Shamus....you are too funny!!!!!!!!! I love it!
Images of Paradise: A move Away From Artwork?
It used to bother me a lot how the Witness images of paradise showed men wearing suits and ties, and women wearing skirts with pumps. For me that was a clue that they were nuts right off the bat while in my teens. Oh and of course seeing John Deer tractors mowing down grave stones after the great battle, that bothered me a great deal, like I am sure John Deer company would be spared. Get a life !!
What always made me sick is the pictures of people petting wild tigers and lions. Like is this going to make my life any freaking better? I could pet a wild tiger now in Las Vegas if I had a microphone to bang them in the head with!
I have two cats now that are mentally deranged and I could care less about any more felines!
what I want to know is......when this "new system" comes forth, where are they gonna get friggen cloths to wear?...If eveyone and everything is wiped, is god going to have a suit case packed for everyone that gets to live in this paradise?
Shamus! You are hysterical!
(Blondie! You, too!)
Funny thing: where does it say in the bible that humans would be "transforming" the earth into a paradise? If Paradise is full of khakis-clad Jehovah's Witnesses... I want no part.
To hell with the lions, I want Godzilla!!!
Yeah, would the dinasours be resurrected since they all died in the flood?
Or are they part of the 144,000?
Kick ass piccie!
Marketing Eden: Mythologies and Technology within the Jehovah?s Witnesses
Simon J. Currell
MA Fine Art
Part Time Year 2
St. Martins College of Art
?America gave birth to this religion; and it remains in essence American. The law-and-order (of) God ?is Middle American?.and Paradise restored, if the illustrations in Watchtower publications are to be taken literally, will look exactly like an endless Kansas picnic ? or a Texas barbecue. Most of the survivors of Armageddon will be attired in clothes from Montgomery Ward; and they will have crew cuts and bouffant hairdos, and skirts decorously short. (Innocence, to the Witnesses, suggests a shirt and tie.) The Witness dream of Eden is a dream of American suburbia ? with a few people in foreign dress to lend exoticism to the proceedings.? (1)
- Visions of Glory: A History and a Memory of Jehovah?s
Witnesses , Barbara Grizzuti Harrison
Welcome my beloved children of rainbow colour to the millennial paradise on a renovated earth! A place where each footstep is accompanied by the cheery chirping of colourful songbirds, the gentle chiming of church bells and the sashaying of healthy fruit bearing plants. Where the lamb nestles assuredly with the lion, where poverty and disease are negated as ?all nations?(unite), the black, the white, the yellow, the brown all mingling as one family.?(2) Listen hard enough and you can hear the faint laughter of bright-eyed children and the cracking of wood as the once elderly and infirm rejoice by breaking their walking sticks. Exotic pollens and the scent of apples fill the air, whilst plumes of patchy eider down, lemon zest and alpine freshness fuse amidst raining marabou feathers, bursting pomegranates, swelling figs and laden vines; a never ending landscape brimming with honey and milk!
The Watchtower, August 3rd, 1984, p. 18/19
I assume that there are very few of us who have not yet been subjected, even if only unconsciously or subliminally, to the imagery of Jehovah?s Witness publications. These magazines find themselves in every corner of the earth, in the waiting rooms of private medical centres, suburban households, and in war and poverty stricken zones where they are most greedily received. The actual aesthetic of these periodicals manages to be as insidious and as innocuous as any bottom to middle range counter magazines available NOW! in all good newsagents. In that sense they remain a mutated hybrid of Women?s Realm, The People?s Friend, The Economist, Ladybird children?s books and a faded collection of knitwear patterns from time immemorial. The actual content of the text meanders with apparently smooth if histrionic ease and logic from National Geographic style accounts of Witness activities in far-flung islands to inspiring anecdotes of adults who have conquered drug addiction or children who have bravely resisted the temptation to cheat on school exams; from tabloid-ish thunderings against the evils of modernity to pseudo-psychological treatises on the perils of auto-eroticism; from celebrations of the human diversity created by, sanctified by and smiled on by God to hysterical revelling in the approaching cataclysm of Armageddon. In short, there is literally something for everybody. Homely, agreeable, dramatic and familiar both aesthetically and spiritually they are all encompassing in their allure. That they do not pretend to be highbrow, elitist or ironic is their main appeal; they are not appreciably divisive on issues of culture, gender or race and are therefore aimed at that most difficult of target audiences: the masses.
