Gott und Himmel!

Had an interesting night last night. It began, as so many do, drinking in Forde’s Frontbenchers – the most awesome Irish pub in the world. The thing about trying to read a book in a pub on Friday night is that somewhere along the lines, humans evolved a biological imperative to ask people who are clearly trying to read a book, “Hey, what you reading? Blah blah blah blah blah.” And so it quickly becomes impossible. But one of these people, a lovely girl from the Saatchi going-away party that was going on, managed to distract me enough for a conversation.
I’m awful smoove, so naturally within five minutes I had quoted Bill Hicks (“You’re in advertising? Kill yourself!”), told her that all the billboards in central Auckland should be replaced with locally produced artworks, that all advertising should be replaced with a series of relevant peer-reviewed facts about the products, and that any marketers who lost their jobs through such changes could do something equally productive: repeatedly digging holes and filling them in again.
Having somehow messed up this casual flirtation, I ran into a regular who supervises a construction site. He and I went for a walk to his place of work, and he took me to the top floor of one of the tallest buildings in Auckland, just to see. Fucking awesome. Got a few photos, and I’ll put them up here once I can.
Then it was back to Forde’s, where the Saatchi thing was still going, and a guy saw my copy of The Hollow Men, declared himself a right-winger and we proceeded to chat. We had just finished agreeing that neither of us was likely to get into politics, simply because we were the kind of people who probably should be, when he mentioned that he is the guy behind the Godmarks billboards in New Zealand.

I mentioned to Darryl that my friend Raoul Shabadoo had used white paint to alter one of the posters: “I don’t mind if you yell at me. I’m imaginary.” He got a laugh out of that, and I have to say, he’s not at all what I would have expected.
Now, I’ve had enough experience with Christians to have some fairly reliable stereotypes going on in my head. I knew he wouldn’t be a raving evangelist, that he’d be young, and given the campaign, a pretty smart fellow. But the next four hours were taken up with some of the most interesting discussion I’ve had in a while. While we clearly had our differences on things like distribution of wealth, our attitude towards religion was similarly relaxed.
He mentioned, for example, how he had significantly altered the tone of the Kiwi billboards from that of their original American counterparts – no talk about hell, for a start. For the sake of his privacy, I won’t go into detail about his beliefs (not that he said anything particularly outrageous), but yeah, it was an interesting night. We ended up exchanging a few books. Good times.

The Sky is Falling! Buy My Books!

Evangelical Christians love controversy, because there’s almost no such thing as bad publicity for a church. If they’re hassled for what they call “being politically incorrect” – some of us might call it “being a bigoted cunt” – they get to see themselves as being persecuted, and thus blessed.

So when Left Behind Games started selling their new game Left Behind: Eternal Forces, the controversy surrounding it wasn’t really a problem. The game is set in the world of Tim “Foxy Loxy” LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins’ series of Left Behind books. If you’re not familiar with Left Behind, they’re a series of fantasy novels theoretically based on the psychedelic visions recorded in the Bible’s Revelation. They’re not particularly good, but they’ve got a bit of a captive audience, much like shitty Christian rock that succeeds because there’s a bunch of kids who won’t listen to “secular” music. Left Behind also got turned into a movie, starring child actor turned nutty creationist Kirk Cameron.

The idea in the story is that, while the main character is musing about how amazing it was that angels totally came out of the sky and defended Israel against their evil non-Christian neighbours, everyone in the world who’s not a True Christian disappears in an instant. There’s chaos throughout the world, the protagonist realises it’s not too late to become a Christian. Meanwhile, the Antichrist arises as… if I remember correctly… a New Age well-loved personality who becomes secretary-general of the United Nations. In other words, the books do an admirable job of packing evangelical racism, sexism, paranoia about the UN and just general insanity into a series of books.

I say “series” because to date, 16 of these novels have been published, including three prequels. There were a few sequels to the movie, and the fourth is in production now. There were graphic novels. There are kids’ editions of the novels. There are books about the Bible based on the Left Behind interpretation. There is the Authorised Left Behind Handbook. LaHaye’s friend Mark Hitchcock adds to the mix 101 Answers to the Most Asked Questions about the End Times, The Second Coming of Babylon: What Bible Prophecy Says About…, The Coming Islamic Invasion of Israel, Is the Antichrist Alive Today?, Seven Signs of the End Times, Iran: The Coming Crisis: Radical Islam, Oil and the Nuclear Threat, The Complete Book of Bible Prophecy, What on Earth is Going On?, Could the Rapture Happen Today?, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, What Jesus says about Earth’s Final Days, and others.

Getting the idea yet?

And now there’s the computer game. Criticisms of the game are manifold. Firstly, there’s the violence – the “convert or die” mentality. This isn’t actually so present in the game, apart from the fact that there is a “convert or die” concept involved. You lose points for killing people instead of converting them with musicians and prayer and suchlike, so the developers argue it’s actually pacifist. Fair enough. Though the game company seems to think that violence is the only criticism.

Next, get this. When you convert a follower and get their loyalty high enough, they become a friend. Then they can be trained as a soldier, medic, musician, builder or evangelist. Unless they’re a woman! Hahahaaha. Oh God, it’s too good. If a female follower becomes a friend, she becomes a “friend woman” and can only be trained as a musician or medic! Ahahahahaha! Awesome.

And finally, like many games today, there will be in-game advertising. Billboards in the background will show real-life ads, which will cycle through and change as the advertising company gets new clients. Which really brings me to my main point:

Have you ever seen as cynical an exercise in money-making as Left Behind?

This Armageddon industry is just raking in the cash. The franchise continues to expand. And simple-minded folk keep buying these books and seriously believe this is about to happen. Well, not seriously enough to, say, give me all their money. But pretty seriously.