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What's with the name?

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old gods do new jobs

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Draws Ire From Hindu Group


Two weeks ago, Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD produced an Asgardian-themed Thor: The Dark World tie in episode in which a character mused that if the Asgardian gods had turned out to be real aliens, whether other belief systems might also have extraterrestrial origin, adding “Vishnu for sure, right?” While I myself wasn’t certain whether I’d forgotten some relevant detail about Hinduism since my middle school days that would make that a cleverer joke or the creators merely picked a deity name out of a hat, the Universal Society of Hinduism takes issue with the insinuation.

USoH president, Rajan Zed, is calling for an apology, presumably from Marvel, Disney and/or ABC:

“Rajan Zed stated that Hindus were for free speech as much as anybody else if not more,” a statement from the Society said. “But faith was something sacred and attempts at debasing it hurt the adherents. Television and Hollywood should be more conscious while handling faith related subjects, as television and cinema were very mighty mediums and these could create stereotypes in the minds of some audiences.”

As it turns out, the context for SHIELD name-dropping Vishnu that I may have been missing was that the Supreme God has appeared in Marvel Comics alongside Odin and Zeus as the leader of a pantheon. Of course, with Hercules as a well known Marvel superhero who’s even had his own title from time to time, one wonders why SHIELD didn’t name drop Zeus rather than a Hindu god. Seems safer to mention religion without a truly widespread modern following that’s connected with a better known character. Of course, my objection is primarily just about basic common sense. The Universal Society of Hinduism coming from a somewhat different, more personal angle.

(via The Wrap.)

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  • Anonymous

    people in stained glasses houses shouldn’t throw rocks..thats all i’m sayin’.

  • TKS

    I wonder if they’ve ever sent a letter to Big Bang Theory for all their jokes at Hinduism’s expense, or Ancient Aliens for literally asserting that the Hindu gods were aliens.

  • Cellism

    Marvel either have a plan in the pipeline regarding their Grecian heroes or they’re desperate to stay 10ft away from any other production who are firing out Hercules/Greek myth action movies like they’re going out of style. Personally I just think Vishnu sounded like a more interesting concept for an alien race than Zeus. Hindu mythology has a lot more compelling and intriguing power sets in its top tier than Zeus and Hercules, who punch stuff.

  • Anonymous

    Gee, I’m sorry Hinduism, I can’t see you up there on “Marvel called our god an alien” from way down here on “regular, frequent defamation of us actual followers and major religions saying we worship the source off all evil”

  • Aashyma Never Would

    Speaking as a Hindu, I can’t see what was so awful about that line?

  • Anonymous

    That’s not a reasonnable request. The show didn’t say Vishnu was alien, it had a character wonder out loud if he was.

  • Anonymous

    I’m not sure what’s awful about the line either. They’re attempting to be multicultural and draw up non-Western religions. If there was something more to the line they’d have a case but since it was just a name drop.

  • Anonymous

    I get his point I really do. With all the ancient dead religions (some of the mythology from which has been featured in Marvel comics before) why go for one with a large, active group of followers?

    Supernatural bungled the same thing with the same religion if I remember correctly, it’s just odd and a bit unnecessary. To me personally there’s no difference between the forgotten gods and the ones still kicking around, but that doesn’t mean I think it’s a good idea to throw it in the faces of the people that do believe.

  • Hawkes006

    That, or they didn’t want people to get into a huff over any hope of Herc showing up. If they HAD name dropped Zeus, first thing people would have done is speculated that Hercules would show up on the show

  • Bridget Falk

    From what I recall, all the visual representations of Vishnu had him/her/it with multiple arms. Couldn’t that have been the obvious reason for this throwaway line?

  • Craig Forshaw

    Killjoys take comment meant as a joke about cultural differences and ignorance seriously, people immediately assume there is more to it. Coming up next, sports.

  • http://shortstormtrooper.com/ Lee

    That’s what I assumed – but now I’m worried I’m marginalising multi-armed deities with my ignorance.

  • Bridget Falk

    Yes but I think if they have multiple heads you might be safe ;)

  • http://shortstormtrooper.com/ Lee

    I’m kind of annoyed now that all the other major religions of the world didn’t write letters to complain about being excluded, there’s some sort of favouritism going on?!? Where’s my alien Buddha reference?!?! Marvel is so exclusionary!!!

