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On Faith and Fashionable Life in Yellowjackets and Severance — The Revealer

(Picture supply: Taylor Callery)

Two Emmy-nominated TV dramas from 2022 discover the start of recent non secular actions in communities beneath duress: Yellowjackets and Severance.

Yellowjackets, streaming on Showtime, focuses on a women’ highschool soccer group from New Jersey who, along with the group’s male assistant coach and head coach’s two sons, survive a airplane crash within the Canadian Rockies on their approach to the 1996 championships. Stranded in primitive circumstances for nineteen months, not all of them make it out alive. The ritualized cannibalistic survival techniques of those that do are the present’s foremost focus.

Severance, streaming on Apple TV, is ready in another model of our present actuality and explores the alienating excesses of company capitalism. The present’s title refers to a process undergone by the principle characters by which a chip inserted of their brains bifurcates their consciousness into a piece self (or “innie”) and a private self (or “outie”). The innies’ total existence is confined to a sterile subterranean workplace, run by the megacorporation-cum-cult Lumon Industries, the place innie employees carry out tedious duties to no clear goal. When the workday ends, their outies transfer in regards to the world freely, conducting their affairs unburdened by any work-related stress. However the outies additionally endure confusion in regards to the parameters of their freedom (that are, actually, fairly restricted), and carry with them a debilitating, if imprecise, sense of loss.

On the floor, the 2 exhibits couldn’t be extra totally different. The crash survivors in Yellowjackets take care of threats to their existence: wild animals, chilly climate, and an absence of meals, water, and medical care. In Severance, the innies inhabit a pristine, nature-free world of fluorescent lights, pc screens, and key playing cards. However there are essential similarities between the 2 packages. Severance alternates between the storylines of the severed characters’ innie and outie counterparts, presenting their struggles to search out that means and goal as separate however linked. Yellowjackets additionally strikes between two linked storylines, set 25 years aside. It juxtaposes the tough wilderness actuality of the crash survivors in 1996 towards the materially comfy existence of 4 who’re nonetheless alive in 2021 suburban New Jersey. Now middle-aged girls, they wrestle with the recollections of their violent forest previous as they navigate an equally bewildering current.

The exhibits’ creators explicitly deploy faith to discover these points and, within the course of, supply up an array of concepts in regards to the function of faith in trendy life. Each collection current faith as one thing we flip to in moments of weak spot or disaster, once we are compelled to confront what nineteenth-century Protestant theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher referred to as our “absolute dependence.” Faith can also be introduced (à la Marx’s “opiate of the plenty”) as a way of social management, rife with prospects for manipulation and abuse. On Severance, Lumon Industries guises its self-serving mission to regulate all aspects of its workers’ lives in grandiose pronouncements contained in a company handbook entitled Compliance and type-set like a Revised Commonplace Model Bible. The non-severed bosses quote it reverentially. On Yellowjackets, the cannibalistic cult that emerges has its sadistic fans even because it terrifies different individuals.

Every present additionally presents non secular expertise as one thing psychosomatic, rooted in our physique’s organs and chemistry. Such a view units faith up as a sham to be uncovered by rationality and science. But the very physicality of the characters’ mind-bending experiences on each exhibits additionally attests to such experiences’ inextirpable presence of their our bodies. It’s only pure, then, that the characters’ makes an attempt to interpret such experiences turn out to be indelible options of their collective psyche.

Opinions of each exhibits have been overwhelmingly optimistic however the exact same critics have typically singled out these non secular components as weak hyperlinks, not absolutely integral to the plot or characters. James Poniewozik of the New York Occasions calls the cultish features of Lumon on Severance the present’s one “misstep” and questions whether Yellowjackets really needs the supernatural dimension.

This evaluation misses the purpose. Whereas trendy critics might wish to ignore faith, Yellowjackets and Severance remind us that faith won’t be ignored.