Indeed, it can be seen from the sheer scale of the JW publishing enterprise that ?the masses? ? in the fullest sense of the word ? are truly the target. The yearly production and distribution of the JW magazines Awake and Watchtower accounts for virtually two thirds of religious publication worldwide. With a revenue grossing £10 billion per annum, they are rated the third largest publishers in the world (3). This alone would simply beggar belief, despite the ubiquity of the magazines; yet an even more curious anomaly emerges if anyone ? full of insatiable hunger for spiritual sustenance ? attempts to, for instance, acquire any back issues of the Watchtower, which began publication in 1917.
For it seems that the Jehovah?s Witnesses are obliged to operate in rather covert and cautious ways, and it has thus been necessary for their publications to be rendered obsolete when discrepancies, contradictions and incorrect information are discovered. Therefore, obtaining a comprehensive overview of the historical development of their doctrines, or in my case, enlarging the pool of images I have to work with, becomes very difficult as many of these periodicals are either sold for literally hundreds of dollars as rare museum specimens or are simply untraceable. This would perhaps raise a mere modicum of suspicion were it not for the status of Watchtower within the JW universe. Quite simply, ?God uses The Watchtower to communicate to his people: it does not consist of men?s opinions.? (WT 1/1/1942 p. 5) To all intents and purposes this breathtaking claim gives the magazine parity with scripture. Certainly, it adds impetus to my art project, which explores the resonances of Watchtower images of Eden, and encourages investigation of the evident contradiction between the organisation?s plainly evangelical stance and the inexplicable elusiveness of so much of its apparently ?revealed? literature.
As with many particularly American strains of millennial Christianity the inclusive embrace of the JW style and mission is matched by an exclusive attitude towards divine truth. The Watchtower magazine is advertised as the vehicle through which God himself speaks to ?his people?, through which he imparts the truth, an intractable, jealous truth outside of which there is only alienation from deity and salvation. Even an accommodation with other forms of Christian practice is impossible because these other practices, mouthing the correct terms in incorrect ways, are especially insidious perversions of ?Jehovah?s? message. Thus other Christians are as much in need of the Watchtower as any shamanic, totem worshipping inhabitant of a third world jungle. This all makes perfect sense. However, the universal exclusivity of access to God, to truth, and the universal inclusiveness of a world wide evangelism lead to much more crucial contradictions which find their deepest expression not in doctrinal or prophetic obfuscation, but in the imagery which we all recognise and remember.
In order to appreciate how this is so, one has to ask oneself: to what end, by what mechanism and how effectively can such an organisation seriously attempt to engage the masses? ?The masses? are a notoriously inattentive, recalcitrant, fickle entity. History shows us that this entity is all too readily entertained and distracted. But can ?it? be converted? Can ?it? hold in common a shared, agreed vision of its own meaning, purpose, origin and destiny? After all, what is ?it?? Even the most objective observer can usually make out nothing more than a sprawling, seething, amorphous potpourri of now allied, now conflicting, now interpenetrating and shifting subjective constructs on an ultimately ineffable, paradoxical reality.
Sometimes strangely omniscient, often incredibly stupid and short sighted, the masses appear to lack any discernable centre or principle of judgement. How can one hope to captivate within a single dogmatic paradigm twelve billion oogling eyeballs bobbing around viewing each other with consternation, envy, hostility, disgust, hope, greed, sympathy, perversity and bliss? Such an entity can be temporarily enthralled by sound-bytes from the sublime, certainly, but it has never been able to unite behind any one apperception of divine ?truth?. Even when sporadic rashes of unity appear, the mechanism of this unity is never the puritanical, pious fulminations from the pulpit, nor the abstruse dialectic of the theologians, nor the codification of daily dos and don?ts ordained by deity. No laws, with their inevitable splintering under the contingent reality they try to direct, nor hellfire diatribes, made of words and meanings so completely rooted in our plane of existence, have the power to effect such unity and point the inner being towards the ultimate or the sublime. There is only one language with even a semblance of such resonance and penetration: mythology. Thus one finds that although the Watchtower is beyond cringe-worthy as the direct word of God, it makes an extremely effective comic book.
?There was no voice. No one came walking on air down from the bridge, there was no lady in a dark cloak bending over me. Although she has come back to me now in absolute clarity, acute in every detail, the outline of her hooded shape against the lights from the bridge, the red of her heart from within the cloak, I know this didn?t happen. There was only darkness and silence. Nobody and Nothing.? (Cat?s eye, Margaret Atwood.) (4)
(?Untitled no. 433?)
