Fuel for Fantasy
THE SOURCE: "Angels and Engines: The Culture of Apocalypse" by Marina Warner, in Raritan, Fall 2005.
IN THE AGE OF MASS MEDIA, THE Book of Revelation is reaching far beyond the church pulpit. Revelations lush numerology and colorful characters--consider the Whore of Babylon astride a scarlet beast, or the famed Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse--prompted George Bernard Shaw to dismiss the book as "a curious record of the visions of a drug addict which was absurdly admitted to the canon under the title of Revelation." But Revelations ridiculers can no longer "mock it out of meaning," writes Marina Warner, professor of literature, film, and theater studies at the University of Essex, England, for the visions and violence that drive this final book of the Bible are tailored for a culture in which the line between reality and fantasy has blurred.
Revelations symbolic violence--its rivers of blood, mass slaughter, and bodies eaten and torn limb from limb--invites us to dissociate atrocity and its flesh-and-blood consequences. In part, this is because that violence is done to evil-doers, while a blessed few, with whom readers identify, are saved. But it required modern technologies for these themes to find their fullest expression.
The advent of photography and "moving images" has distanced us from the true effects of violence even as it has disseminated apocalyptic culture. "The distinction that used to seem so clear between fantasy and memory, actual and imaginary events, has been fading;' Warner writes. "Technological media act as the chief catalysts of a new phantasmagoria masquerading as empiricism. They wrap us in illusions of monsters and angels, turning myth into history and vice versa"
Consider the big-screen incarnation of J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings fantasy novel series, which depicts apocalyptic battle between the forces of good and evil. …