Sunday, June 27, 2010

Basket-weaving the biblical narrative

From Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
My introduction to Douglas Rushkoff was the excellent Frontline special, Digital Nation, which Rushkoff helped produce and appears in. This post isn't about that Frontline special, but I'm serious when I say everyone who uses digital, networked technology (and if you're reading this, you do) should watch it. I also saw him in a scary/awesome documentary called We Live in Public, which is about an eccentric visionary in the early days of the internet (whom Rushkoff knew personally). While poking around on Rushkoff's website, I found that a few years ago he wrote a four-volume comic book series called Testament.

Comics were a pretty significant part of my childhood. So were computers. I grew up going to church, too, so the Bible was also in my awareness (although not as prevalent in my consciousness as the other two). I stopped reading comics regularly back in high school but I never lost my love for them. So when I discovered Testament, it immediately caught my attention: Old Testament biblical narratives (Rushkoff is Jewish) are told and then re-told as near-future cyberpunk narratives. A cosmic spiritual battle that happens outside of time (and outside the actual frames of the comic's pages...very clever) rages, with ripples being felt in both time-periods. Spiritual warfare is a topic I've done some thinking and writing about this year, so it thrilled me to see it depicted so interestingly here. The cyberpunk narrative folds in the rampant expanse and corporatization of technology in society, which is a special interest of mine. To top it all off, at the end of each volume, there is about 8 to 10 pages of biblical commentary from Rushkoff as it relates to the comic! Basically, this comic felt like it was written especially for me. Thanks, Douglas Rushkoff!  So read on after the break for a few comments on this amazing comic...

Initially, I ordered all four volumes hoping that my daughter and I could read them together. But WHOA NELLIE! when I opened up the first issue, I discovered that there is some pretty strong sexuality to the art and storyline. It's mostly appropriate to the story itself, but sometimes feels a bit over the top. The female characters, especially seem to lose their clothes a bit too easily. Granted, this is consistent with comics as I've known them for the past 25 years, a famously nerd-masculine art form with females almost always drawn with disproportionately skinny/voluptuous bodies. I don't think that's necessarily right or good, but at least Rushkoff and the artists he worked with know their audience and art form. There seem to be a few subtle criticisms of this in the story, but they're a bit too scarce and too subtle.

The social criticism that Rushkoff does throughout the series is mostly leveled at the globalization of Western consumer capitalism married to ever-shrinking and -advancing technologies. The series was published between 2006 and 2008, before the current economic crisis really got going strong. So the parts about multi-national governments and currencies seems to be a bit less relevant than it did even two or three years ago. I'm not an economics thinker, but it seems like the current crisis has actually caused nations to be a bit more territorial when it comes to goods and trade.

There's a lot that I have to say about this comic, but I fear I've been too wordy already. Luckily, you can download the entire first issue of Tesetament (PDF) for free. So check it out and see some of the subversive awesomeness that Rushkoff has pulled off in this comic book series...

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