As Roland Barthes shows so compellingly in ?Mythologies,? the society in which we live is hungry for myth; it shapes the way we see advertising, it beautifies dead cultural icons into what we desire as a material proof of the purchasable flesh.
This is exemplified by two images recurrent in contemporary media that are binary opposites, but both serving the same purpose of iconic, mythological signification through which an entire category of persons, ideas or social constructs can be subsumed under a single image.
One is the famous police photograph of 'evil scum bitch Myra Hindley' (© The Sun), taken in 1963 when she was first held in custody as an accessory to the Moors Murders (these words in themselves are loaded with mythological subtext.) When the artist Marcus Harvey utilised this ?icon of evil? to make a piece in 1996, the public and tabloid outcry was immense. The image, signifier of unnatural womanhood with the eyes of the anti-mother and the hair of an inverse Marilyn Monroe, caused offence seemingly in exact proportion to the amplification of the size of the original photograph. The fact that the image had been composed from a child?s handprints obviously did not help things.
Without doubt the sex of the subject holds a substantial clue to its mythic weight. It is not ridiculous to assume that a larger-than-life image of Adolf Hitler, himself responsible for the deaths of some ten million or more, would not be so provocative as the dark eyes of this woman, responsible in part for the death of three. Her male lover and criminal mastermind, Ian Brady seems to have escaped such media hype, but then he is insane and was not rumoured to be a lesbian.
If Hindley was the hag, thinly veiled and transformed by dangerous feminine glamour into enchantress and beguiler of infants, then we may safely use the same basic type of symbolic approach for another media icon ? Diana, Fairytale Princess of Wales and the Tragic Queen of Hearts.
Her life had an intrinsic mythic structure; the shy, childlike virgin marries the worldly prince and becomes heir to the fabled realm. Diana remains obedient and virtuous, benevolent to the old and infirm, but is an innocent pawn in the machinations of media and establishment myth-making. She triumphs through great adversity to find divine love only to die in his arms. By this action she achieves a seemingly preordained spiritual transcendence, virtually a martyrdom (scarcely an exaggeration, given the tabloid canonisation).
The similarity between these two women is that neither of them has engineered their own mythic resonances. Neither is an artist skilled in mass-media alchemy for whatever intent, yet confusingly enough, considering the extremes of their polarities neither icon could exist without the true mother of myth, the Virgin Mary.
Within the realms of iconography the Virgin Mary possesses a potency that extends beyond a purely religious idolatry. We are involved with the image of the Virgin Mary more in the manner of a hallucination than of a shadow play. The earth mother, nurturing and beneficent, but also occult and mysterious, is an anthropological epitome of womanhood extending beyond religion into cultural folklore and Pagan myth. The Virgin Mary encompasses two of the three most significant and powerful female archetypes, the virgin and the mother. The third archetype is, of course, the whore. The Immaculate Conception rescues Mary from this third category. Ironically, the female image which is least tarnished with the veneer of a prostitute is that which has itself been most prostituted. The Roman Catholic Church, more than any other Christian denomination, gives additional venerative status to the role of Mary as virgin and mother. Through this veneration Mary has become ?branded? as an image of femininity. It is by this branding that the image of Mary is prostituted, first as a ?logo? of Catholicism, and thus ultimately to the materialism of capitalist society, where the Virgin Mary becomes a commodity, its nascent meaning degraded and reinvented as a kitchen focal point of interior design, displayed on pastel walls in the hearts of Christian homesteads. The only liquidity, the only essence of the basely human, is in the tears that run rivulets down her rosy arsed cheeks, which in themselves are an adornment of the cinematic feminine, a ?siren?s lure.?
In an article ?Screen? in 1983 (?images of woman?) Judith Williamson wrote: ?We are forced to recognise a visual style (often you could name the director) simultaneously with the type of femininity. The two cannot be pulled apart. The image suggests that femininity?(is) in the woman we see, whereas in fact the femininity is in the image itself, it is the image.? (5)
pixel, n.: A mischievous, magical spirit associated with screen displays. The computer industry has frequently borrowed from mythology: Witness the sprites in computer graphics, the demons in artificial intelligence, and the trolls in the marketing department.
