This post, an introduction to Liberation theology, has been churning in me for weeks, ever since I saw The Incredible Hulk in theatres and knowing how misunderstood liberation theology is on the popular level (and sometimes even on the academic level as well). Admittedly, the Hulk movie was first and foremost a commodity by Hollywood, as Wood correctly surmises. However, I could not, and cannot still, get past the correlation between movies like The Hulk and Hellboy and Liberation theology; the Hulk’s body struck me half way through the film. In fact, because there is such a strong and specific correlation, I began to wonder if movies like The Hulk and Hellboy could do something that science fiction and fantasy has done for years — use a different story to talk about something very real. I’m one of those people who must, and I mean must analyze what they watch, and generally I do it out loud, much to the frustration of those around me. I was able to keep my mouth shut for the movie, thankfully, so instead, it has become a blog post. So, below, I’ll attempt to note some very specific parallels between their different bodies than ours, our experience of the film, and liberation theology.
Quite simply and obviously, the Hulk and Hellboy have very different bodies than us. Now let that sentence sit. Believe it or not, it is pregnant with meaning, just as pregnant with meaning as the sentence, “In this culture, Britney Spears is famous.” To rush past this observation about flesh is to short circuit Hellboy’s and the Hulk’s existence. To rush would do injustice to the trouble and pain it takes for them to live because others find their body revolting or something to be feared.
In its most basic essence, this is generally what liberation theology seeks to deal with: a creation of God that lives a suffering existence because of other creations of God, albeit, perverted creations. Oppression is the word. Oppressed and oppressor are the names. The relationship it seeks to address is oppressive, abusive, perverted. Hellboy, near the end of Hellboy 1, summarizes the conflict between his body and the fear people have of it, saying to the female protagonist that Hellboy has feelings for, “I wish I could change this” while gesturing to his face. And earlier in the movie, in fact in Hellboy’s introduction to the audience, it is mentioned that Hellboy files his horns down to fit in. Hellboy has learned to feel ashamed of his own body. I dare to venture that Hellboy was told this — the vault that encapsulates his room certainly sends a signal. Likewise the Hulk is rejected because of who he is. His body itself is considered dangerous, and therefore potential for the army, but it must be controlled. However, the Hulk is not allowed to control it on his own will, rather it is the army that seeks to control him — not only is the Hulk’s body an enemy when not in shackles, but his very effort to do right is rejected.
This fear, control, and oppression has happened and it still happens in our story. Liberation theology seeks to address this. Liberation theology seeks to help the oppressed, telling them that their humanity, that their body, is valued and loved by the one who created them. The oppressed are not abnormal, nor should they ought to feel ashamed of who they are. While responsibility is necessary for the oppressed, they are oppressed because there is an oppressor who seeks to determine their value and significance in a harmful way — an oppressive way. The oppressed cannot and ought not be blamed for the actions of the oppressor. The oppressed therefore need not stand for the abuse. They can be liberated from their circumstances and it is God who knows their suffering as well, after all, Jesus was crucified. Jesus was tortured. Jesus was lynched.
However, Liberation theology is not one sided. It seeks to attend to both parties because it focuses on a relationship. Like the oppressed, the oppressor must be liberated from their oppressive ways. The oppressors are doing harm to themselves as they do harm to creation. They have been perverted so as to come to a point that oppresses other aspects of God’s creation. The oppressors need help, they need liberation. In The Hulk and Hellboy one can see this as well, although each story treats the antagonists, or antagonist to become a protagonist, differently.
Lastly, Liberation theology does not see a clean cut between oppressor and oppressed. Instead, Liberation theology seeks to address reality, that no victim or victimizer are only all good or all bad. Rather, there is the mix of both in each, but nevertheless, Liberation theology recognizes that while individuals may have a complex mixture of good and bad within, social evils like racism, sexism, etc. are somewhat cut and dry, but which everyone is guilty of, at the very least on the basis that our society is racist, sexist, etc. and we are a part of that society.
Hopefully this served as a helpful, although small, introduction to liberation theology. I think I left room for the reader to watch the movies, if they care to, or continue on in their life reflecting on the implications of liberation theology.
As for those who may want to read deeper, here is a short book list of important books by Liberation theologians:
James Cone, God of the Oppressed (or his shorter and more accessible, but very, very good for grasping Cone quickly, Risks of Faith)
Gustavo Gutierrez, A Theology of Liberation
Leonardo Boff and Clodovis Boff, Introducing Liberation Theology
Rosemary Radford Ruether, Sexism and God-Talk
Delores Williams, Sisters in the Wilderness
Ada, Maria Isasi-Diaz, En La Lucha
Robert E. Goss, Queering Christ
Larry L. Rasmussen, Earth Community, Earth Ethics
In other nearly unrelated news, I can’t wait for Hellboy 2. I absolutely love, love, love Guillermo Del Toro’s use of colors and wide shots.
Oh, and Wood has another great post on what I consider to be a near worthless movie series, Star Wars. Yeah, you read it right.