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The primary episode of Yellowjackets is interspersed with scenes by which one of many airplane crash survivors (it’s unclear who) is hunted, trapped, slaughtered, cooked, and consumed. This isn’t merely a matter of survival; the storyline presents this exercise as a part of an rising cult, one by which some sinister however probably protecting forest forces are being placated by means of blood choices. Lest trendy audiences get too judgmental, the present’s first episode hyperlinks the survivors’ participatory ingestion of those choices to the Eucharist. Star soccer participant and moody introvert Shauna Shipman, nonetheless in 1996 New Jersey and harmless of what destiny has in retailer for her group, speaks to her pal of her fleeting need to turn out to be Catholic: “I appreciated the saints. They had been all so tragic.” Shortly thereafter, the present cuts to a scene of the younger girls within the snowy forest, unrecognizable in antler headdresses and fur hoods, as they rip right into a ceremoniously introduced platter of human meat.

Our bodies and blood determine prominently in Yellowjackets, however not all the time in a Christian idiom. The present forces us to confront the hyperlinks between menstruation, sexuality, start, and demise which have impressed numerous non secular rules. When the teammates’ durations synchronize, the ladies wash and cling their bloody rags to dry in strips round their encampment, simply to the aspect of the strips of bloody deer meat they’re making an attempt to show into jerky. One of many male survivors, the bereaved teenage hunk Travis whose father was killed within the crash, is disgusted by this. He argues together with his romantic curiosity, tough-girl Natalie, in favor of reviving historic practices of menstrual isolation. Their debate underscores the truth that their new actuality is aligned with the majority of human historical past, when sexuality was typically lethal and its related processes had been feared (a actuality not too long ago revived in the US for largely non secular causes). Certainly, would-be Catholic Shauna is secretly pregnant and it’s her lack of a bloody strip hanging on the communal line that brings this data to gentle. Her being pregnant solely will increase the group’s anxiousness about its circumstances.

Additionally of concern is the truth that the forest itself appears to have a hankering for human blood. Throughout a mock séance that the group holds in an try at some conventional campfire levity, a pressure speaks by means of troubled rich-girl Lottie Mathews. In French, a language Lottie claims to not know, it informs the group that “it needs extra blood.” This episode, entitled “Saints,” is when Lottie, who has been doubting the visions she’s been having, is baptized by her evangelical Christian teammate, Laura Lee, who interprets Lottie’s experiences because the descent of the Holy Spirit. (She additionally sees the airplane crash as a punishment for the group members’ sins.) When Laura makes an attempt to depart the forest to get assist, she meets with a mysterious finish. Laura’s demise undoes Lottie’s momentary allegiance to Christianity and realigns her sympathies with the forest and its obvious claims on its residents. There are indications that the forest has made these claims earlier than. The Yellowjackets discover an deserted home within the woods that comprises some much-needed provisions but additionally the skeleton of its former inhabitant. There’s a menacing image carved into the house’s beams and floorboards: a feminine stick-figure struck by means of by a diagonal line with a hook protruding from the underside of her skirt. The image resonates with photographs, proven in fragmentary flashbacks all through season one, of the group’s first sacrificial sufferer hung the other way up by her legs as her blood drips onto the snow.

For some viewers, these elements of Yellowjackets place it firmly within the horror style. However guardian cults by which deities act concurrently as threats and saviors pervade human historical past. This motif is discovered all through the Bible in addition to in south Indian forest cults and historic Mayan rituals involving human sacrifice. Reciprocity between the realm of people and that of the gods is key to many religions. After we sacrifice to the gods, we give one thing helpful to get one thing helpful in return—and what could possibly be extra helpful than life? However even because the present reminds us of those historic traditions (which persist, to various levels of literalness, in lots of religions right this moment), the present additionally provides our trendy minds with probably rational explanations: Lottie, who appears to speak with the forest gods, takes prescribed psychiatric remedy. As her provide dwindles, her propensity for hallucination will increase.