The Barthesian definition of a myth claims that it is a ?type of speech? (6) (Mythologies, Roland Barthes) a mode of signification which is ?at the same time meaning and form, full on one side and empty on the other? (ibid.), a correlation signifier and signified. This ?parasitical emptiness? itself deconstructs the deconstructed and ?postulates a kind of knowledge? like a landscape of the past. For most of us, the landscape of the past is permeated and populated with the experiences of, essentially, childhood, however long ?childhood? might last for any given person. Childhood experience, so idiosyncratic, so particular, so personal, so primarily ?felt?, is in many ways mute in terms of language. The landscape of the past is precisely that: a landscape. No efficacious doctrine ?about? it can be constructed, much less preached. This landscape yields its meaning in image, and insofar as any narrative can contextualise the image, this narrative expresses itself through the opaque speech of the mythological and the fairy tale: in other words, the archetypal.
In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the archetype of childhood reaches its apogee of representation in the myth of Eden. This primal paradise is characterised by timelessness, the nurturing plenitude of nature, freedom from knowledge of good and evil, freedom from pain and confusion, freedom from responsibility, all of which is presided over by a paternal God who has not yet had cause to be judgemental, punitive, frightening. In a word, this is innocence. If each of us has his own surreal, personal, only partially recollected mythical imagery of childhood, the primary coloured, honey scented scenes of Eden are the representation of childhood as it is held in the Judeo-Christian collective unconscious. The timeless nature of the collective unconscious makes Eden not only a particular place in the landscape of the past, but additionally an archetype that is transferable, projectable and repeatable. Thus Eden can function not only as the archetype of our lost origin, but also as the template of our destiny. This gives the Eden archetype a cyclical nature which roots it on a deeper plane than mere linear history, and ties it to such a notion, also cyclical, as the Hindu escape from incarnation-in-physicality through abandonment of desire, and also to the even more remote and abstract obliteration of pained consciousness and want in the Nirvana of Buddhism.
Of course, the Eden archetype does not function in free-floating isolation. It is contextualised by that vast body of myth and poetry contained in the Bible, whose narrative anchors Eden deeply within a sense of loss.
?In the beginning?? I recall a flippant aside made by an English tutor about these three innocuous words. She remarked that no serious investigation uses these words as a departure point. These first three words of the Bible drain history out of life. They are depoliticised and skimmed across the page like an always available instant of realisation which, because of its unfixed place in linear time, is incontestable by conscious, rational thought and exists, like Jung?s archetypes, in a kind of molecular race-memory.
There is a striking parallel between ?In the beginning? and the fairy tale formula of ?Once upon a time??. Once upon a time there were princesses, witches, ogres, fairies, handsome princes and magical beasts. In the beginning there were a God, cherubim, seraphim, beguiling serpents, angels, demons, prophets, miracles and ascensions into heaven. The fairy tale narrative may navigate itself through any number of fantastic events, but nevertheless all will always be well because evil is punished, virtue rewarded and the good live happily ever after. Most importantly, the audience is led to unequivocally identify with the good, the heroic, the virtuous.
The biblical narrative structure creates a double possibility in terms of how the reader identifies with, and places himself within, the narrative. Genesis > Exodus > Revelation translates into either Loss > Search > Salvation or Loss > Search > Damnation. Thus the dark face of the happy resolution is equally forceful and the conclusion of the story, although certain, predestined and defined in a general sense, is still an open, even troublesome, matter for the individual. All Judeo-Christian systems of belief recognise and embody this notion, harbouring within their tight narratives not only highly civilising and moralising messages but also dire warnings and hellfire admonitions. All of this serves to grant the reader a form of apparent control over his or her ending according to how they apply themselves in the preceding episodes of the mythic narrative.
This also makes available the possibility of a brilliant marketing strategy. Life?s pain, confusion and chaos are explained by the loss of Eden, a feeling for which seems to have profound roots in our vague, wordless sense of the loss of total, immediate and unmediated selfhood back in the murky but somehow blindingly illuminated recesses of childhood. Yet Eden, and with it, presumably, a comprehensive, deeply felt sense of authentic being, will return, but only for some. The individual is given a choice: take our product or spend eternity in hell; take our product or lose forever the deepest, most authentic experience of real being. Existential angst is translated thereby into a consumer need. It can be observed after all that this, essentially, is the American way. It is the process of sanitising and simplifying contingent reality adopted by fairy tales, cults, parents and advertising executives across the globe. The oldest form of speech ? mythology - has been married to the most powerfully modern ? marketing.
In marketing, as in mythology, the iconic power of the image is paramount. The tirelessly reproduced windows onto Eden that characterise and unify the Watchtower magazines have effectively become a kind of corporate brand logo, instantly recognisable and somehow definitive of the JW product.
