Before reading each article of the series, please take the time to read the (2) disclaimers:
DISCLAIMER #1: The following blog post is NOT theological criticism or a heresy-head hunting game by any stretch of Wm. Paul Young’s The Shack. I am more sympathetic with open & process theisms, so there is no need for this author to scan The Shack for doctrinal errors.
DISCLAIMER #2: Be aware that what I share are from a 2010 joint-presentation I and my friend Adam DJ Brett, a PhD entering his first year of work at Syracuse this fall. Post 5 of this 6 part series will be mostly his research, and his intellectual property. If you wish to use this information, please cite him as the source. Also, given that this setting is a blog, I do not assume that everyone is familiar with the concepts I shall place forth, so, unlike the paper and hopefully forthcoming journal article, I will be making available definitions and sources if need be.
Ain’t That A Drag?
Today’s piece is primarily the work of Adam DJ Brett, a PhD student a Syracuse, who focuses on continental philosophy, theology, and interfaith dialogue. If you would like to contact Adam about his work, do so at this link.
Growing up, I often heard the words, “Imitation is the best form of flattery.” The hell it is! In today’s world, parody can go both ways, either as a tribute, as in a sign of respect (such as tv knockoffs of hit movies like The Hangover) or as insults, even when they star Jesus himself with Tim Tebow. In the history of the United States, white people doing black face has always been a national past time. The Black is the symbol of evil and everything not American, not white, and not male.
The latest version of black face comedy comes to us from Canada (I know, right?) with a Chuck Knipp who has as an act, a black woman named Shirley Q. Liquor. You can find a number of Shirley’s videos on Youtube, but the gist is to basically have a white male version of Madea (don’t get me started on Tyler Perry). What ends up happening is that Mr. Knipp is still abusing his white male body privilege to promote racist stereotypes by capitalizing off of racist histories in the U.S. and Europe. You don’t think blackface is an issue anymore? Go ask the Dutch about Zwarte Peter at Christmas time?
Wait, Rod, you say, what does this have to do with William P. Young’s The Shack? I now bring to the floor, Adam Brett’s case:
Papa as Parody
Papa is not the feminine personification of God, but instead is a parody. God ‘the Father’ imitates the feminine as Papa. Parody is imitation, like wearing a mask, or painting one’s face. Parody is linguistic mimicry using satirical language. Parody is comedic performance for the sake of performance and therefore is not subversive.
Judith Butler deconstructs parody, using drag as a way of explaining and dealing with the socially constructed nature of gender. Drag has two main components: the first is linguistics and the second is theatrical performance. Within the linguistic theatrical nature of drag there are three elements at play: 1) anatomical sex 2) gender identity and 3) gender performativity. Drag points out that something we believe to be fixed and natural, such as gender, is not indeed fixed, but instead it is a performance. Drag is a double inversion that points out “appearance is an illusion.” The linguistic theatrical nature of drag destabilizes the rigidity of gender perceived as “gender reality.” In order for Young’s character Papa to be a form of drag, the whole parody needs to be seamless, exhibiting no rupture between the linguistic and theatrical performance of gender. [Parody as lacking a linguistic dimension and drag as seamless performance}
Young establishes God as a white male. From the beginning of The Shack, the essence of Papa is white and male. The masculine name Papa subsumes the Feminine nature of God. Young uses The masculine pronoun “he,” whenever referring to the divine notions of Papa. Papa only becomes “she” sparingly, when performing human tasks –stereotypically those performed by women. At the end of the book Papa’s true form is revealed. Papa is, in fact, a white male who conforms to Mack’s expectations for the divine. Young does not linguistically destabilize God as male, but instead ‘Father’ God performs as a woman. Papa only retains a partial female identity until the character Mack is ready to experience God as male –not just linguistically but also physically. The Shack defines masculine as “normal” and feminine as “abnormal” through Butler’s “linguistic hegemony.” The presentation of the divine feminine with a masculine name and a female body only reinforces the notion that language is phallogocentric. Linguistic absence characterizes the feminine once again in contradistinction to masculinity. Papa is caricature: a white male God in black face wearing a dress and parroting black southern dialect. Linguistically, God is paternalistic. Every single masculine pronoun and noun Young uses affirms the phallogocentric notion of God.
Drag is an art form that requires and demands a seamless performance between linguistic and theatrical representation. Drag critiques gender identity and performance in such a way that the actor’s biology fades into the background. Butler’s notion of parody and of drag reveals Papa as white male pastiche in the form of a black woman’s minstrel show.
Sources cited: Madan Sarup, An Introductory Guide to Post-Structuralism and Postmodernism, 2nd ed. (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1993). and Judith Butler, Gender Trouble : Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, Routledge Classics (New York: Routledge, 2006) and
Young’s Papa, by book’s end, represents a racist queering of the godhead.
- #Warehouse13, Science Fiction & Sexism: When Inclusion Become Oppressive (politicaljesus.com)