People love writing stories about Space Jesus. The Ur-example is, for me, Klaatu in The Day The Earth Stood Still (believe it or not, the scriptwriter thought he was being subtle with that one, bless his heart). An alien stranded, alone of its kind, on another planet is the very archetype of a stranger in a strange land, of the returning repressed other, of that liminal hybridity that's so often figured as monstrous, holy, or somehow both. As a cultural trope, Space Jesus makes perfect sense.
|I admit, I just needed an excuse to post this picture, because it's awesome.|
All my life, E.T. has been a favorite Space Jesus of mine, and it's not just because the film's human protagonist is, like me, burdened with a severe case of Middle Child Syndrome. E.T.'s Space Jesus characteristics are thunderingly obvious – the magical healing powers, the precious too-good-for-this-sinful-earth-ness, the death and resurrection – but he can also be read as a specifically queer Jesus figure.
Queer theology is a pretty young discipline, but queer figurations of Jesus have always abounded. The fourteenth-century mystic Julian of Norwich wrote passionately about Jesus as Mother, endlessly giving birth to us. (As an aside, I would encourage anyone who's Christian and depressed to read Julian: “God did not say you will not be troubled, you will not be belabored, you will not be disquieted; but God said, You will not be overcome.”). Renaissance artwork depicting Jesus is fairly bursting with homoeroticism. Early-twentieth-century attempts to portray Jesus as ruggedly masculine were a direct reaction to a nineteenth-century Christ popularly associated with traditionally feminine characteristics.
What's new in queer theology is not the act of queering Jesus as such, but the conscious employment of analytical tools taken from secular queer theory: a deconstructionist methodology, a critical focus on subjectivity and embodiment, and a dedication to problematizing the gender binary.
E.T. definitely problematizes the gender binary. According to IMDb, “Spielberg stated in an interview that E.T. was a plant-like creature, and neither male or female.” Elliott codes him male while Gertie dresses him up femme – both of them projecting their own gender identity on the squashy little guy. Like the Jesus of queer and postcolonial studies, E.T. functions as a blank slate for people to project themselves onto. He is what they need him to be.
|This is what a Queer Space Jesus looks like.|
There's also something very queer about the connection between E.T. and Elliott. It's not just a psychic link – it's somatic: when E.T. falls ill, Elliott falls ill; when E.T. gets drunk, Elliott gets drunk. The embodied yet mystical link between boy and alien has notes of the in-dwelling Holy Spirit that joins believers to the body of Christ, which is arguably an inherently queer concept anyway.
Medic: “Elliott thinks its thoughts?”
Michael: “No, Elliott feels his feelings.”
(And that scene where he asks the frog if it can talk and then releases all the frogs? Not just psychically-drunken shenanigans. I think it shows Elliott gaining a heightened awareness of the value of non-human life – borderline ecofeminist theology – and it also recalls the plague of the frogs in Egypt. People often spot the Christiness of E.T., but they rarely seem to note the Exodus undercurrents. Which is ironic, given that Spielberg's Jewish.)
There are other Jesus connections to be made – am I reading too much into it if I note that Elliott's mother is named Mary, and that the kids occasionally seem to address her as such? That, in an upending of the Mary and Martha story, she plays the Martha role as she bustles around putting groceries away, too busy even to notice Gertie playing with E.T.? And I note that Jesus has always seemed to me like kind of an asshole in that story, and that Elliott's mom is presented with a good deal of sympathy for how hard she works as a newly-single mother of three, and that seems like a useful queering of a problematic biblical text.
What, then, do we do with our queer Space Jesus? I think it's important that there's no dogmatic answer to that question. If there were, he wouldn't be very queer. Queer Space Jesus isn't about providing neat answers, or even necessarily about making life easier or better. What we can get from him is a renewed sense of wonder and awe regarding our vast starry universe, our tiny blue planet, and the amazing mystery of life; a promise that we are not alone, that our alienation is understood on a profound and compassionate level by other life-forms on our own world as well as perhaps on others; and an everlasting assurance that, come what may, he'll be right here.
|Excuse me. I have something in my eye.|