In season one’s penultimate episode, the group throws a doomsday social gathering the place they search momentary respite from their distress by consuming fermented berry juice. In addition they unwittingly devour a stew spiked with hallucinogenic mushrooms foraged by the group’s tools supervisor, Misty. Misty had supposed to make use of the mushrooms to take sexual benefit of the badly injured male coach, on whom she harbors a misguided crush. When the mushrooms by chance get built-in into the principle meal, what ensues is an evening of revelry so scary even Misty’s warped priorities pale compared. Setting the stage for the blood cult that emerges within the closing episode, the drugged girls hunt Travis and almost slit his throat beneath Lottie’s course. She claims that he “belongs” to the forest, that “it’s coming”, and that the group “gained’t be hungry for lengthy.” The Yellowjackets’ minds are addled by starvation, medicine, alcohol, hormones, trauma, and poisonous group dynamics. Whereas this jumble of rationalizations for his or her ugly conduct may be greater than sufficient to preclude any supernatural rationalization, the present’s equitable juxtaposition of all these prospects renders its supernatural conceits extra believable. Not like different exhibits which have trod related terrain much less coherently (e.g., ABC’s Misplaced or HBO’s The Leftovers), Yellowjackets successfully highlights purpose’s lack of ability to deal with our full lived experiences and ranges the explanatory enjoying fields of psychology, biology, and bloodthirsty forest gods.

(Picture supply: Showtime/Ringer illustration)

The season ends by suggesting that this cult extends into the current day, the place the survivors could possibly be stated, in trendy parlance, to be processing their trauma. They do that in all of the stereotypical methods—medicine, rehab, e book golf equipment, and remedy—however to little impact. The 4 foremost characters—Shauna, Misty, Natalie, and Taissa—are resourceful, ironic, and sometimes fairly humorous about their scenario. This makes them as simple to narrate to as their youthful selves at the same time as they scare us. A part of our worry is on their behalf, notably the extent to which they’re weak to others’ coercion. But it surely additionally has to do with their enduring reliance on their forest methods of life. Taissa, a Black, brazenly homosexual lawyer working for state senate, is supposed to face for progress and pragmatism, two cornerstones of modernity. Within the forest, she is the chief advocate for rational problem-solving. However in 2021 New Jersey, she has not absolutely deserted the faith that helped her to outlive, a lot as she works to suppress it. A shrine with recent bloody choices sits within the coal room of her basement, hidden not solely from her spouse and son, however even from her personal acutely aware thoughts. She visits it solely when sleepwalking.

What compels audiences to look at such tv? The present’s conceit that primitive residing will render us savages is clearly an enthralling view of human psychology. Yellowjackets accepts that our “primitive” views stay with us as trendy folks at the same time as they strike us as unbecomingly savage. However the present additionally challenges us to rethink the fashionable delusion of progress by reminding us not solely that modernity coexists with—and sometimes amplifies—our baser urges, it additionally has its personal discernable finish. Whether or not our circumstances be primitive or trendy, we’re all born to die.

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Questioning the worth of contemporary progress is on the coronary heart of Severance, which focuses on how company capitalism controls each side of our lives. It presents mega-corporation Lumon Industries as a spiritual cult that masterfully manipulates its workers, each by means of a perception system that guises the corporate’s mission as considered one of “illumination” and thru a patented surgical process that divides workers’ consciousness, rendering them incapable of actual data.

Severing workers’ minds retains Lumon’s work product secret from society as a result of, as soon as severed workers depart the workplace, they can’t recall what they spent their day doing.  Whereas the severed “outies” theoretically dwell on perpetual trip, what “innie” employees get out of this association is more durable to discern. The 4 foremost innie characters who represent Lumon’s Macrodata Refinement (MDR) Division have little perception into their duties. They spend their days observing pc screens filled with random quantity units coded to evoke sure feelings in them, based mostly on which they then “refine” the information. These worker-consciousness innies do not know whether or not their refining cleans the oceans, removes swear phrases from films, or kills kids, all of that are theories superior by the present’s protagonists. But, because of Lumon’s lofty doctrines, that are introduced as divine pronouncements from the founding CEO and which play on the human quest for that means within the face of existential thriller, most of the innies purchase in.