Saint, n: A dead sinner revised and edited. (7)
Ambrose Bierce (1842 - 1914), The Devil's Dictionary
However, it is clear that for many of us the imagery, that sickly cooing patch of ultimate good ?which we ingested?as children, whole?(8) has a distinctly unsettling quality. Obviously, the aware consumer will recognise point blank that he is being manipulated, is being ?sold? something. But there is also something else askew in the panorama of bounteous, bright-eyed bliss.
Freud?s notion of the heimlich can help us here, because surely it is never really out of mind that for every happy, shiny face beaming against the backdrop of a lush, hallucinogenic meadow there are many more terribly miserable faces weeping, wailing and gnashing their teeth in a fiery, anguished hell which, and let us not mince words here, seems grossly out of all proportion to many of the ?sins? which supposedly lead to it. Yet perhaps it makes a kind of sense that the more intense and perfect the bliss of paradise, the more intense and perfect must be the agony of the abyss, the happier the saints the more miserable must the sinners be. In terms of aesthetic, the beautiful images of a restored Eden are left fundamentally unbalanced by a lack of reference to, or even an intimation of, their antipode. That state of gleeful bliss, at least partially defined by what it is not, aspires to a perfection that must disregard a substantial part of its own definition. And with a glaring lack of Christian love and charity, those ?happy? faces are untroubled, even satisfied, with the cosmic equation which has made them so fortunate as to be in their own shoes. On this earth at this time they are obliged to love their neighbour; in paradise they are finally permitted to gloat over their freedom from his pain.
The Watchtower, April 1, 1988, p. 33-34.
The heimlich, or ?homely?, concluded Freud, is that which is not only both familiar and agreeable but also ?that which is kept out of sight? (9). This ambivalence of meaning ultimately suggests that it will at some point coincide with its opposite, ?unheimlich? or ?uncanny?, which, it is argued, brings us ?in closer touch with?emotional disturbances?. In other words our comfortable nodding relationship with all that is acceptable, good and familiar will reveal itself to be that which is also the most anxiety provoking. Freud?s essay on the unheimlich cites a suggestion that ?one of the most successful devices for easily creating uncanny effects is to leave the reader in uncertainty whether a particular figure in the story is a human being or an automaton, and to do it in such a way that his attention is not focused directly upon his uncertainty, so that he may not be led to go into the matter and clear it up immediately.? E. Jentsch, Zur Psychologie des Unheimlichen(1906) With regard to JW imagery this becomes a difficult subject to surmount. Although it adheres entirely to the codes and conventions of the heimlich, it remains dislocated from any recognisable, experienced reality and resists meaningful transfer to day-to-day life. Yet for myself there has never been a more intense communication of the experience of desire. The more I have attempted to argue with, speculate on or pinpoint the meaning of the image, the more I have been rendered spellbound by its sensuality until I finally became drowsy with voluptuousness. Even worse, I too became untroubled by the fact that the felicity, continuity and comprehensiveness of my dreamy, total bliss was in some senses shaped and guaranteed by that awful Other: billions of fallen fellow human beings burning in agony of soul and mind and body in the opposite polarity. My garden of rosy joy was somehow conditioned by a dark forest of thorns somewhere else: but who cared.
I thought this to be the true, consummate power of the JW ?art?. Paradise lost becomes Paradise found, if only it remains unseen that this transaction is paid for by a powerful, complete act of forgetting and callous disregard. The viewer is allowed to engage in a shared dream peculiar to Americanised western culture which cannot be symbolised or made exact within our understanding of a contextualised ?collective unconscious?. The ever evolving vines of lasciviousness fog the frames of the message and we are literally cast aside, drowning in a shimmering sea of imagery where meaning and ethics both collapse.
In the post-modern era we have become acutely aware of the deep - sometimes almost invisible - ties between signifier and signified. The message and the medium have become inseparable, often completely interchangeable. At the very least they are very much implicated in each other. Any discussion of the JW message, mission and imagery must therefore take account of the medium of dissemination ? technology - and its symbiotic relationship with the JW ethos.
