Burlesque Prophets to Media Messiahs: Grotesque Representations of Religion in The Violent Bear it Away and Survivor

Richard Lau


The introduction of the word grotesque into a discussion of religion in American culture immediately brings to mind images of scandal: televangelists and conservative religious leaders caught embezzling money, soliciting male prostitutes, or found in the possession of child pornography. Such a response reflects two basic aspects of American culture. First, it reflects the usage of the grotesque as common critique of popular culture, the grotesque carrying an idiomatic definition of an event or appearance noteworthy only for its bizarre or perverse qualities and only for its effects of scandal. (Goodwin 1) It is this colloquial definition of grotesque with which Flannery OConnor described the problem for a serious writer of the grotesque writing from the context of the mass media pop culture of 1950s America as one of finding something that is not grotesque. (in Goodwin 1) Second, it reflects Christianitys profound significance within even the most secular aspects of American culture. The glee felt by opponents of Christianity in response to those public scandals is equally as indicative of this significance as the anger and betrayal felt by the faithful. These strange juxtapositions scandal and piety, culture and theology have characterized much of 20th century American culture, and are therefore unsurprisingly inscribed in some of the important literary works of this period. ...

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