The Devil in Pop Culture
The devil has been an interesting figure in pop culture over the years. In medieval times the devil is depicted as something grotesque to be feared. In the paintings of that era, he is depicted as a half man- half goat hybrid or a lizard person. He is even painted literally eating sinners alive.
In the renaissance era we see a small shift in the view of Satan. In the year 1667 we got “Paradise Lost” by John Milton. This is an epic poem that tells the story of Satan rebelling against God and tempting Adam and Eve. This poem is told from Satan’s perspective and portrays the devil as a tragic figure and not the monster that the Catholic Church and Christianity has made him out to be. The paintings of Satan slowly became less ugly and more human.
In the romantic and classical eras, we see that this era popularized the idea that you could make a deal with the devil and have anything you wanted. The opera Faust tells the story of an alchemist who sells his soul to the devil. In the opera the devil character, Mephistopheles, wears red tights. This is why we typically associate the devil with the color red. Violinist, Nicolo Paganini, was believed to have sold his soul as well. He was tall and lanky and liked to move around and contort his body when he performed.
In the early 20th century blues tradition, it was said that you could go to a crossroad at midnight and sell your soul to be a virtuoso blues musician. It was even believed by some that if you played blues music at all (virtuoso or not) that you had sold your soul. Later, we have the Satanic Panic of the 70’s and 80’s. It was “discovered” that any, and all, rock and roll artists were Satan worshipers that sold their soul to the devil. If there was any amount of distortion on a guitar or one power chord played, it was the devil. This “conspiracy” was uncovered via playing the records of these artists backwards. If you played the record in reverse, you could hear hidden cult messages. This was “undeniable proof” that these rock and roll bands were trying to indoctrinate innocent children into Satan worship. My own grandma forbade my father to listen to the band KISS because she thought it stood for Kids In the Service of Satan.
In modern media Satan is most often used as a joke. He is seen as more of a cartoony, mustache twirling, villain than an actual threat to your soul. This can be incredibly dangerous because the more you laugh at something, the less you take that thing seriously. On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, there are TV dramas and movies that sometimes pick up the idea of “bad boy Satan” from “Paradise Lost”. When the devil appears in this way, you usually see the classic selling of the soul trope that we talked about earlier. Usually, the human protagonist is often at a bad place in life. They’re broke, angry, lonely, or just beaten down. The devil will reveal himself to the main character and the main character is mortified and refuses to listen to anything the devil says because he’s the devil and he’s evil. Then Satan starts talking. Usually, it’s a long monologue where Satan depicts himself as a symbol of freedom. He was unjustly punished because he dared to question the fascist and authoritarian God. He starts portraying himself as the good guy and not the symbol of evil that humanity has always made him out to be. He’s a victim, just like the main character. He’ll denounce God and say something to the tune of, “God has created humans with these needs and desires and then God says you can’t have it! He only wants to see you suffer. Come to me. I will give you what you want.” Sometimes he’ll show the character what will happen if they give in to him. It looks like everything the character had ever wanted. Ultimately the main character gives in and makes the deal, and everything seems to be going well at first. Then things start not going their way pretty fast. By the end of the movie, the episode, or the story arch, it is a disaster for the protagonist, and they regret making that deal.
I think this is the most accurate portrayal of Satan that we’ve mentioned so far. It shows exactly how he manipulates people into sin. It reflects how he acts in the scriptures. Think about Adam and Eve. Think about when he tempted Jesus. He finds you when you are at your weakest point. Then He manipulates you into thinking that what you’re doing isn’t sinful. Finally, after the sin is committed, it wasn’t exactly what you thought it was going to be and you regret it.
Satan wants you to think that he is a symbol of freedom. He wants you to think that a life with him is a life of self-indulgence and free of responsibility. If you decide to live that life, you are making that deal and selling your soul. All for a life that may be pleasant on the surface but lacks any deep meaning. The world and Satan want you to believe that a life with Christ is not true freedom. Don’t believe them! In actuality, a life with Christ is freedom and a life of sin is a life of slavery.