

Rome in its decline had many female virgin martyrs--thousands, according to legend--whose crimes of declaration inspired many creative applications of torture. Today, we have Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan, celebrities whose main role appears to be acting out the culture's embrace of and revulsion towards material excess. It is a cycle of hysteria that, like Regan's head, spins round to look you right in the eye.

5 Comments

Wow, you were able to link Nixon (and it always returns back to him, doesn't it?), neo-conservatives, Regen and The Exorcist, Patty Hearst, The Passion of the Christ, Pope Palpatine, the Exorcist of Rome, comic books, the rise & fall of the Roman Empire, the "Me-Generation", women-as-proxy-for-the demonic, what did I miss, in ONE post. And it's the FIRST post of 2008. Where do you go from here?

I might add that women are still the primary focus of the exorcism these days - in this case it's the lesbian & gay communities as "woman".

BTW, did you see the pic of the Exorcist of Rome? Omigod. If that doesn't look like it's from Satan I don't know what does.

I'm impressed you got to the end, Joe. That's a dedicated friend for you. Actually I was in the middle of this post when the Pope released his "Peace" message about how gays shouldn't get married. Anyway I really wanted to fit that in somehow but somewhere in my disordered mind I recognized that it was a separate topic. I like your comment about the LGBT community as "woman." And yes, I saw the pic of the Exorcist of Rome. I read quite a few pieces about him for this post. I think he kind of looks like the Creature from the Black Lagoon.

I'd love a comic super hero called Hysteria.

Hmm, I guess while little Pope Bennie was in his Nazi-knickers the world was a bit oppressed by Satan..oh I mean a man. A regular ol sociopath. The pope is seeking his childhood revenge with his E-squads?

I love that (choke) 'Father' Gabriele Amorth is a mere 82 years old. Now, I bet his slippers smell like pee. His quote: "You have to hunt high and low for a properly trained exorcist" makes me want to start training immediately. Where are Jay Leno's writers when you need them?

Also, it saddened me to read in the news that exposure to Satan via 'rock music and internet' have replaced by my personal favorites of Elvis and TV.

Teresa: your head is amazing. You are making logic! It must be exocised asap! A small down payment will be required. No personal checks.

Hello fran,

Another friend crosses the finish line of this post! How wonderful. A superhero called Hysteria is a marvelous idea. She should have a sidekick though; who would that be?

I read that Father Amorth believes that Hitler was possessed by Satan. I guess the Vatican would be in a better position to know what condition he was in that time. 82 is impressive. Wrestling with Satan keeps one young.

I wonder if exorcist trainers are like boot camp trainers--you know, real bastards. It really would make a good drama, wouldn't it? Or reality show.

Ah, I have been exorcised once already. Can't you tell?

Virginia, her sidekick would be called 'Virgin'ia. My teeth are starting to click like my cats as she watches the pigeons land on the ground outside our windows. Do it Teresa. The great Lesbian superhero Hysteria and her sidekick Virginia? My gut is starting to ache with anticipation. I'm tired of waitng for Xena and Gabrielle to return. They can have several cats who stare out several windows clicking their teeth at pigeons! Hysteria has vowed not to touch Virginia..! THAT she battles along with Hitler-types, Bush-types, and the men who plow the steets after snow storms. I had murder in my eyes this week after 16 inches fell.

Told my girlfriend (btw, she won't let me call her that) about your profound & fun blogs. She can give you a complete analysis of Hitler, Nixon, FDR, JFK, Bush.. You two would not shut up if you got together.

Yes! ESquad would be an outstanding show. Who would be the head trainer? Would they have to be Catholic, can we get some demom-killing dames in there, too?

I couldn't tell you were exorcised. Let's at least apply for excommunication. What does the certificate look like after you got exorcised? Ashes?

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