By linking up to date capitalist tradition to faith, Severance probes the query of why trendy folks, so invested within the thought of private freedom, willingly undergo company controls. For a lot of the primary season, the severance process is introduced as voluntary but controversial. The primary character, Mark, opts to bear it after his spouse dies exactly in order that his grief shall be turned off for the eight-hour workday. If this strains credulity, consider the period of time every of us spends day by day within the alternate realities of the web, hiding from our real-life issues. Along with highlighting our up to date tendency towards emotional anesthetization, the present is right that mega-corporations personal our psyches. Intimate particulars of our private lives, together with information about our bodily and psychological well being and our non-public hopes and insecurities, have been made obtainable for buy by a spread of actors who can now monitor and manipulate us. This might not be the results of a chip put in in our brains, however of a cellphone that almost all of us carry in our pockets, sleep with at our bedsides, and use to publicize photographs of our unwitting kids who can then be equally tracked. And many people do that fairly blithely.

In fact, not all of us are prepared individuals in these invasive and controlling buildings. (They might not should be invasive and controlling if we had been.) The present’s innies have technically not chosen to spend their total lives working in Lumon’s subterranean workplaces; their outie counterparts have. If an innie needs to stop Lumon, the foundations stipulate that such a request be accredited by one’s outie. These requests are routinely denied not solely as a result of Lumon insists, disingenuously, that the severance process is irreversible, however as a result of the outies are callously detached to how actually depressing their innies’ lives are. Innies can not sleep, see daylight, make a journey, benefit from the weekend, eat at random occasions of day, or learn something moreover company literature. When their our bodies depart work, their consciousness doesn’t and so it’s like they’re all the time within the workplace. They know nothing about their outer lives which may imbue their workplace lives with a way of goal. Whether or not or not they’re partnered, have kids, or take pleasure in hobbies is all carefully guarded data, disbursed by Lumon throughout prescribed “wellness classes” which are extremely manipulative. The innies’ lives are torturous.

And but, three of the 4 foremost innie characters initially refuse to confess this. The present opens with a brand new innie, named (unsubtly) Helly, present process her consumption process. She can not recall her personal title, birthplace, or the colour of her mom’s eyes. Nevertheless, she will title a state–Delaware–indicating that the least fascinating and most impersonal components of her data base are intact. Helly has been introduced in to switch Petey, who has disappeared. Unbeknownst to his co-workers in MDR, Petey has had a Lumon defector hack his brain-chip to undo the severance process and is on the run from Lumon authorities. His disappearance makes his coworkers fairly uneasy, however it’s Helly’s arrival that disrupts the group’s stasis as she exposes and mocks their passivity.

Helly’s colleagues view their work at Lumon from totally different vantage factors, influenced by their particular person tendencies but additionally by the multifaceted nature of Lumon’s coercive management. There may be Mark’s quiet resignation; Irving’s agency conviction within the significance, nonetheless unclear, of Lumon’s mission; and Dylan’s aggressive competitiveness about racking up quarterly numbers that can safe him essentially the most rewards. (These embrace such flashy gadgets as erasers and finger traps.) However Helly, who seems to have been extremely indoctrinated by Lumon previous to present process the severance process however who can also be very privileged, balks in any respect of this. Finally, she convinces the others to balk, too.

Life for the outies just isn’t significantly better because the attain of the corporate extends past the workplace partitions. Mark’s neighbor within the exterior world can also be his boss. However he has no approach of understanding this as a result of he has no recollection of his life at Lumon. The bifurcated consciousness of the severed renders each innies and outies equally missing in self-knowledge and it’s this lack that allows Lumon to personal them. One of many present’s richest themes is the function of reminiscence in shaping human company. With no sense of historical past, it’s laborious to know how one can act, which is precisely what Lumon Industries needs. That is made express in a quote by present CEO James Eagan, emblazoned on a wall of Lumon’s Perpetuity Wing the place employees can go to immerse themselves within the grand concepts of the corporation-cum-cult’s leaders: “Historical past lives in us whether or not we study it or not.” In response, Helly quips, “It nearly makes me want I might bear in mind my very own childhood.” But, previous to present process his severance process, Mark had been a historical past professor. Apparently, data of historical past proved ineffective in managing his grief and Mark was so tortured by recollections of his spouse, he selected to have them erased for eight hours a day. That stated, Mark’s grieving outie isn’t any higher off; he spends a lot of his time crying and ingesting.

