Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Changing the story is THE magickal act...


A story is a powerful concept. If enough people believe in a particular story, it can alter the way we perceive reality. "Testament," a new ongoing series from Vertigo set to premier in December-- by writer Douglas Rushkoff and artist Liam Sharpe-- explores the effects a story can have on society...

Rushkoff's interest in stories and the way they can influence reality deepened with the rise of the cyber phenomenon and hacking. "The question of the era seemed to be, 'How much of our reality is programmable? Redesignable? Up for grabs?'"

His exploration of the idea of an open source reality and his Jewish background lead Rushkoff to examine the sacred texts of Judaism. "As I explored the Jewish texts-- Torah, really, and the rest of the Bible-- I saw that it was really saying close to the opposite of what most of us think it's saying," Rushkoff said. "There's a lot of Bible-thumping going on these days-- in Judaism and Christianity alike. And it has left the impression that it's some sort of book of rules to follow, tenets to believe in and historical events to set in stone. Where it's actually the story of a revolution-- both of a bunch of people, and of human consciousness. It's a proposition for an open source reality and a set of guidelines for how to break the news to real people who love to believe in idols."

Rushkoff tried to communicate his findings in his book "Nothing Sacred: The Truth About Judaism." "I got blacklisted by some Jewish groups who never even read the book-- just reviews of the book," Rushkoff stated. "I learned early on in life that if you have something that might be truly dangerous to say, say it in comics.

..."Testament" is set in three different times and places. "Most simply stated, it takes place in a near future where things have gone a bit further in the direction they're already going," Rushkoff said. "The Gulf War has expanded, the draft has been implemented, the economy has crashed. We're in the New York area-- mostly Brooklyn to start--- with a group of draft-dodgers who are trying to change things.

"But their adventures have all happened before-- or are happening simultaneously, depending how you look at it-- played out by characters in the Bible. So there's parallel action happening in Bible time, which is kind of like 1100 BC and all, but I don't see bible time as historical, so it's more like myth-time. And, like Torah, time is all screwy in there, anyway. Torah doesn't happen quite in order and events resonate with other ones centuries before or after. Something happening in one century can either trigger or justify things happening in another.

"Then there's a third space, the space of the gods. They exist outside linear time, so they're not allowed into the frames of the comic," Rushkoff continued. "At least not in their embodied form. If they try to stick their hand in a frame, it ends up becoming flame or smoke or whatever element over which they can exert influence."

...The first story arc of "Testament" is called "Abraham of Ur." "It begins with the implementation of the draft in modern times, and the sacrifice of sons to Molloch (the god people believed in before the Bible's God came around)," Rushkoff said. "Most people don't talk about it, but there are plenty of instances of child sacrifice in the Bible. Prior to the whole Israelite way of doing things, it was a standard practice. And whenever times get hard, you see God's Israelites resorting to it all over again. All the prophets keep pleading with the people to stop sacrificing their kids.

"It seemed like a great way to demonstrate the premise of the book-- that particular forms change, but the central behaviors and beliefs remain the same. Here we are, sacrificing our sons in the name of the Christian God against other people who are sacrificing their sons in the name of the Muslim God. (Who are the same God, of course-- only the prophets are different-- but no one likes to remember that part.)

...While it may first appear that the villains of "Testament" are played by the Gods, the out of control military and economic elite found in the story, Rushkoff says there's more to it than just that. "I suppose the real adversaries are the human qualities in themselves that end up being manifest or exploited (depending on how you look at it) by the gods who live off these fears and desires. It's a story, so I've personified the adversaries. But the real adversaries are almost always internal or projected."

...A comic like "Testament" can be a tough sell. Readers on one side of the political spectrum might be opposed to or uninterested in a comic that explores biblical stories. While readers from the other side of the political spectrum might be opposed to a comic that explores and interprets biblical stories in a different way from what they believe. "Most people either like this stuff for what I see as the wrong reasons, or hate this stuff because they think those other people have a monopoly on the Bible," Rushkoff stated. "They've bought the religious institutional take on what Bible is about. Kind of like buying the Microsoft version of computing, instead of the Linux version.

"Fact is, the Bible can be used as a set-in-stone sacred and unchangeable viewpoint, or it can be used as the entrance to an utterly open source perspective on reality. As I see it, these stories give people the tools they need to begin to confront life and reality in a very open, evolutionary fashion. To me, the Bible makes a case for evolution-- not creationism. And it's important that I expose people to this side of things, before they completely dismiss this stuff as irrelevant or sanctimonious."

...In a sense, the worst thing that can happen to a story is that it become a sacred truth. That's what kills its life.

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