  • http://shortstormtrooper.com/ Lee

    Don’t be headcist.

  • Anonymous

    I figured it was a reference to the Vimanas, the flying machines described in The Mahabharata; a typically Whedony joke, the likes of which Xander Harris cracked for years, whose true punchline is the obscurity of the reference (to any non-Hindus in the audience).

    I do agree with the complaint. I’m not a person of faith myself, but I do understand that joking about a living faith, practiced by people today, is ruder than joking about a dead one.

  • Anonymous

    I still don’t get why one bunch of peoples’ fantasy is sacrosanct over a different bunch of peoples’ fantasy. Its *all* make believe people!

  • Rebecca Martin

    Of course, this isn’t the first time Marvel’s wandered into this swamp. A few years back, they caused quite a ruckus by having Thor beat the snot out of Shiva, and a badly executed portrayal of Shiva at that, all snarling and contemptuous.

    They tried to retcon it later, but you would have thought someone at Marvel would have told them on reviewing the script, “Stay away from active faiths with millions of adherents.” Guess not.

  • Anonymous

    Sorry, I guess you’re just not USoH president material then ;)

  • Anonymous

    “but that doesn’t mean I think it’s a good idea to throw it in the faces of the people that do believe.”

    do you honestly think thats what they did, though? and its ok if you say yes, i just didnt see it that way, nor do i think marvel typed it that way – and i further think mr. zed is overstating the effect marvel’s opinion has (should have) on his people’s faith.

  • Anonymous

    just because it’s make believe doesnt mean folks don’t take it seriously…even if my roman catholicism is less religion than it is fandom, i still put a lot into it and get a lot out of it.

  • http://socialspit.com/ XweAponX

    Any religious group that spends more time sending out official complaints than practicing what their religion teaches them as far as how to act, should remove themselves from association with said religion.

  • http://socialspit.com/ XweAponX

    Actually last weeks episode “Repairs” more blatantly kicks the idea of a religious township squarely in the balls. And even *I* got that from the episode, but some townships should be berated for following doctrine more than practicing humane actions.

    So, I don;t see that little remark as any kind of major “insult” to Hinduism or any other religion, these people with their complaints are not true Hindus, if they made such a big issue out of it.

  • Will Beaty

    This. Also, if anything, a Whedon Vishnu joke would be framed around “religions are silly” more than “YOUR specific religion is silly.”

  • Jenevieve DeFer

    I would imagine they leave the Greco/Roman pantheon alone due to Wonder Woman using it so much. They probably don’t want to have a legal tangle with DC Comics/Warner Bros.

  • Lindsey Stock

    Awww, Zeusy does more than just punch stuff. He can also hurl lightning bolts!. Let’s see Thor do tha… oh, wait.

  • Brent

    That’s why I love the Whedon clan. Being atheists they have a point of view that few TV shows have. Most shows have a pro Judeo-Christian product-placement thing going on like some adware running in the background all the time. But not Joss and Jed Whedon. Last weeks’s show featured a starring character coming out as an atheist. Most shows only have their villains come out as free-thinkers. But not a Whedon show.

  • http://jbsargent.wordpress.com/ TWOxACROSS

    I’m kind tired of this stuff. Like, honestly, if they had to preface it by saying “We value freedom of speech” before demanding an apology for a harmless joke, they do not, in fact, value free speech.

    You cannot be all for the freedom of something and then limit it in some certain way to protect yourself from some imaginary harm :/

    And it’s not like this is some South Park episode about blasting Hinduism, it was an off-hand joke that harms literally no one.

  • Anonymous

    Ned: Homer, God didn’t set your house on fire.

    Rev. Lovejoy: No He was working in the hearts of your friends when they came to your aid be they Christian, Jew, or…miscellaneous.

    Apu: Hindu!…There are 700 million of us.

    Rev. Lovejoy: Aw, that’s super!

  • Anonymous

    http://www.smbc-comics.com/index.php?db=comics&id=820#comic

    Seriously though, religious beliefs don’t need to be handled with kid’s gloves. Just because something is important to you doesn’t mean everyone else has to handle it with absolute respect and reverence all the time. I expect people to respect other people. Not the things those people believe in. While it’s not on the same level as religion, I think car races are a stupid, pointless, and harmful sport. I don’t think anyone is stupid for watching and enjoying them. But I think the sport is insanely awful, and more than a little silly.

