Apr 112009

It’s Easter weekend, and while over in the Philipines, they’re doing real life Crucifixions, in the US they’re doing their own version of the Passion.

Slate has an article on American stage productions of the Passion play, the last week of Christ’s life.

…the most well-attended are Bible spectaculars that would make Cecil B. DeMille swoon, featuring immense casts and crews who pull off gritty depictions of first-century capital punishment and Vegas-y musical numbers.

Like The Passion of the Christ, these productions (most of which predate Mel Gibson’s film) focus on the severity of Jesus’ suffering in death. The moments of beating and crucifixion are sparse in the Gospel accounts, but modern Passion plays match our culture’s taste for visual realism. The audience viscerally experiences each of the 39 lashes delivered onto Jesus’ body and each of the four stakes driven into his limbs. Christians have long dwelled on the details of the suffering of Christ, but with today’s theater techniques, nothing has to be left to the imagination.

The Passion has been depicted with varying degrees of explicit violence and blood over the centuries. Some people need the beaten, bloody naked body of Christ, others are content with a smiling, bearded man in a white robe.

I’m not given to mysticism, but I do think that there’s something like the collective unconscious. Stories percolate through history, mutating as they go, sometimes becoming unrecognizable compared to their earlier forms. The Passion is deeply, deeply embedded in Western Christian culture, and echoes appear in modern movie blockbusters. The cyclical nature of the Passion (life, betrayal, torment, death and resurrection) is also the structure of the S/M scene (vanilla life, submissive meeting the dominant, play, climax, aftercare, return to vanilla life).

Part 2

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