Word and Image as the Nexus of Subversion
Gen. James Green
T HIS TITLE STRUCK me in a appealing way when I saw it in a magazine. The author of the article that followed said in essence: “I work with pictures and words because they have the ability to determine who we are and who we aren’t.” This may be true for the author, but for me, who has used words/pictures for a long time, they convey thoughts I want to get across. The use of words—especially taken from Scripture, can objectify, alienate, oppress, make mad, and make glad. The same holds true with pictures/images etc.
Likewise, those in power use these as well—like the well-known picture of Uncle Sam pointing his finger at us with the words: “I Want You For the U.S. army” in bold letters and “Nearest Recruiting Station” in lesser letters. The U.S. Armed Services have printed many posters when the U.S. needed recruits for their “war” efforts. I have a whole book with 15 ½ x 11 posters…all in color. James M. Flagg was one of America’s great artists. His life and work form a composite portrait of America. He is mostly known for his “I Want You” poster: it was the most famous poster of both world wars. Formerly a benign old man in stars and stripes, Uncle Sam was transformed by Flagg into a compelling leader who meant business. His men in uniform, and women likewise, were seductive, courageous, proud, and hopeful—off to war for America.
I love graphics/pictures (I used to paint/draw many of the pictures I used in the early days of ACMTC). Although things have gone into the world of technologies, stealthily working against godliness that once evoked the “spirit” into men/women to “fight the good fight of faith,” these techs have become harmful, not helpful. Well, I aim to counter this by providing a counterpoint to the sheer excess of pro-evils with which the every day media swamps us daily: never-ending horrors, filth, misinformation etc. One tech critic complains: “By progressive habituation to insensitivity and indifference in the face of the craziest scenes, endlessly repeated by the various ‘markets of the spectacle’ in the name of an alleged freedom of expression that has transformed itself into a liberation of expressionism—if not indeed an academicism of horror—we are succumbing to the RAVAGES OF A PROGRAMMING OF EXTRAVAGANCE at any cost, which ends not any longer in meaninglessness, but in the heroicization of terror and terrorism…we look on, dumbfounded, in these early years of the twenty-first century, as efforts are made to promote artistic torture, aesthetic self-mutilation and suicide as an art-form” (Paul Virilio).
Currently, ISIS uses the internet to post their “heroicization of terror and terrorism” in order to instill FEAR of them. On the other hand, these pictures of beheaded people etc. can and does invoke anger—a righteous kind of anger; and it should. Not only this, but it shows the world what real Islam is (—what their hateful book, the Qur’an, really teaches. This should cause us to shun such a BLOODY religion, not join it!).
If one invents the train, then one also invents the train wreck. Take, for instance, how pictures and words can dispel racism; but they can also instill hatred for other colors/races (these can also cause sex attacks). Carrie Mae Weems, an artist, uses words/images to serve as the nexus of subversion, a semiotic method that strategically disrupts the binary logic of racism/sexism embedded in an economy of signs. I have before me a picture of a black women looking into a mirror with the caption beneath the photo reading:
“LOOKING INTO THE MIRROR, THE BLACK WOMAN ASKED, ‘MIRROR, MIRROR ON THE WALL, WHO’S THE FINEST OF THEM ALL?’ THE MIRROR SAYS, ‘SNOW WHITE, YOU BLACK BITCH, AND DON’T YOU FORGET IT!!!’”
No doubt the message to get across to the public is “white is beautiful” (as opposed to “black”). One might ask: “If the mirror is only meant to reflect white beauty, how is the beauty of black womanhood made possible?”
The nexus of the photograph that is truly subversive is that the black woman turns away from the reflection, suggesting that beauty be found in terms unfamiliar with the order of things. Her averted glance rejects the binary logic of the west that defines blackness as evil, ugly, and tainted, and whiteness as good, beautiful and pure.
The answer to this is: “grace, not race.” Acts 17:26 tells us that God: “…hath made of one blood all nations of men…” Even though humans are of various colors, they are nevertheless “humans” created by God. So, if someone has a problem with race/color, they need to take it up with God. The unity of human nature was a fundamental doctrine of the stoics during Paul’s day. In many manuscripts, the word “blood” is omitted, thus reading: “He hath made of one (meaning Adam) all nations of men.” “Blood” (Greek αἵμα) is often used by the best writers for “race,” “stock,” “kindred”…and Jesus, by and through His blood atonement (Col. 1:20), has opened the door for eternal salvation (Jn. 3:16).
This “mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but NOW (right now, TODAY!!) is made manifest to His saints (those who have confessed, repented of, turned from their sins, being born again (Jn. 3:3, 5, 7)” (Col. 1:26). So, dear ones, the door is open to ALL, not just Jews, but ALL races.
The Cross Image
THE “CROSS OF CHRIST” conveys, not only shame and pain, but also freedom from one’s sins—if we accept Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior. No words are needed; if we must use a caption, it will read: “It Is Finished” (Jn. 19:30). Jesus’ sufferings in the agonies of providing redemption for fallen (lost) humanity were over and His work of redemption stood completed. He had borne the punishment for our sins and opened the way of salvation for ALL (see Matt. 27:50, Lk. 23:46).
There is no doubt that the picture of Jesus on the Cross (and also being glorified) has become the symbol of redemption for ALL. Centuries have come and gone…Jesus’ picture is still the number one picture being produced.
The Cross, sadly, has also been terribly abused (liberation theology is a good case-in-point whereby Jesus approves of killings/murders and cruelty of every kind). As long as people are in position where they are struggling against the abuses of power, words and images as forms of meditation will be an embattled terrain. This certainly applies to issues of gender, class, and race.
Wars, oppression, and terrorism still exists; words and images still remain. The old Uncle Sam’s picture pointing his finger at us conveys urgency: “America needs you NOW!”; opposed to that, Jesus hanging on the Cross conveys the truth that He had overcome his enemies by remaining true and loyal to His Father…we can do the same. Jesus, now at the right hand of God in Heaven is “Looking for a few good Soldiers”…soldiers who will “endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (2 Tim. 2:3). We’re told to “Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life…” (1 Tim. 6:12). In 1 Tim. 1:18, we read: “…war a good warfare,” and verse 19 states, “Holding faith and a good conscience…” Paul, who patterned his life after Jesus’ made this statement: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith,” (2 Tim. 4:7). (I have teachings on all the above texts in print and CD/DVD available free).
LET US CONTINUE TO PRESENT THE GOSPEL IN BOTH WORD AND IMAGE. Amen.