By way of such particulars, the present reveals the advanced methods bigger structural forces work together with our personal worst tendencies, prompting us to decide on ignorance over self-awareness. As in Severance, our world capitalist system makes use of our ‘ignorance’ of the true implications of our consumption patterns and different day by day habits to undermine our ethical company. By farming out sure types of labor to economically deprived areas, world capitalism hides its worst options, similar to human exploitation and environmental devastation, from the workplace employees positioned within the developed world. However it is usually true that the ignorance of first-world workplace employees is basically willful, as we enable ourselves to be purchased off by a seemingly infinite provide of low-cost merchandise, commendatory plaques, competitions of no actual significance, and false notions of mission equipped by the firms we work for. These simply accessible types of consolation are extraordinarily tainted, making capitalism within the developed world distinctively creepy. In distinction to the starkly gross ethical universe of Yellowjackets, with its clear correspondence of sufferer to victor, the ethical prices of contemporary capitalism are a lot murkier. They’re so laborious to maintain monitor of, actually, that the majority of us cease attempting.

Within the characters’ refusal to confess their lives are meaningless within the face of overwhelming proof on the contrary, Severance highlights faith’s advanced function in human life. Whereas faith generally is a pressure of coercion and management, it additionally displays a primary want for self-understanding achieved in communion with others. Which means that faith is each enlightening and misleading, and all the time works in tandem with bigger cultural dynamics.

By presenting Lumon Industries because it does, Severance reminds us of the non secular roots of capitalism, serving to to elucidate this technique’s peculiar grip on our up to date psyche. Viewers would possibly marvel how twentieth-century sociologist Max Weber would react to seeing his theories in regards to the Protestant work ethic introduced in such a format. Like many Protestant church buildings, the cult of Lumon emphasizes doctrines and concepts, textual interpretation, and salvation by means of self-improvement born of the taming of interior demons. In Weber’s view, capitalism owes its existence to this understanding of the person’s existential scenario. In difficult Catholic Church leaders’ unique declare to a particular vocation vis-à-vis God, the Protestant Reformation inspired bizarre employees to take a position their occupations with final that means and to raise their work ethic to the fullest assertion on their character. Such worldly asceticism elicited self-monitoring on the a part of the final inhabitants and the buildup of a lot societal wealth, each of which proved important for capitalism. Whereas we might battle to narrate to the non secular motivations of such a worldview in its infancy, whereby the rewards had been far off, these forces proceed to lurk behind each company mission assertion and in claims that our coworkers are our household. Even within the context of latest capitalism’s emphasis on fast gratification, the true goal of our lives stays mysterious.

Consistent with the present’s Protestant ethos, the characters debate the implications of Lumon’s scriptures. Whereas this underscores simply how a lot their ethical company is ruled by the company they work for, it is usually a honest quest for that means that’s elementary to the human thoughts. The present’s bleakness is mitigated by the wealthy connections that exist among the many foremost characters. There may be nonetheless love, humor, and bodily attraction, even within the severed world. The psychological sustenance offered by such connection is obvious within the 4 innies’ reactions to a tacky self-help e book that by chance makes its approach into the severed workplaces. Known as The You You Are, it comprises such wisdom-nuggets as “Future: An Acrostic Poem as Skilled by the Creator” and “What separates man from machine is that machines […] are made from steel.” It’s meant to be mocked, as is its writer, Ricken, a fatuous self-promoter. However the solace Ricken’s phrases present the innies is actual and the contraband e book turns into a supply of real consolation to the MDR group. Ricken’s statements on camaraderie and the correct place of business in human life encourage Mark to steer a coup towards the bosses, one which undoubtedly provides the group better self-knowledge and augurs its personal reformation.

Whether or not this reformation will impact actual change or, as Yellowjackets would have it, merely repeat previous patterns, stays to be seen in future seasons. One factor on which each exhibits agree: faith, as escape route or entice door, shall be with us for some time.

 

Valerie Stoker is Professor of Faith and Affiliate Chair of the Faculty of Humanities and Cultural Research at Wright State College in Dayton, Ohio. Through the pandemic, she watched a whole lot of TV.

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