In issues of the Watchtower, the antithesis of Eden is most often imaged through icons of technology and capitalism. The lone shiny sports car with blacked out windows, a television screen offering images of violence and vice, piles of filthy lucre and ominously belching factories. All this may be integrated into carefully airbrushed compositions, but technology here is a symbol for an annihilated God. Technology cannot be made ?homely? within the visceral slices of utopian paradise that adorn these pages of religious propaganda. In the many representations of an Edenic idyll, there is a highly conspicuous lack of man-made artefacts of any kind at all, apart from clothing which is there, one presumes, for the sake of modesty, itself quite curious in a realm of such unbounded innocence, joyful union and nobility of mind. Many articles in the magazines find occasion to lambast practically every aspect of industrialised modernity. Even medical advances are viewed with profound disquiet and suspicion. The Watchtower consistently juxtaposes its brightly coloured pictures of an almost completely organic, natural environment with monochrome depictions of soulless technology and the material goods with which it tempts us away from God.
Evidently, the advance of civilisation too often makes mankind forget its dependency on Heaven, not to mention that the pleasures this advance provides and permits are nothing compared to the bliss of ?salvation?.
The Watchtower, March 6, 1993, p. 24.
It is strange, then, that God, being God, finds it expedient and permissible, in order to ?speak to his people?, to rely almost completely on the man-made evil of technology. A £10 billion a year publishing venture would be impossible without it. I have pointed out that while it is necessary to reach out to one?s neighbours in love and truth in this world, one?s neighbours may be completely dispensed with in Eden. It now appears, likewise, that while technology is banned from Eden because of its essentially diabolic nature - computerisation and all the modern tools of the market economy become the inescapable tools of evangelism. Thus, it would seem that not only the Devil but also God himself is using technology to get at us. The thing is, although technology is pivotal in its assistance in ?spreading the word of God,? it is also unstoppable in depicting ever-varying versions of the truth, a truth yet to be sanctioned by the elders. The leadership in JW HQ in Brooklyn uses some of the most expensive, advanced computerisation and communications equipment in the world, but Jehovah?s Witnesses themselves are forbidden from surfing the internet, participating in chat rooms or reading any e-mail from a non-believer containing a quote from the bible. It must be noted here that the Jehovah?s Witnesses positively discourage reading the bible alone, insisting instead that it should be read only in the presence of other Witnesses. This is either an unwitting glimpse into their techniques of brainwashing or a veiled but firm control of a text vulnerable to countless and all too often contradictory interpretations. As we have seen, the Jehovah?s Witnesses must make a deliberate effort to efface the many contradictions that beset them. I would like to emphasise here is that without technology the Jehovah?s Witnesses organisation would evaporate into a thin antiseptic air. That they can be so hostile towards it in doctrine and image is a startling case of biting the hand that feeds them.
The starting point for my project has been precisely to allow ?that which is kept out of sight? to communicate itself through the Edenic branding of JW imagery, to permit the forgotten and disregarded ?uncanny? to illuminate the actual contours of paradise. For me the resulting images put into fine relief the poverty of imagination, thought and humanity which so carelessly and shallowly equates homogeneity ? and not only that but such relentlessly comprehensive homogeneity ? with utopia. In addition, they make it much clearer that there is little or no space within the conceptual architecture of Christianity where technology and God can peacefully coexist. It now becomes necessary to ask: if in this sense God and technology remain binary opposites why then do they both relentlessly aspire to the same perfect representation that is as possibly hollow and as shallow as the notion of a flawless homogeneity of happiness offered to us by the pious purveyors of paradise? Insofar as the imagery is a technological production as much as an ?artistic? one, could technology, which we?ve now established as being inherently evil and aligned to the diabolical forces of Satan, not come up with anything better? Are we expected to actually idealise and pursue a society cloned and sanitised into blissful indifference?
(?untitled no 94?)
For in a sense it may be admitted that technology also suffers from the unsettling dynamics of exclusivity and inclusiveness, is also on a world-conquering mission, and also aspires to an often inhuman ?perfection?. Technology, no less than the Witness Eden mythology, depends upon the exclusive, levelling and unifying effects of repetition. Technology prefers mass, as opposed to individual, style. The Jehovah?s Witnesses insist that salvation and happiness must mean and look the same for everyone. If technology were admitted into paradise it would no doubt be put to work producing on factory assembly lines the same identikit toothy grins, the same glazed expressions of joy and the same ecstatic, open-armed sprints with which those myriad Watchtower clones can traverse the effervescent meadows of their cartoon, cardboard heaven.