    If you think everyone should treat your beliefs with utmost reverence, and never joke about them because they’re important to you, then you really need to get over yourself.

  • Tiger Park

    FWIW I found Rajan Zed’s personal website: http://rajanzed.com/rajan/ and also the USOH website: http://universalsocietyofhinduism.org/usoh/

    Despite their weighty name, I don’t feel they’re actually THAT representational, and going by their FB page https://www.facebook.com/pages/Universal-Society-of-Hinduism/221077597983936 They’re also US-based, which puts their criticism into a different context.

    It could very well be a smaller interest group wanting to make a ruckus to gain attention/more members for their newer org, but at the same time, the fact that they’re American and likely beholden to American-brand casual racism, can you really dismiss them for being mad? The context in America of a minority religion practicised in high majority by brown people vs. much larger/powerful religions like Christianity mostly populated in media by white people is kinda something to think about. ~Wacky brown people gods~ have been punchlines for AGES, so Zed’s dim view of a throwaway line is frankly understandable and not that comparable in an American context to, say, fundie Christians like Westboro or Tea Partiers getting pissy about gag about Jesus.

    IMO it was a stupid line worth calling out for being lazily written and not actually funny at all, but demanding an apology like it would somehow absolve the show from general casual racism is daft.

  • http://www.facebook.com/nuuni.nuunani Nuuni Nuunani

    I would really appreciate an apology for the show SHIELD in general personally

  • http://www.facebook.com/nuuni.nuunani Nuuni Nuunani

    Still not quite as silly as the whole ‘totally not a religion aethist group sueing over someone raising a cross at the site of 9/11 because some of the people who died there might have been aethists’ publicity stunt but it is still pretty silly, or at least premature.

    Though as I recall in the context of the comics, Wasn’t Zues, Hercules and the whole Olympian set established to be totally actual gods? (in as much as they are specified to be from earth, are never suggested to be aliens and are children of some primordial anthromorphic personification named Gaia)

    Though considering in the comics themselves they keep flipflopping between alien/god status for the asgard group (with the current writer on Thor leaning pretty heavily into the god side of the chart with him coming when worshippers call and going to other planets and playing chummy with the gods of alien worlds and such) it will be interesting to see what route they end up taking with this.

    Though I somehow doubt if the Marvelverse intends to do anything with any of the other pantheons, we wont see height not hair of it being introduced outside of a proper film. Something like that would be to…Epic to be introduced as an ‘of the week’ plot.

  • Tiger Park

    That’s one long mea culpa you’re gonna have to sit through. Remember to get a cushion for yourself.

  • Anonymous

    If your god doesn’t have enough of a sense of humor to take an offhand joke, find another one. And I’m pretty sure that if there is a god, he/she/it/they don’t need our protection, especially not from a simple joke. Seriously, lighten up! There are times when I really get sick of religion.

  • spoon

    Don’t know if anything like that was expressed (it is after all Disney, where every living entity has a judeo-christian world view). Skye and the woman didn’t deny their christianity they just vaguely redefined it. If they had said they were atheist that would have been really gutsy.

    Seen several christian pastors using Agents of shield as a metaphor for christianity:

    “Christian reviewers say the underlying theme behind the new hit ABC TV series “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” reflects the way Jesus impacted the world through seemingly ordinary people who can do extraordinary things.”
    http://www.christianpost.com/news/does-agents-of-s-h-i-e-l-d-tell-the-story-of-jesus-disciples-a-superhero-series-about-underdogs-107164/

    I guess we see the things we want to see…

  • Charlie

    I’ve noticed that Hinduism seems rather protective of it’s gods and goddesses. A game called Smite (a deity fighting game) was under fire too. Maybe it’s something modern media needs to be more aware and sensitive of. I agree that Zeus might have been a better choice since in his first Marvel Comic appearance he is depicted breaking up a fight between Thor and Hercules (wouldn’t want to be on the ground for that).

  • Henrik

    A god with multiple arms and an elephant’s head? Possibly a bit more alien looking than, say, Zeus?
    I really don’t get some religious people. If you’re secure in your belief, you’d think you don’t have to lash out at other people cracking a joke about it.

    I’m all for respecting other people’s beliefs, but respect doesn’t mean not being able to make jokes.

