From Bedazzled to the Simpsons, the devil's role in popular culture is a reflection of who we areby Caroline O'Donoghue / May 6, 2020 / Leave a comment
We need to talk about Satan. The Devil. Beezlebub. Ole Goat Legs. It strikes me that, despite us supposedly living in “dark times,” the prince of darkness is nowhere to be seen. Pop culture, which was once rife with devil references, seems to have lost interest in him completely.
When I was young, in the 1990s and early noughties, you couldn’t move for the amount of Satan that was being thrown your way. Bedazzled, starring Liz Hurley as the devil, was a remake of a 1960s film about a man who sells his soul for seven wishes. Shortcut to Happiness played on a similar theme of “the devil is a hot woman” and had Alec Baldwin recreate the 1930s short story The Devil and Daniel Webster. Again, a man sells his soul to the devil, but this time he mounts a legal case to get it back. We had Keanu Reeves in Constantine; Al Pacino in The Devil’s Advocate. The Simpsons was obsessed with the notion of selling your soul: first Homer sold his for a doughnut, and then Bart sold his to Milhouse.
The idea, of course, was not a new one: Faustian pacts had been around since the 1400s. But for some reason, the concept came back into fashion around the turn of the century. Not just the devil, but deals with him. Every story hit the same beats: you make a deal, you briefly enjoy the spoils of your wishes, you quickly realise you have made an enormous mistake, and then find yourself trapped within a system you cannot escape. You try to outrun the devil, but he runs everything, and he’s everywhere. Then, finally, you find a loophole. A gap in the contract you can slide out through, and the devil stamps his foot in your wake.
Like horror movies, the devil is popular because he’s a useful way for us to express our most deeply-held anxieties, a prism to shine our fear through. While I was a pre-teen, watching Homer Simpson sell his soul and Liz Hurley buy Brendan Fraser’s, a newly-mature Generation X were making it. The “MTV generation” had grown up to be the “Dilbert generation”: cynical about the corporate culture they had been swallowed into, and could see no way of escaping. Is it any surprise that their…