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Stupid Sexy Satan: The allure of the ultimate evil
In recently released images from the upcoming CBS All Access adaptation of Stephen King's The Stand, audiences got their first glimpse of the demonic Randall Flagg, as played by Alexander Skarsgård. Flagg isn't technically the actual devil but he's pretty dang close to it in King's lushly developed world. Vanity Fair described the character as a "charismatic rockabilly demon," and Skarsgård certainly fits that mood. Sure, he's the baddie and the epitome of all evil, but were you surprised to see Twitter thirsting hard after the devil?
While the prevailing image that popular culture has of the devil (referring almost exclusively to the one found in Christian mythology) is one of a red guy with horns, hooves, and a well-manicured goatee, we have seen the growing popularity of a more seductive kind of demonic force, particularly in film and television. Blame the Bible — Lucifer was allegedly the most beautiful of angels before his fall from Heaven, after all.
Sexy devils are nothing new in pop culture. Think of Tom Ellis hamming it up on Lucifer or Elizabeth Hurley tempting Brendan Fraser in Bedazzled or Tim Curry making you think very dark things in Legend. Even Him from The Powerpuff Girls has his allure and certainly confused a hell of a lot of young kids during some defining years in their lives. In The Wicked + The Divine, Lucifer of the modern pantheon takes on the form of a young woman styled after David Bowie's Thin White Duke, because even evil understands that we all fancy Bowie. In a visual medium, where you need to instantly convey to audiences ideas of temptation and human weakness, what does that better than a total hottie telling you to abandon the light of God in favor of something far more pleasurable? If lust must be a sin then you bet that Satan is going to toy with that.
The allure of a sexy Satan is something that even the Church has dealt with. In 1837, the Belgian sculptor Guillaume Geefs had been commissioned to design an elaborate pulpit for St. Paul's Cathedral in the city of Liège. The design was to include a sculpture of Lucifer. Initially, the commission had been given to Guillaume's brother Joseph, also a sculptor, but his final design was decreed to be "too sublime" and criticized for distracting the "pretty penitent girls" who should have been listening to the word of God. Hilariously, Guillaume's version somehow managed to be WAY sexier. His Lucifer had waves of curly hair, a set of gorgeous bat wings, a chain around his ankle, and one solitary tear falling from his left eye. Yup, still hot. Apparently, the sculpture is now the favorite of Satanists everywhere and we can't say we blame them. Sexy Satan is a great tool for modern Satanism, a religious movement that often has little to nothing to do with the Lucifer of Christian lore.
The Satanic Temple, for instance, is a state-recognized religion that defines itself in part through satirizing Christianity and American evangelism's habit of getting involved in national politics despite the separation of church and state. In 2015, the Temple unveiled an 8.5-foot tall bronze sculpture of Baphomet, the goat-headed, winged deity who is often featured in historic reports of devil-worshipping. The statue was initially designed to fight fire with fire when a monument dedicated to the Ten Commandments was installed on the grounds of the Oklahoma state capitol. If the Christians wanted to ignore the rules of church and state by building a big statue to their faith then the First Amendment would allow the Satanic Temple to do the same with their totally ripped and mega-sexy ode to Baphomet. Eventually, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ordered the monument removed. You don't have to make your idol sexy to get the job done but it helps.
It doesn't even matter that the Satanic Temple don't technically believe in the existence of such a figure. The point lies in the power that other people invest into this symbol, partly through the fear found in Christian doctrine and partly through more contemporary unease such as the Satanic Panic of the 1980s, a period where pop culture such as metal music and Dungeons & Dragons was seen as corrupting forces on children that encouraged them to worship the devil. Baphomet, and by extension the entire cultural trend of the seductive devil, is a natural conclusion and a deliberate mockery of these oft-overblown and destructive fears. Okay, you're going to engage in a modern-day witch hunt over a board game and some shredding guitar? Then we'll make all your worst nightmares come true and show you what actually happens when you make devils and Lucifer and the forces of darkness into something cool. The sexy Satan trend has as much to do with smacking down conservative fearmongering and the hypocrisies of organized ultra-right-wing evangelistic forces in politics as it does with the possibility of a fallen angel offering you a tasty apple.
Pop culture also demands more of its villains these days and that applies to Satan, too. Indeed, centuries of literature have been defined by their willingness to blaspheme and add shades of sympathy to the ultimate evil. In Anne Rice's Memnoch the Devil, the fifth book in the Vampire Chronicles series, we see the entire history of God retold to reveal that Memnoch, our Lucifer, is more benevolent than God, who sees suffering as the only route to Heaven, something that Memnoch argues is devoid of value and needlessly cruel. The book is highly inspired by John Milton's Paradise Lost, the epic poem (and the scourge of literature grads everywhere) that defined Lucifer as that most tragic of anti-heroes. In the TV series Lucifer, our eponymous Devil takes to a life on Earth full of sex and fun and occasional crime-solving because the boredom of his position in Hell has left him angry at God for his seeming apathy. He's not a bad guy — it's just his job. It's all far more exciting — and far more tempting — than your stock villain who does bad things and that's it.
Ultimately, humanity will always be tempted by evil in whatever form it takes. The smothering restrictions of many world faiths, especially those that are terrifyingly dominant in politics and social policy, will always breed rebellion. It doesn't help that so many of our most human instincts are decreed to be bad or sinful or dirty. Any woman who has ever shown a modicum of lust in public will know this all too well. Pop culture gives voice to the shades of grey we experience every day and, frankly, there's nothing more painfully human than exploring our own dark sides through creative depictions of the so-called ultimate evil. If we're all going to hell anyway then why not enjoy the ride?