Car, Jesus, and Punk Rock

Kendrick Jacobs is a senior from Jupiter, Florida majoring in Religious Studies. The following blog post was written for REL 360: Popular Culture/Humanities.

Repo Man at first glance comes off as being another cult classic film. It captures a moment in American history you can’t read in a book or put your finger on, but if you asked someone who grew up in that time they would know exactly what you were talking about. The strange atmosphere put on by the satirical consumerism, dark comedy, and punk vibe that the movie has makes most people watch it and leave thinking nothing more than how weird it was to watch. But, underneath that tough punk exterior hides deep seated symbolism for religion. You would probably think it crazy if someone said it to you, but taking a closer look can really make this movie shine brighter than it already does.

The first religious symbolism in the movie is found in the movie’s theme itself, repo man. A repo man is not the kind of person you want to see ever in your life. They come and take your car from you when you least expect it. As shown in the movie, they break into, sneak into, and sometimes outright steal cars in order to get their job done. Now, with this image in mind, jump to what tax collectors were in Jesus’ time. Tax collectors would steal money and lie about how much was due in order to get a larger commission off of what they collected. When asked why he ate with tax collectors, Jesus responded by stating that he was sent not for the righteous, but for the sinners in Mathew 9:12. This same concept is seen in the movie because the repo men are able to drive the glowing car at the end of the movie without any protective gear or any special procedures. They simply get in the car and drive it off. This scene plays a vital role in the nuanced religious aspects of the movie because the federal agents wearing protective gear, and whose job it is to retrieve the car, are killed in the process of attempting to get close to it. The agents represent the Pharisees and Sadducees of Jesus’s time. Throughout the movie, the federal agents attempt to take the car by any means necessary but are thwarted by the repo men in the end.

Another aspect of symbolism is the rebirth symbolized in the movie. Although comedic in nature, the scene where the repo men go to Bud’s hospital bed give us a clear example of rebirth in the movie. Upon opening the door, the gang are greeted with an empty bed. The phrase “He is risen” is exclaimed by someone and they leave to find him. Bud’s hospital scene could go one of two ways in terms of symbolism. The obvious is that it is a jest at the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the opening of his tomb. This example would be most plausible because the exact same phrase is uttered in both scenarios. Also, Bud is the first to successfully drive the car without any need for extra equipment. After his driving, the car is able to glow and fly by some divine manner. One way of looking at this is to say that in the same way Jesus’s sacrifice was a way for others to follow him into heaven, Bud’s actions were a way for the repo men to amount to more in their society. Through his “resurrection” he was able to leave behind a new meaning for the repo men. No longer were they the lowly car stealing scumbags that society had seen them as, but instead, they had transcended to a place where the federal government agents were looking to them for guidance. Another way his death can be seen as symbolism is through the resurrection of Lazarus. The reasoning for this is because Bud is definitely not a saint nor is he the “Jesus” of the repo men.

Overall, Repo Man was a great movie that combined comedy with grinding pop culture to weave a time and place that many would consider real fiction in a way. Through the clever placement of symbolism, many religious properties come through which make the repo men look like the disciples of Jesus. Coming back to this symbolism, the car in the movie can be seen as a sort of Holy Ghost left behind by Bud for the other repo men, or maybe even the Kingdom of Heaven itself. This final analysis comes from the idea that Jesus taught in Mark that it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven. The underlying theme in Repo Man might just be this: The restructuring and reordering of power that leads to those hated by society, be they a punk or an unwanted car repo man, being put on top to the dismay of the higher ups.

REL 360 Responds to C.R.A.Z.Y

Matthew McCullough is a recent graduate from the University of Alabama with a degree in Religious Studies and Political Science. He is excited to be staying on campus to join the new Religion in Culture MA program in the Spring. The following blog post was written for REL 360: Popular Culture/Humanities. Continue reading

Coming Attractions: REL 490 Capstone Senior Seminar

REL 490 is the Department’s senior seminar, that’s offered each Spring. Required of all majors, its topic regularly changes as does the professor who offers it. The goal of the course is to offer some sort of test case or example that can provide an opportunity for students with wide interests to mull over the skills that were gained throughout the degree.

This Spring it’s Prof. McCutcheon who is teaching the course and the topic is the work of Jonathan Z. Smith.

But is it…? Continue reading

“Is that enough of a reference for you?”

Bad magician performing a trick at a job interview

Justin Dearborn is a 2007 UA graduate of New College, with a Depth Study in “Religion, Social Structure, and Culture Studies,” who was a frequent member of REL seminars. He currently lives in Los Angeles and is the US National Sales Manager for an Icelandic Craft Brewery.

As I sit here on a Saturday afternoon, warm coffee in hand and enjoying the weekend, I find myself feeling both nostalgic and lucky. Nostalgic considering Dr. McCutcheon’s request for REL Grads to contribute to the REL Blog concerning Job Interview Questions that REL Grads may face after leaving the university and me remembering my time spent in Manly Hall. Lucky because after almost a decade removed from graduation and several years of hard work I’m finally getting to enjoy weekends these days vs. having to work them in years past. I’ve promised Dr. McCutcheon and tried to bang out one of these posts multiple times since serendipitously running into him at Dreamland in 2015 while in Tuscaloosa for work, and I always hit a wall considering what I want my message to be. Given this directive is more specific I should be able to stay on message.