Technology, as we know all too well, is also capable of callously disregarding its victims as it creates an Eden of convenience, speed, luxury and freedom from pain for its ?elect?. Digital media can often disembowel the ?felt? image as completely as any imposed religious schema. This has been my first major concern with my approach. The more I try to get an understanding from it, the more it eludes me. I also worry constantly about the images I am producing and have been made more aware, because of the nature of digital media, how the notion of ?perfection? is itself a kind of fall from contingent reality into a somehow ?parasitically empty? mythology. Perfection, it seems, is the most potent temptation for the divine and the trivial, the illusory goalposts for both the macroscopic and microscopic, the false promise of both an omnipotent God and a comprehensively computerised world. Perfection seems to imply some kind of meta-archetype, a single, definitive, ultimate mould into which all things must eventually pour themselves in order to find transcendence, salvation and peace. The ultimate hollowness of this scheme is perhaps nowhere more explicitly naked that in the Nirvana of Buddhism, which is, it would appear, sublime Nothingness.
Is repetition, and thus homogeneity, not merely undesirable, but perhaps impossible? In one way or another this has always been a nagging question for both science and Christianity alike, since both assume a truth and reality that is singular, unitary and monistic. Even Nietzsche?s assault on Christianity was based on essentially psychological arguments and did little to scuttle the larger issue of homogeneous truth. The idea that ?God is dead!? is no more helpful than ?God lives!? if we are still obliged to operate with regard to a single reference point that, dead or alive, is completely invisible, and which is represented to us through imagery that is not only woefully inadequate in portraying any kind of meaningful, unitary reality but crumbles into infinite disunity and contradiction if it is so much as breathed on. ?X is truth? risks becoming ?all is false? and therefore paves (a) way for its total collapse of meaning.
?To delude oneself, up to the point where it is too late to turn back ? that one must do at all costs.? Joseph and His Brothers, Thomas Mann (10)
At any rate, I myself have not had any desire for any cosmic absorption into the JW nothingness. Having said that, I have remained faithful to the rules and regulations, and in some degree to the ethos, of the JW organisation. They have after all never done anything to harm me personally and out of a dewy-eyed respect I ensure that my own biases would impact minimally on my quest for true eider down happiness and soul resolution. At the same time, I have indeed inevitably wished to seek out a form of the ideal of perfection implicit in digitalised art without allowing it to deter me from steering my project closer to the ?kingdom of God?.
After I had exhausted the imagery of available Watchtower and Awake magazines themselves I turned to the Internet in search of more JW imagery. This process led subsequently to a hunt for any other images similar in theme and tone. During my Internet excavations, I adjusted the ?mature content? filter to ensure that my tender, vulnerable and gullible sensibility was not subjected to anything rude or unwarrantably prurient. I then spent hours typing in keywords such as ?sane?, ?happy?, ?paradise?, ?wholesome?, ?agreeable?, and so on and so forth. I then assessed the images the search engine associates with these words. Sometimes it was quite possible to imagine the lady from the AOL advertisement standing behind me in her techni-coloured Internet frock, smiling reassuringly and offering me parental guidance throughout the mind-crumbling experience.
As my collection of images grew I was able to begin copying, cutting and pasting the imagery, either as a whole or in modules, until the inner resonances of the imagery began to interrupt and disturb the utopian dream of those Witness compositions. To calculate my progress and to protect myself from forever floating amidst the banality, melancholy and embarrassingly bourgeois colours that paradise strains to confess, I set up a counter to determine how many manipulations the original source material had been exposed to since my project began. When the counter reached the magical number of 144,000, my project and (to a lesser extent) my practise would never be revisited again. For this number represents the predicted number of Jehovah Witnesses who will enter the Kingdom of God.
While navigating a path between technology and religion through the broken mosaic of brainwashed sanctimony I discovered that the most revealing disruptions came from collisions of imagery that broke up the archetypal with its endless stream of binary oppositions. Jeff Koons once said, ?God is in the detail? (11) and to an extent my project may help suggest how that is the only place ?he? is to be found, always in the singular and unique. Perhaps it is the imagery and ideology that attempt to bind, brand and mass-market the sublime that are inherently ?diabolical?.
It can hardly be an accident that the Jehovah?s Witnesses have seen their greatest successes in the terribly impoverished regions of Asia, Africa and South America. In these third world zones of deprivation, American power, affluence and cosy, prodigal way of life are given a hallowed, sanctified status. The ?American Way? is not only decreed to be ?God-ordained? by Americans themselves, but is virtually accepted as such by the disenfranchised billions of the developing world who sorely crave its comforts, luxuries and advantages.
