Tuesday, July 29, 2014


Dear Cartoon Network:

Many years ago, I heard that one of the perks of basic cable was this channel that ran many of the classic cartoons I grew up with. Sadly, by the time I joined the 21st century and got hooked up, many of the "oldies but goodies" had been replaced with more modern stories and original programming. My visits to Cartoon Network became very scarce. Then came the programming block known as "Adult Swim." My periodic visits to CN slowed to none.

So imagine my surprise--well, not "surprise", more like "oh really?"--when I heard about Black Jesus, described as a hard drinking, weed smoking, obscenity spewing take on the Savior of the world.  I watched the trailer for the series, complete with bleeped parts, and wondered, "did anybody at Cartoon Network think this through?"

I mean, seriously!  After my initial revulsion, and after reading some articles and comments about the show, I understand the premise.  The title character is not intended to be the real Jesus (as if anybody would mistake him for the genuine article). Instead, he is a crazy homeless man who thinks he's Jesus.  I get it.  The plot line of someone thinking he is the Son of God has been done in books, plays, tvs, and movies.  When done well, the device can call attention to the role of religion and identity, the plights of the mentally ill, and society's reactions to those who are different.  But based on the trailer, I feel as though Black Jesus totally misses the opportunity to explore these weightier issues.

I haven't seen every representation of "disturbed man thinks he's Jesus," but in the ones I have seen and remember, the deluded individuals tend to almost out-Jesus Jesus. In other words, they take the meek, quiet, loving stereotype of Jesus to the nth degree, making him almost super meek, super quiet, super loving and gentle, with pious platitudes and all.   Black Jesus, on the other hand, is crude and foul mouthed and violent.  Aside from self-identifying himself as "Jesus," there is nothing in his actions, attitudes, or speech that would identify him as Jesus. Little kids certainly are not going to want to be around him. He is a stereotype, not of the Lord, but of a hardened gang banger or street thug. The opportunity to comment on bigger issues is lost.

Is Black Jesus satire or parody?  I don't know. I have seen some excellent and amusing sketches about Christians, Christianity, and even Jesus. I've also seen a lot that fall flat with Christian audiences. Why? Because the writers of these comedies go for the quick laugh by trying to make fun of a caricature.  They rely on exaggerated claims, half-truths, and prejudices and play these things for chuckles.  It works for audiences who don't really know the subject of the parody, but comes across as cheap and even mean to those who do. You may have the noble goal of lampooning society's attitude toward those who are different.  You may even believe that your interpretation of Jesus sticks it to church hypocrites. But unless you make it very clear that the "Jesus" of this show is a crazy, homeless man, it's just going to fall flat as "cutting edge" social satire or parody or even plain comedy.

Why use Jesus? My sneaking suspicion is that the writers and producers got together and somebody meekly raised his hand and asked, "Excuse me, but won't this offend Christians?" To which the head echelon chuckled and said, "Golly, gosh, yeah it will." I've already seen comments from supporters of the series lauding the show and chiding the faithful for their objections.  Cartoon Network appears to say, "Yeah, we're taking potshots at your Lord and Savior.  You got a problem with that?"

So, Cartoon Network, here's the thing: based on the trailer and the initial comments, I think Black Jesus fails as social commentary, fails as satire, and only succeeds in being deliberately offensive to the Christian community. I don't know your demographics to know how many evangelical, Bible-believing Christians tune in to Adult Swim. I'm sure the born again market won't be watching Black Jesus. I will not be watching and I will not recommend it to my friends. There will be an audience, but I doubt you will win any converts.