The student is required to pick an artefact from popular culture and exploring it in relation to current popular culture theory. The topic is to be approved by the lecturer based on the initial submission of their bibliography. The student will be encouraged to investigate popular culture from a personal perspective.
The Symbolism of Inverted Crucifix in Popular Culture
Cultural artifact can be understood as any human made object that can provide information about the culture of the creator or its users. These artifacts can also reflect upon the attitudes or beliefs of people can be classified as primary artifacts (which are the objects), secondary artifacts (which are related to the primary artifacts) and tertiary artifacts (that represents the secondary artifact) (Thompson-Bradshaw and Cullen 2018). Thus cultural artifacts can be the representatives of cultures (popular cultures and subcultures) and reflect upon the choices or preferences of the people of that culture (Sterne 2006). Cultural artifacts have been used by the human civilization since ancient times. Archeological evidences of artifacts such as The Thor’s Hammer (from 900 AD Denmark), The Quipu of Caral (from 3,000 BC Peru), Terracotta Baby Bottle (from 400 BC Italy), The Nebra Sky Disk (from 1600 BC Germany), Gold-encrusted dagger of Stonehenge’s Bush Barrow (from 2000 BC England), The Trundholm Sun Chariot (from 1700 to 500 BC Denmark), The James Ossuary (from 1st century AD, Israel), The Divje Babe flute (from 80,000 to 43,000 BC Slovenia), The Ubaid Lizard (from 5,000 BC Iraq), The Venus Figurines (from 30,000 to 10,000 BC Europe) and Shroud Of Turin (from 1260 to 1390 AD England) provides an insight upon the beliefs and cultural practices of the time and place (ancient-origins.net 2018).
Popular culture artifacts refer to those artifacts that have a symbolic or cultural meaning to the popular culture and represent the cultural beliefs of people. This can involve several types of objects that has been a part of the popular culture and propagated through popular literature, films or music (Gagliardi 2017). This can also include objects that represents dominant or sub cultures (Worthington and van Oers 2017). The aim of this study is to analyze one artifact from the popular culture that has been represented in popular literature, films and music thereby representing a dominant or sub culture and how it can be related to popular culture theories.
While crucifix has been symbolically related to Christianity, and is considered as a holy symbol for Christians, representing the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the inverted crucifix has been portrayed in the popular culture as the perversion of the Christian symbol and has become associated with the sub culture of Satanism and Anti-Christ worshipping (Phillips 2017). The upside down cross has been used in various films and music over past several decades and has also shown up on some literary works (Milbank 2018). However, the earliest mention of the inverted cross was made in the context of the crucifixion of St Peter and was also known as the Cross of St Peter. The inverted crucifix or St Peters Cross can be traced back to texts from 200 AD which mentions that St Peter requested to be crucified upside down as he did not feel worthy enough to be crucified upright in the same manner as Jesus Christ and that he considered himself to be unworthy to be compared to Christ. Such texts never associated any anti Christian or anti catholic value to the artifact, and were simply considered to be a symbol of the ‘martyrdom’ of St Peter (Post 2018). However, with popular culture, the inverted crucifix soon got associated with a new symbolic identity of Satanism or anti Christian beliefs (Weinstein 2016).
Explaining the Transition in Symbolic Value through Popular Culture Theories
This shift of the cultural symbolism of the artifact from a Christian to a Satanic symbol has been greatly influenced by the popular media such as films and music and concepts such as devil worshipping, occultism, Satanism and demonic possession quickly became synonymous to the inverted cross (Wells 2018). Moreover, the artifact also got associated with music subcultures of Heavy Metal and later Black Metal across the world (Bardine 2016). This transition of the values associated with the artifact as well as the development of the new cultural significance of the artifact can be explained through different popular culture theories which are discussed below.
Alan Singewood, in ‘The Myth of Mass Culture’ suggested that a weakening of the traditional centers of authority like religion or family have supported the development of the Mass Culture (Brantlinger 2016). This have been supported by the Spanish Philosopher José Ortega y Gasset and American poet T.S Elliot who suggested that the society dominated by the masses that does not possess cultural or moral hierarchy or authority can develop art in a purely autonomous way creating a commercialized mass culture that is distinct and at the same time disenfranchised from the contemporary art forms (Andersen 2017). This leads to the creation of a sub culture that is distinct in the society and in its symbolic value. This is known as the theory of mass society (Parsons and Sciortino 2015). In the context of the usage of inverted crucifix in popular culture shows a deviation in the symbolic value of the artifact from an object of Christian sentiments to that of a Satanic and evil one. Anton LaVey, the author of the ‘Satanic Bible’ and the former leader of the Satanic Church have used the symbol of the inverted cross as the depiction of Anti-Christian beliefs (Holt 2018). Even though the sentiments were also used by the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche in his book ‘The Antichrist’, the inverted cross artifact was never used by him (Thornton 2016). However, the symbol was popularized by Lavey in the 1960’s. The association of inverted cross to Satanism and Demonic possessions was further associated in films such as ‘The Exorcist (1973) or Evil Dead (1981). In such films the inverted cross was the sign of the devil and no longer showed any association with the original symbolic relation to St Peter (Carrol 2015). This was significantly supported by the growth of popular media culture as well as the autonomy of the film makers that allowed them to disenfranchise from the traditional ideologies and create a new significance for the same artifact thereby creating a commercialized mass culture that is still followed today (Beard 2015).
