Photo: The Midnight Gospel/Netflix
The Midnight Gospel is an animated Netflix original in which Clancy, a space radio host played by creator Duncan Trussell, interviews various beings across different simulated universes. Although the premise sounds overwhelming, the meat of the show essentially depicts prolonged interactions between Clancy and about one guest per episode. Since the show’s episodes are all expanded from Duncan Trussell’s podcast, the show feels more like a recorded conversation that happens to be animated, rather than a full-fledged cartoon series. The first interviewee is simply a guy named “glasses man” who is the president, although that has little to do with their conversation. It’s as if the very minute structures and stories of the series are odes to the show’s grander theme: life has as much meaning as you put into it. Although The Midnight Gospel is very focused on dialogue, the animation of this show remains impressive. The series has some of the most conceptual, psychedelic, and metaphorical animation I’ve ever seen.
The way in which the animation of each episode plays on as a separate adventure to the conversation altogether yet still helps the audience better conceive the theme of each episode, works well in supporting the weighty dialogue of each episode. And weighty indeed it is, with each episode tackling concepts ranging from drugs and marijuana and their purpose in spiritual awareness, to meditation as a preparation for death. I enjoyed how this show never subjected judgment upon any belief system or ideology. Instead of shying away from concepts often cloudy to Americans like chakras, the afterlife, and enlightenment, The Midnight Gospel dives headfirst into them, merely giving the listener information, perspective, and presenting awareness rather than concrete answers necessarily.
The question must be asked, however, whether this is the proper way for us as Westerners to embrace “spirituality,” the umbrella term the West has trademarked in place of flat out Hinduism or Buddhism, belief systems that experience oppression in many countries today. The Midnight Gospel is an excellent show. However, as consumers, we must understand the implications of what we are consuming. This is especially pertinent when it comes to America’s habit of oppressing people and ideas, then “discovering” these same ideas again after the negative stigmas have already taken root in their respective communities. I am not Hindu or Buddtist, but I believe I can provide the same thing that The Midnight Gospel provides to its viewers: perspective.
What are the Implications of Hybrid and Selective Religious Practice, Especially in Our Media
In America’s recent rekindling of civil disobedience, some have made parallels between our acts of resistance, and past instances in other countries. One tweet that garnered some attention was one comparing Buddhist monk who self-immolated himself Thich Quang Ducto a white feminist exposing herself to police officers.
Thich Quang Duc was a South Vietnamese monk who lit himself on fire to protest Buddist oppression in Vietnam. Although there are over 14 million Buddhists in Vietnam, they still face economic persecution under Vietnam’s communist regime. In 1975, right after the Vietnam war ended, the Vietnam government tried to eradicate the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, which involved the assassination and imprisonment of monks and far more corrupt measures to suppress the Buddhist religion in Vietnam.
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It’s essential for Americans to be at least loosely aware of different instances of persecution and oppression around the world because when we are not, it’s painfully evident. Plenty of comments under the twitter post were confusing the famous picture of Thich Quang Duc with Mahatma Gandhi, who died of assassination, not self-immolation. Although this instance seemed to be held accountable, with a quoted tweet stating “they don’t look the same to me” which garnered 180 thousand likes, most instances of American’s hijacking of religious symbols, events, and imagery get consumed by the masses without proper acknowledgment or cultural understanding. This is why we must do a little more work as audience members before we formulate our opinions about The Midnight Gospel.
Does Capitalism Have a Place in Religion?
America has persistently and substantially profited from Buddhist and Hindu practices that we only understand on the surface level. A prime example is yoga, a practice the West has hijacked, cut out most Hindu elements, and made the practice a social media trend – or a stretching exercise – or an opportunity for ‘woke’ people to claim their superiority to other people. There is nothing inherently wrong about Americans participating in yoga, but the problem comes when we are blatantly unaware of the cultures off of which we create entire industries, especially when the original people behind these practices may be struggling due to said industries. A salient example is “fast fashion“ and the mass production of athleisure, and the disparities that ensue in East and South Asian countries. Child labor and exploitive wages disparage Asian communities; “China, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and Malaysia [account] for most of [Nike’s] apparel production” according to Yahoo Finance. From mats to leggings to water bottles, Yoga culture is linked directly to capitalism that will inevitably exploit the same countries of which we borrow our cultural trends. No, participating in yoga is not inherently wrong, but being unaware perpetuates blind consumerism.
Yoga is not the only thing the West has stolen and looped directly into capitalism. We do it with the marketing and selling of Buddha, “the third eye”, and our misunderstanding of chakras. Even white sage used in Native ceremonies is now a threat of being endangered primarily due to the capitalistic misuse of the cultural symbol.
Yes, I am not Buddhist, Hindu, or Native American, and I know that religion shifts over time, and is not necessarily gatekept by specific nationalities. The issue comes when Americans confuse practicing religion with profiting from it. That brings us back to The Midnight Gospel, the American Netflix original series, (yes that Netflix, the streaming giant who made 1.8 billion dollars last year). Is The Midnight Gospel appropriation? Admittedly, it does combine concepts from a variety of Asian religions into the westernized hybrid discussion of “spirituality,” seldom giving recognition to their original cultural or historical significance, dodging the often crushing weight of oppressive regimes that individuals are subject to for practicing their religions without fat Netflix checks? Well, I suppose that’s for you to decide.
How many of you know are aware that Hinduism is a term coined by the British? The real name for Hinduism is Sanatan Dharma and it is NOT a religion, it is a Duty of God shared by all beings. Sanatan Dharma is a way of life of all beings including humans, animals, plants, nature, elements, etc. co-existing with respect to each other. The misconception of Hinduism in the West is that they believe in millions of Gods, which is simply not true – the truth is that they believe in one God – and the deities are manifestations of that one God into multiple forms also known as avatars. That manifestation practice was widely shown in James Cameron’s ‘Avatar’ which went to be the highest-grossing movie of all time. So when Hollywood shows the Hindu concept of avatar – it is acceptable, profitable and well-loved, but when Hindus talk about one God in multiple manifestations as avatars then it is to be shunned and thought of as weird and foreign? How many of you know that Buddhism is NOT a religion either, it is a way of life. Buddha was a prince born in Nepal who left his family, throne and kingdom to attain enlightenment. He did not believe in religions, he believed in a way of life where everything must be questioned and all beings must be respected. Has anyone told you all of this?
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All Things Considered, The Midnight Gospel is Healing
There’s no way to consume under capitalism ethically, and that includes entertainment subscription services. One thing is for sure; What The Midnight Gospel gets right is excellently done. I found endless moments of healing stillness and relieving clarity as concepts about the universe I’ve never been able to solidify began to coagulate. In particular, the discussion of death and the freedom in accepting it was a radical thing for me to process as an American. We’re often taught to evade the subject, but The Midnight Gospel doesn’t shy away from the light of welcoming our mortality, and it’s beautiful to see.
For those who enjoy the discussions brought up in The Mightnight Gospel, the Netflix original should not be the end to your venture into “spirituality.” If you enjoy what The Midnight Gospel has to offer, I implore you to do your own investigation into the heart of eastern religions and experience them in their beautiful totalities.
The Midnight Gospel is available to stream on Netflix.
By Tyler Bey
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