Monday, July 16, 2007

Samson or Spider-Man?

This morning I was reading America's newspaper of choice and it informed me that Wal-Mart will soon be selling religious action figures. For a mere $7 your child (or yourself for that matter) can soon be reenacting Daniel not getting eaten in the lion's den. Or for $20 you can purchase a 14 inch Goliath or Samson action figure in case your child wants to exercise his or her latent He-Man or Power Rangers muscles.

I find myself bothered by this on many levels. As a whole there is a lot of American Christianity that is fairly shallow to begin with and this just drains a few more inches out of the pool. This is troubling enough. But when David Socha, CEO of One2believe, stated that the purpose of these biblical action figures is to provide a faith-based alternative to the likes of Spider-Man, they crossed the line.

The article states that they want to offer options for parents who would rather have their children play with a Samson figure than Spider-Man because "parents want to give kids wholesomeness." I will pause for a moment and let that sink in. If nothing in that statement bothers you, then perhaps you are not familiar with the Samson story.

Let's compare Samson and Spider-Man for a moment. Spider-Man is driven by a profound sense of moral responsibility; Samson is driven primarily by the need for revenge against anyone who has slighted him. Spider-Man's motto is that "with great power comes great responsibility"; Samson's motto essentially is "I did to them what they did to me" (Judges 15:11). Samson violently slaughtered over a thousand people, often with no more justification than that they ticked him off. Even at the end, Samson's prayer to God to help him kill all the Philistines is mainly a prayer for God to grant him revenge for his eyes. Spider-Man by contrast has always refused to kill anyone -- no matter what the cost to himself. Samson was a notorious womanizer known to dally with prostitutes, while Spider-Man, throughout his comic-book marriage to Mary Jane, has remained faithful to her through thick and thin. Is the model that Samson provides really the one we want our children to emulate?

So what is really going on here when people argue that a Samson action figure is preferable to a Spider-Man one? I suggest that it derives from a naive assumption that anything biblical, merely because it is biblical, is preferable to anything that is not. The fact is that Samson is certainly a more biblical figure than Spider-Man, but Spider-Man is easily the more moral figure. Spider-Man embodies certain biblical values; Samson is just mentioned in the Bible.

The other problem I have is that I see all this as a distortion of the Samson story. By turning Samson into an action figure on par with GI Joe and Superman (and by the way Superman was initially modeled on Samson and Hercules), it puts the focus on Samson. It attempts to turn Samson into a hero worthy of emulation. The point of the biblical story of Judges, however, is not to hold Samson up as a model of virtue and faithfulness. The point is that God faithfully works his will through the people he has chosen, regardless of their character or moral failings. God is the hero of this story, not Samson. Of course, this idea might not be popular with the religious action figure crowd as an action figure of God might seem a bit inappropriate -- although it wouldn't surprise me. They already have talking Jesus dolls available for $15.

Of course, seeing as today is my son's birthday and I bought him a Ghost Rider action figure, maybe I am not the best person to judge.


At 6:05 PM, Blogger Beth said...

Fantastic and very telling reflection.

At 6:59 PM, Blogger Bob K said...

Thanks a lot - a great post!

At 6:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow- excellent. As a life long Brit having just spent 10 days in the USA I understood your entry.

Rant on Brother!

(Ghost rider has some interseting motifs as well)

At 1:24 PM, Anonymous Josh said...

Great post Greg.

I'm working on the Judah action figure right now. For just $4.99 you can add Tamar (with veil) to the collection.

At 4:33 PM, Blogger Kingsman said...

After reading your Samson v. Spiderman post as an introduction to your blog, I knew I'd found an insightful commentator on the confluence of religion and media, culture and followers of Jesus. I spent enough time on your site that I eventually found the Gilmore Girls book you contributed to, and based on your thoughtful interactions with culture and my wife's love of the show, went out and bought it. Thanks, and I'll be a frequent visitor (it'd be great if you added RSS).

At 7:32 PM, Blogger Greg said...

Thanks for the comments and I hope your wife enjoys the Gilmore Girls book. I would add RSS, but I don't know how. My technological savvy is barely enough for me to be able to add my own posts.

At 8:17 AM, Blogger Thom said...

Going the other direction, Zondervan publishes the Super Heroes Bible. The text is NIV but the drawings portray characters with bulging muscles and a cape.

Will it make a 8 year-old boy more likely to read his Bible? Possibly. But what message will the child receive?

BTW, Josh. I can't see a big market for the Judah action figure. Not enough name recognition. But the David v. Goliath with optional Bathsheba and Uriah figures could be a hit!

At 4:10 PM, Blogger Bruce said...

Hmm, sounds like your major beef is with the total lack of careful reading of Judges (and Stan Lee of course!). Hard to argue with you there on these specifics. Would the marketing of action figures be a problem though with a more legitimate character of faith (Moses, Paul, Rahab)? I guess the question goes to what one thinks of inconography in Christendom. Certainly the Catholic tradition is full of it and has had a productive use of it in story telling. These would not be "graven images of God" so there wouldn't seem to be a threat to trivializing God. But this is really an area we need to think about a lot more. With the proliferation of video in our worship and more tactile learning experiences of spirituality as part of worship, we need to think about some theological principles that can guide us. Reductionism is a concern. Though physical representations are a good starting point for learning (we all begin developmentally on a concrete level of operations), at some point the physical can be a limitation. I'd love to hear more discussion on this.

At 1:39 AM, Blogger Jim said...

My favorites are the Holy Folks dolls.

They're "Always Faithful! Always Smiling!"

I mean, we all know that Moses never endured any hard times. And he definitely never wavered in his faith or questioned God at all.

Above that, if you're a Christian, and every day is not a happy, joyful, faithful day, you must be doing something wrong!

At 1:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Excellent observations! I am recommeding your site to people that are looking for something that shows some comomsense !

At 8:26 AM, Anonymous darren said...

good post, but superman was originally based on moses...

At 1:20 PM, Blogger Greg said...

There are some similarities with Moses in terms of the way the Superman story is told so he certainly influenced the story itself, although according to Shuster and Siegel it was Samson and Hercules that gave them the idea for the character to begin with.


Post a Comment

<< Home