Entertainment media are contributing to the emergence of new and novel forms of spiritual and religious phenomena in our contemporary (and past) culture. The essays in this issue explore diverse facets of the morphing relationship between entertainment, spirituality and culture. Over the last century, the cinema has played a vital role in the expression and representation of Judeo-Christian religious practices and beliefs. Early cinema told the life of Christ in the Passion (Photo)Play and Cecil B DeMille produced two spectacular versions of The Ten Commandments in 1923 and 1956. While cinema represented religious themes and figures, religious institutions also shaped the emergence of this moving image technology and its role within Western society; the wondrous moving image provided by the cinematrographe could open the viewer’s eyes to the work of God or, somewhat paradoxically, do the Devil’s work by deceiving them with its illusionary spectacles.
Two significant changes in this relationship between cinema and religion are occurring in our Post-millennial era. Firstly, the cinema is now participant in a complex audio-visual and textual culture that includes both established and emerging media – a Multiverse created from computer games, comic books, television programs, theme parks, virtual reality technologies and other new media. Secondly, traditional forms of religious practices and spiritual beliefs are shifting from their familiar locations in the church and community. Once, the cinema was seen as analogous to the Church because it provided a sacred space of worship. Now, however, the theme park, the computer game and cyberspace are the realms for an emerging Post-Millennial spirituality.
We need to consider how new media technologies are changing the face of religious, spiritual and fantastic realms. In our Post-Millennial era the Heavens are the home for satellites rather than angels and the New Age emphasis upon the paranormal and extraterrestrial as alternative avenues for spiritual expression and self-transformation melds with the prevalent sense of an impending apocalypse that was reactivated by the spectacular disappearance of the Twin Towers on our television screens on 9-11, 2001. Where once God may have been a singular entity that designed the world in seven days, the multi-dimensional relationship between new and existing media technologies now activates multiple worlds and multiple entities. The God/s of the Multi-verse take many and multifarious forms from Elvis to Lara Croft and the signs of the Heaven or Hell emerge in the shopping mall, the television screen, the web site and the comic book panel. Our media heroes are worshipped and our creations come to life.
The task of media research and theory is to articulate how these Post-Millennial forms of religiosity – how the uncanny spaces and the gods in the multiverse – are shaped by the media. How are these spaces of dread or icons of worship articulated? This issue provides a collection of original research and writing on entertainment forms – past and present. It presents an interdisciplinary focus by collating material from historians, theorists, philosophers and practitioners involved in the study and teaching of art, cinema, literature and new media. However, the advantage of Gods in the Multiverse is its cross-media, cross-disciplinary and cross-temporal approach.
The “Uncanny Spaces and Gods in the Multiverse” issue allows the reader to make unique connections between different media that shape and inform the fantastic and the spiritual in Western culture: from Francis I, C16th King of France who, reflecting a nascent version of the media star, constructed himself as a figure of worship; to the landscapes of Stephen King story worlds that present the reader with uncanny, Gothic spaces and narrative scenarios that question the ‘normality’ of everyday reality; to the transcendental pursuits of the magician and magic lantern technology; or the worship-like experiences inherent to fan cultures. We are living in an era where cultural identities, beliefs, forms of religious community, models of consciousness and what it means to be human are being transfigured. In the light of this transfiguration this issue of Refractory considers the relationship between media, religion, and the fantastic; and the every day and the sacred and the uncanny.