According to the Theory of Culture Industry, commercial culture is promoted by the logic consumer capitalism where the demands of the consumer form the basis of the production of art. Thus, the commercial culture grows to reflect upon the consumer demands and expectations (Goh 2017). This results in a form of cultural industrialization where commercial culture is mass produced and conforms to a pre existing ideas and concepts that have become acceptable in the mainstream culture (Russell 2017). Films such as The Exorcist and The Evil Dead were able to successfully bring the symbolism of the inverted cross to the mainstream culture, signifying horror and demonic imageries (Parker 2014). The massive success of these films led to many other horror movies to adopt the same symbolism of the inverted cross. It shows how through the repeated usage of this artifact in the mainstream media have allowed it to become a part of the commercial art and culture and therefore a part of the Culture Industry (Wilson 2015).
Theory of Mass Society
Liberal Pluralism, a theory that supports limited political control, backed by capitalistic and democratic values and based on the values of diversity in all forms have also helped in the growth of the sub cultures that use the symbolism of the inverted crucifix to express their own beliefs, ideologies and views of the world (Kellner 2018). Similarly, Cultural Liberalism theory which suggests a liberal view of the society that values individual freedom of expression and a move against the uniformity and normative socio cultural values have also supported the development of the sub culture by breaking away from the normative values of the dominant culture and thus caused the new values to disenfranchise from the existent social norms (Bornschier 2015). This can be found in the examples of bands using the inverted cross sign in their album art, such as Black Sabbath in the early 1980’s. Even though, these bands faced some harsh criticism from people for using such symbolism, its usage still continued in the Heavy Metal subculture and later used even more intensely in the sub genre of Black Metal (Cope 2016; Brown et al. 2016). Bands such as Hellhammer, Bathory, Mercyful fate and Venom, who were influenced by the likes of Black Sabbath have used the inverted cross and satanic imageries in the music, which represents a move towards the artistic freedom and individual freedom of expression thus exhibiting the values of cultural liberalism well as liberal pluralism in their music (Introvigne 2018). It showed how the musicians moved against the contemporary social cultural norms that considered the sign of the inverted cross a taboo and making them more popular among the masses.
The usage of the inverted cross can also be considered as a form of symbolic interaction where a shared meaning or value gets associated with certain objects or symbols and how social interactions leads to the creation of these symbolisms. Due to the usage of the inverted cross in the popular media such as films and heavy metal music the popular culture have come to accept the sign of the inverted cross as a representative of satanic ideologies and demonic possessions which in turn caused its persistence in the mainstream media (Crossman 2016). Films such as ‘The Omen’, ‘Amityville Horror’ Rosemary’s Baby’, ‘Exorcism of Emily Rose’, ‘Ghost’ and ‘The Conjuring’ has shown the sign of the inverted crucifix. In these films, an event of demonic possession was made evident with the inverted cross as well as other symbolisms such as levitation, talking backwards or talking in ancient languages. This led to the development of the popular belief that the inverted cross was the sign of the devil and the beckon of the Anti Christ who is the reverse image of Jesus Christ (Clover 2015). Thus the symbolic interaction of the artifact with the popular culture resulted in the development of the sub culture of Satanism and Horror Films which became more popular with time. In fact the influence of the early depictions of the inverted cross in horror films have caused the artifact to become commercialized and become a part of the culture industry, causing the continuance of the symbolic value of the inverted cross as the sign of Satan (Beard 2015).
Theory of Culture Industry
In the Leavism point of view, industrialization leads to the standardization of cultural artifacts which develops within the mainstream society which in turn leads to the urbanization of the idea and therefore making the artifact a part of the urban culture (Storey 2018). This aspect can be clearly exhibited in the case of the usage of inverted crucifix in popular culture. Similarly, the Althuserianist perspective suggests that cultural ideologies associated with an artifact can change through a change in the dimensions of imagery of the artifact. This supports the shift of the symbolic meaning of the inverted cross from its original one (related to the martyrdom of St Peter) to the new one (Satanism and demonic possession) thus showing that cultural ideologies such as the values, traditions, norms, ethics, beliefs and shared meanings themselves can change with a shift in the usage of the imagery (Popovitch 2014). Moreover, increase in the usage of this symbolism in the mainstream media such as films and music also demonstrates the development of the subculture into a dominant culture.
The change in the symbolic value of the artifact can also be associated to the ‘theory of progressive evolution’ of culture where the mass culture is created from the liberal-pluralistic approach towards the creation of art which gives the artists more artistic freedom to express themselves without being pressurized from the normative values of the dominant society to create something new (Stebbins 2014). Usage of the symbolism of the inverted cross ultimately have helped it to become a part of the mass culture where the artifact developed its association with its new meaning, discarding the old one.
From the discussion above it can be concluded that even though the symbol of the inverted cross was initially a representative of the Christian belief of the ‘martyrdom’ of St Peter, its usage in the popular media and culture (such as films and music) as the sign of the devil, or antichrist or of a demonic possession have created a subculture of its own in the media. The change of the symbolic value of this artifact can be explained through many theories and concepts which shows the development of commercial mass culture and cultural industrialization. Artists with pluralist-liberalist values have also contributed to the phenomenon by further propagating the new symbolic significance of the artifact in popular music subcultures such as heavy metal and black metal that helped in its progressive evolution.
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