JW Eden imagery has very little in common with either Western traditions of religious iconography or Eastern conceptions of the divine and sublime. Rather, it portrays, quite blatantly, the American dream so desperately desired by so many. Thus although the Jehovah?s Witnesses may or may not be selling a coherent, functional Christian ideology or practice, they are indisputably selling America Inc., of which they are, in spirit, and in their use of mythology and technology, a wholly ?owned? subsidiary.
This ?selling? follows the model of all export capitalism and depends upon the same technological machinery and marketing mechanisms. People?s deepest fears, anxieties and desires are preyed upon via branding and logo imaging. And in order to ?sell? this imaging is obliged to efface, to ?keep out of sight? the very realities of which its subjects most fundamentally consist. Tobacco, the vilest and most destructive poison on the planet, is serenely enjoyed by robust techni-colour cowboys in the peak of health astride their mythical steeds, beheld against wide open, airy spaces which contrast dramatically, if not violently, from the wheezing, gaunt faced, nightmarish claustrophobic truth of lung disease. The elixirs of the beauty product industry are urged in savage soft focus on so-called ?imperfect women? by flawless, curvaceous, caramel coloured creatures who apparently live in a minimalist, lilac and cream heaven and do not appear to need these products in the first place.
And the Watchtower Garden of Eden - full of happy, healthy middle class Americans dressed and posed in the innocent style of 1950?s Coca-Cola posters - is retailed as an icon of divine right and truth to the very third world billions whose economic rape, oppression and servitude actually paid and continues to pay the real price of the airbrushed dream of God?s own country.
. The Jehovah?s Witnesses themselves have merely adopted and degraded the biblical archetype of Eden into an advertising style. Their image of the sublime is stunted, narrow, lopsided and savagely, cruelly exclusive. This tarnished icon is aggressively hawked in and for the market place by a sophisticated, capitalist system of machinery. Ironically, if I am not mistaken, this ultimately serves to make their packaging, selling and distribution of ?God? the worst and most persistent of biblical ?sins?: idolatry.
(1) Barbara Grizzuti Harrison. ? ?Visions of Glory: A History and a Memory of Jehovah's Witnesses,? published by New York: Simon and Schuster, 1978, P.50
(2) The Watchtower, February 1, 1952, pp. 79-80.
(3) http://www.jwic.com/stat.htm -Statistics of Jehovah's Witnesses in the World 1988 through 2002
(4) Margaret Atwood - ?Cat?s eye.? Published by Anchor, 1989
(5 ) Williamson, Judith. Originally published in Screen 34(2): 53-65 Williamson, Judith (1978): Decoding Advertisements: Ideology and Meaning in Advertising. London: Marion Boyars
(6) Freud Roland Barthes ? ?Mythologies? published by Paladin, 1973.
(7) Ambrose Bierce , The Devil's Dictionary, published by Dover Thrift Editions
(8) Jack Zipes - ?Fairytales and the art of subversion? published by Routledge, 1991.
(9) Roland Barthes ? ?Mythologies?, published by Paladin, 1973.
(10) Thomas Mann - ?Joseph and His Brothers.? Translated by H.T. Lowe-Porter, published by Minerva, 1997.
(11) BBC Video documentary on Jeff Koons, college library
Andrea Dworkin ? ?Woman Hunting: A radical look at sexuality,? published by New York: Feminist Press, 1973
Melville Chaning-Pearce, Søren Kierkegaard: A Study (London:
James Clarke and Co., LTD, 1945)
Søren Kierkegaard, Repetition , trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong
(Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press,1983)
Julia Kristeva ? ?Powers of horrors?, published by Columbia University Press, 1982
Claude Levi-strauss ? ?Introduction to a Science of mythology?, published by Cape, 1973
Marina Wagner ? ?Alone of all her sex: the myth and cult of the Virgin Mary?, published by Vintage U.K, 2000
Sigmund Freud 1953, The Uncanny, The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, ed. & trs. James Strachey, vol. XVII, London: Hogarth.
E. Jentsch, Zur Psychologie des Unheimlichen(1906),
Thanks goes to the unknown person in MSM chatroom whom suggested that in order to write about the Gods, you first have to adopt the arrogance of them. Thanks to Kirk, Peter, www.Google.com and all the unnamed and uncredited artists and illustrators of Watchtower and Awake without whom I would not have a (mythic) canvas to work from. An immeasurable amount of gratitude goes out to Jesus for wanting me for a sunbeam!
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