Hollywood has an Iconography Problem

Have you ever noticed how Jesus is everywhere?


And I don’t mean “everywhere” in the sense that He’s divinely omnipresent. No, I mean the other kind of everywhere—specifically, I am talking about movies.


Because people are putting Him in movies. Lots of movies. Including movies that have nothing to do with Him or anything He stands for.


You did not do Jesus any favors by affiliating Him with this movie, Mr. Snyder.

And it’s happening often enough that it has started to become a problem, or at least so noticeable that it is no longer interesting. As a blogger, I cannot allow that to go unchallenged.

Why is it Happening?

Jesus is being injected into popular media left and right. Hollywood is the biggest offender, but tv, literature, video games, and other forms of culture are also guilty.


Although I do make an exception for Joshua from The World Ends with You. He’s my second-favorite interpretation of Jesus, after, y’know, the real deal.

What could possibly be the cause of all this Jesus pushing? Is Hollywood on a mission? Is there some secret movement in the film industry to spread the gospel and convert the masses to Christianity? Does Hollywood, at the end of the day, work for the Big Guy?


Oh, get real.

This is the same Hollywood, after all, that runs on drugs and infidelity, that lionizes adulterers, philanderers, scoundrels, and bat-themed vigilantes.


I don’t know why this is sick and wrong. I just know that it is.

This is the same Hollywood that portrays Christians as universally fanatical, violent, and bigoted.


So why all the Jesus imagery? What is Hollywood trying to say about divinity, soteriology, Christianity, or history?

Nothing much, it turns out.

Eliminating the Impossible

If Hollywood is not working for Jesus, then who is superficially inserting Him into everything?


No, that doesn’t make sense, either. Why would the devil spend so much time and resources to run PR for his worst enemy? Evil he may be, but he ain’t stupid.

I’m afraid the only culprit left is—you guessed it—lazy writing.

Writers are Lazy

And you really ought to know this by now. After all, how many writers do you see plowing our fields or building our pyramids?

Not a lot.

And, more relevantly, writers will steal and/or recycle ideas whenever they can get away with it.

Case in point:


Just remember: I thought of this neat trick before anyone else. Are we clear?

This desire for quick and easy results often causes writers to do strange things. To fill a quota or get work out on time, they will resort to any number of easy ways out, including tricks to increase their word count.

Tricks to increase their word count.

Tricks to increase their word count.

Tricks to increase their word count.

Tricks to increase their word count.

Tricks to increase their word count.

And these tricks are not limited to words, but can be used with themes, characters, scenes, and storylines as well. Because when a writer has important people breathing down the back of his neck, he reaches for the low hanging fruit.

And no fruit hangs lower than an icon.

The Problem with Iconography

Art is going to be symbolic, just like fish are going to be wet and fortune cookies are going to be misleading.


But if you want to fit the most amount of symbolism in the least amount of space, then you need something more than a symbol: you need an icon.

What’s the difference, you ask?

Anything can be a symbol. And any symbol can represent anything. You want a diamond ring to stand in as a symbol for a particular person? Have one scene where that diamond ring is set next to a picture of that person. For the rest of the movie, any time that ring is seen, it will represent the person in the photo.

That’s an easy example, but it works just as well with any other comparisons, whether you want a toy whistle to represent a skyscraper, an orange peel to represent a gorilla, or a pair of dancing shoes to represent death, you can do it at the drop of a hat.

Icons, on the other hand, are not so easy to come by. They are both more sophisticated and more primal than symbols.


The meaning of an icon is unmistakable. It does not merely appear within a story. It is imbued with stories of its own—often thousands of them. Those few artists lucky enough to create new and unique icons have the promise that their works will stand the test of time. And, indeed, new icons are being created every day.

There are icons that came from the American Revolution.


There are icons that came from disco.


There are icons being created right now, as you read this. So it is not uncommon for new ones to arise. It is highly uncommon, however, to create one intentionally. The probability that any artist, picked at random, will create a true icon is minimal, at best.

Yet the creation of an icon marks the artist as having a great destiny, with success, fortune, and admiration written into his future.

But with the pressures that movie writers are under, it is almost always too hard to rely on creating a new icon. So, looking for the next best thing, they recycle one of the old ones.

That is how Jesus gets superimposed onto Superman.


And onto this guy.


And onto whatever this thing is.


It’s not pious or derisive. It comes from neither love nor hate.

It’s just lazy writing.

Almost every time.

So you can rest easy, knowing that these people aren’t trying to blaspheme anything or proselyte anything. They’re just straining to make themselves seem more significant than they really are.

Not that I encourage such behavior. If you’re going to mess around with icons, then you are better off trying to create new ones (as difficult as that is) than you are in regurgitating something powerful without understanding and respecting that power.

Remember the words of Stephen King:

Symbolism exists to adorn and enrich, not to create an artificial sense of profundity.

STEPHEN KING, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

And with that, I release you.

Thank you for reading all the way to the bottom.


[This week’s tagline: “Where people come…to pay their respects.”]

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