Our guest writer Laura Leonard is back this week with a look at how stories from the Bible are being portrayed on Saturday Night Live and elsewhere…
Lena Dunham, creator and star of GIRLS, is pretty much synonymous with her on-screen nudity, so when she hosted SNL for the first time this weekend, the show parodied her HBO series about 20-somethings in Brooklyn by reimagining it as the most famous nude scene of all-time: the Garden of Eden.
Playing off the recent rise of epic biblical films (see: Son of God, Noah), the faux-trailer imagines Dunham as “the mother of life itself,” “a struggling 20-something in the Garden of Eden.” Her trademark millennial angst is a perfect foil for the archetypal role: “I’m like 3 days old…I don’t even have health insurance,” her Eve complains to God when he threatens to cut her off from direct access to him and the Garden. As the faux-New York Times critic warns, “Even for Adam and Eve, there’s a lot of nudity.”
It was the second week in a row for a biblical SNL sketch; the March 2nd episode featured “Bird Bible,” a fake commercial for an illustrated Bible that replaces people with the much trendier birds. “Your family will never be bored by the Bible again,” boasts one character. It plays not just on our fascination with birds (as the “Put a Bird on It!” sketch from Portlandia popularized) but also our many attempts to “freshen up” the Bible with surprising approaches–The Brick Bible (told in Legos) is a real thing that exists outside the SNL world.
SNL is certainly picking up on a cultural trend: the Bible is, like, so hot right now. The success of Son of God, which made $45 million in its first 10 days of release, and Noah, which opens later this month, will determine whether this new wave of biblically-themed entertainment continues. But does it follow that this is a good thing? Often these types of pop culture takes on well-known biblical stories are thinly-veiled attempts to draw attention to the perceived sexism, violence, or unbelievability of the biblical stories themselves. That seems to be the case in both instances here. When the Adam character in the Lena Dunham sketch reminds her she came from his rib, she replies, “That is like, so sexist, I can’t believe you’d even bring that up right now. Like, take a gender and women’s studies class.”
“See that talon coming down from the sky? That’s God. Look how freaked out they are!” the mother in the “Bird Bible” sketch tells her children, again describing the Garden of Eden story. And the grotesque image of a dead bird’s bloody head illustrates David & Goliath as she cheerfully explains, “He cut off that big bird’s head and left it to rot in the sand.” “Neat!” says her conservatively-dressed child.
Indeed, The Brick Bible was created by an atheist, and it includes many of the most violent and sexual passage in the Bible; the section on Revelation includes headings like “Children to Be Killed as Warning,” “God Tortures, Kills Billions,” “God Tortures a Whore,” “Remaining Humans Doomed to Torture,” “Son of Man’s Bloody Gorefest.”
Not that we should never be able to laugh at anything biblical, particularly our own attempts at interpreting and presenting it. But even when they are funny, sketches like these are a reminder that while the Bible may still have a stronghold in our cultural imagination, its values are increasingly dissonant with the major voices in that culture and it too often represents a foil to our more “enlightened” times.