  • http://shortstormtrooper.com/ Lee

    Please do not offer my God a peanut

  • Unity

    Reminds me a bit of that one season of Stargate SG-1 where they were up against a Goa’uld “god” that nobody would say the name of. For a while I thought they might actually be running a plot of the Judeo-Christian god being no more real than any of the other fake Goa’uld gods they fought.

    Haha, nope. Think it turned out to be Ba’al in the end. If I recall correctly, in ten seasons it never once even came up.

  • Anonymous

    Them specifically, no. But this isn’t an isolated incident there’s actually multiple example of western media treating other cultures faiths as a joke and it becomes a part of that…

    Like, one sexist joke is nothing, right? But when it exists as part of a larger tapestry of belittling women, then there’s something problematic to discuss. Seems like it should be the same way in this case.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t see it a major insult exactly, but I’m on The Mary Sue. People on this site (rightly or wrongly) complained vociferously when Marvel cast a light skinned actress to play a light skinned role because… she was the wrong kind of light skinned.

    It seems like when it comes to issues of race sexuality or gender no problematic element is too small to discuss. But when it comes to religion it’s ‘they’re making a big deal out of nothing’ and ‘other shows do it worse’ and all the rest.

    Seriously, something is weird about that.

  • http://www.aeryllou.tumblr.com/ Aeryl

    This could possibly be an instance of recurring offense. I know not a lot of people read them, but Whedon’s S8 Buffy comic had a pretty egregious bastardization of the Hindu faith for one of it’s climactic moments that hacked off quite a few people.

  • RodimusBen

    Gimme a break. TV shows take pot shots at Christianity all the time because it’s fashionable to do so and the average secular Hollywood writer’s notion of a Christian is a Bible-thumping, homophobic fundamentalist.

    The line was obviously meant as a joke. If the character had joked about Jesus being an alien, no one would have batted an eye.

  • Hugh Davis

    I got a book about ten years ago meant for early readers that featured Wonder Woman’s guide to Mythology. Along with Greco-Roman, Egyptian, and Norse pantheons, it had a section on Hinduism which surprised me (you know, being a still-widely-practiced religion and all). I wonder if there were any complaints about it, or maybe that book just went under the radar.

  • Jack Creed

    I’m sorry, but too damned bad! People need to stop taking offence at every little thing, especially something as benign as that! If people are than insecure about their faith structure then maybe they need to re-examine the solidity of their beliefs.

  • Fisty

    I’m pretty sure this was a reference to all those arms. Pretty obvious and they’re all made up dieties anyway.

  • http://anna.balasi.com/ AnnaB

    One possible explanation for them letting Ancient Aliens slide is that Giorgio Tsoukalos is most decidedly not making a joke of it.

  • Anonymous

    I really think this is just way too oversensitive. They didn’t even say Vishnu was alien, it was just one of the characters speculating.

    Speaking as a Scandinavian, though not a follower of the Norse faith, I am a bit miffed Marvel has decided to go so strongly on the “aliens” explanation for Asgard. Why would aliens more advanced than us fight with swords and javelins!? Makes no sense at all. And turning the Svartalfir into spaceship flying, laser gun toting aliens really depressed me. Is it really such a terrible thing to allow for magic in a world with super heroes?
    What are they going to do with Dr Strange?

  • Anonymous

    i feel ya, and i appreciate your thoughts. i’m deeply entrenched in that western culture, and while i would in no way consider myself representative of it (the back of my car has a tardis sticker a homestuck license plate and an equality sticker), i didnt see this particular joke as a thread in that tapestry you describe. but thats just me, and my perspective, not some sort of white middle class universal truth…i’m sure aquaman doesnt find the ocean nearly as wet as i do. thanks again for your viewpoint, k_t.

  • Nirali

    As an Indian, I don’t really care about throwaway lines like that, but honestly in wake of Katy Perry’s AMA performance, everything else seems minor.

  • Anonymous

    “What are they going to do with Dr Strange?”

    all card tricks, sleight of hand, i heard.

  • Nirali

    Enter complaints from every WASP and Catholic in America. This isn’t really that bad, from either side.

  • Cellism

    It’s the same reason that Scarlet Witch and Quiksilver are joining the team in Avengers 2, Whedon wanted to diversify the team’s capabilities because the original team was very heavy on ‘punchy powers’ and he wants to branch out into *magic*. (Imagine me saying that in a mysterious voice while wiggling my arms to express the maaaaagicalness of it.)

  • Anonymous

    Few *American* TV shows: British shows tend to have a lot more agnostic/atheist viewpoints.

  • Guest

    A> Vishnu is not a mythology. Vishnu was given a human form because of the ill conceived translation of the Vedas. We Hindus are pagans and we worship preservation in the form of Vishnu.

    B> How would you feel if I call your god and your religion as a mythology.

    Please think twice before using strong words like “mythology
    ” – A request.

  • Henrik

    Bah, humbug. The virgin Mary was obviously human. She was IMPREGNATED by an alien.

  • Brent

    Skye was pretty clear that she does NOT believe in god and that’s all it takes to be an atheist. She went on to say that some nuns claim that god is love — which, btw, is like claiming that “Santa is the holiday spirit.” God is God — all knowing, all powerful, jealous of other gods, has personality traits, etc. Love is a part of the human condition, experienced by heathens and the faithful alike and predates any religion. And not just the human condition, love is part of, I want to say all, but maybe just most mammal societies. Certainly dogs experience love, despite what the bible says.

    Check out the audio commentary on Avengers and the final episode of Firefly to get a better idea of Joss’ worldview and how he expresses it.

    Christian pastors have been glomming onto other people’s ideas since the beginning. It’s not like they invented the Jesus myth. They cobbled it together out of the Apollo and Zeus myths… http://www.jesusneverexisted.com/melange.html

  • Brent

    Matt Smith, Steven Moffat, Joss Whedon, Stan Lee, J.K. Rowling, Danial Radcliffe, Chris Hardwick, Albert Einstein, Pat Tillman… the list of atheists who AREN’T little shits goes on and on. Perhaps you just need to run with a better class of people.

  • Cellism

    I would counter that argument with Roland Barthes writing on ‘mythology’:

    ‘What is a myth, today? I shall give at the outset a first, very simple answer, which is perfectly consistent with etymology: myth is a type of speech.’

    Myths are ways of making sense of the world around us just as language represents everything we can conceive and signifies it into speech. Linguistic theory argues that these connections are socially constructed and arbitrary; a table is called a table because that’s what we call it but that doesn’t mean it’s not a table.

    Myths are another form of signifying aspects of life and the human condition, whether or not they’re true is of no real difference, especially to those who subscribe to them.

    (And, for the record, Barthes’ work on “Mythologies” did not examine ancient myths but everyday cultural symbolism in 1960s France. To him, the ‘mythological’ cultural signification of washing up liquid, French wrestling and family structures were just as *real* as any religious belief.)

  • Anonymous

    >_<

  • Anonymous

    Well, the Norse gods are now viewed as a silly attempt by primitive people to explain nature phenomena, and the Hindu gods are still very much part of a living religion practiced by millions, so I can see how putting them in the same category could be seen as offensive.

  • Anonymous

    Whovians are Doctor Who fanatics but they don’t get tax exempt status in the US or seats in the House of Lords in the UK. Why do some fantasies get preferential treatment over other fantasies?

  • Anonymous

    doctor who just celebrated its 50th, catholicism just celebrated its 2000somethingith..perhaps its based on tenure.

  • Aashyma Never Would

    Gach, I didn’t think of that. Thanks!

  • Anonymous

    Catholicism didn’t celebrate its 2000th something. Relapsed catholic are you? Its at best 1700 years old (Constantine, Council of Nicea and all that). Anyway why should the length of a shared delusion matter?

  • Anthony Arndt

    Actually, the Norse gods are viewed by the Nordic peoples in essentially the same way as the Hindu gods are by the Hindu people. There are just a lot more Hindus in the world, and they are in possession of an unbroken tradition. This is in contrast to Nordic countries which have much smaller populations and their traditions are more fractured and corrupted by middle-eastern influence and cultural imperialism.

  • Anthony Arndt

    Also, as “mythology” is in essence the “corpus of cultural literature,” it is a valid statement. All religions with large bodies of religious stories have a foundational mythology. There is a “Christian mythology” (the Christian Bible), there is “Hindu Mythology” (the Vedas, etc.), and (back to the origin of the whole discussion) there is “Norse Mythology” (the Eddas, the sagas, etc.).

    We are talking about the Marvel Universe, after all, where all mythologies and pantheons exist and are “true” to some degree. All gods:Thor, Vishnu, Jehovah, Zeus, the Morrigan, etc. are either aliens from other planets or from other dimensions.