To begin, I am not a true REL Grad in that I attended the University of Alabama as a New College major learning how the different disciplines of Anthropology, Sociology, Philosophy, History and Religious Studies approach the study of Culture, Power, and specifically Religion in Culture as it relates to Power. It was fascinating to perceive the distinct differences in the traditional disciplines paradigmatic approach to the topic, while the REL Dept relied on source material from all of those disciplines to convey that Religion isn’t just dogmatic source texts, beliefs and actions as codified by participants nor is it the hierarchies assigned by colonialist scholars as outside observers. Instead, REL taught me specifically that through discourse meaning is collectively created and is directly relational to power and economies of power.

Without further elaborating on my theoretical takeaways (saving for a future blog post, of course) and sticking to the topic at hand, I wanted to provide some anecdotal examples of what I’ve personally experienced in the job market while listing “Religion, Social Structure, and Culture Studies” as my depth study on my resume. Of course there are always the typical questions related to participating in a particular faith, but in those oversimplified questions that contain preconceived notions of the value and applications of an REL degree there is an opportunity to express what I did learn in REL, how it’s applicable to the job world outside of academia, and why my degree specifically has prepared me to be a better candidate for open positions considering the remaining applicant field.

So were you going to be a preacher?

It’s the South, right? Your potential interviewer (if you choose to stay in the region) will likely be of an age where “Religion” specifically means Protestant Christianity, and to “study religion” means to them an academic track undergone by one who intends to be in a leadership position of a faith organization. There are two great silver linings to this question!

First, you get to explain the skills that you specifically learned in REL and how it applies to the position. In this interview for an inside sales position I was able to explain that I learned that people’s behavior can be influenced by language when you learn what motivates them. This likely did not come out as cerebral as I’ve typed here, but I was able to connect how a religious adherent like a preacher can get an entire congregation to behave a certain way by leveraging the language of that group and how in a sales position I could achieve the desired outcome (a sale) by speaking in and leveraging the language of potential customers. I explained I would use: sports metaphors for football fans, technical product knowledge for the gearheads, and aspirational affiliation (e.g. press, blogs, “influencers,” etc.) for those looking to connect the product and their potential purchase to their identity and concept of self (e.g. their personal or online “brand”).

The second great silver lining for this question is your opportunity to explain what a Religious Studies degree is in the 21st century. The hope is that collectively through a discursive process we can adapt the colloquial understanding of Religious Studies in the South to have a new meaning that furthers the idea that Manly Hall is not training preachers.

I see that you studied Religion, but this job is for Sales. How is your education relevant?

I love this one because it’s as if the Interviewer just walked into our trap. As an REL Major or Minor you will have the opportunity to explain that Religious Studies is first and foremost Interdisciplinary and has made you a well-rounded critical thinker. You could convey that in Religious Studies you learned that all questions and problems are nuanced, that direct causal relationships in human behavior are rarely provable, and to answer a question or solve a problem you’ve learned to dig deeper than what’s on the surface. I’ve touched on how that can be relative to sales above, and it will be your goal in the interview to relay what you’ve taken from your time in Manly from some of the best educators in the field and how it relates to the position you’re seeking. 

You “Liked” Siddhartha on Facebook and have a Religion degree, so I knew you had to be cool.

(Footnote: Before we go any further, if your Facebook account doesn’t have any type of Privacy Settings then everything is visible to all. Just remember that before you go applying for jobs.)

Not a question, I know, but an example of the 21st century job market. My current superior made this statement in an interview in 2014 for the position I hold today. I was able to tell her a tale of reading Herman Hesse’s Steppenwolf in the late Dr. Murphy’s Existentialism class in college the same semester as I was taking a course on the narratives of the Bodhisattva with Dr. Schaeffer (who now works at UVa but who taught courses on Tibetan Buddhism when I was at UA), so the following summer I read Hesse’s Siddhartha. (Check transcript for continuity; dates may be off) Sometimes this quest for knowledge is admired in the non-academic world where so many applicants took a more calculated “career path” that never garnered true critical thinking.

A lot of Interview Questions can be a gauge of your personality. Employers aren’t always looking for specific competencies or skills you’ve learned in undergrad. They want to see those skills in action in a competent, manageable candidate that’s got a great personality. I know this because I’ve hired multiple employees and interviewed numerous candidates since graduating in 2007. I’m always looking for specific examples from the past and how they relate to future scenarios in the position for which I’m hiring. Below are some examples from recent Interviews, in July, that reference the undergrad experience:

I see here you have [XYZ Degree/Certificate/Qualification], what made you decide to achieve this qualification/degree?

What’s an example of your Lateral Thinking either in your current/past position, in college, or in your personal life? (Lateral Thinking is a problem solving skill that uses imaginative and creative ways to approaching problems, ideas, or outcomes. Think of it as a resourcefulness indicator.) 

How do you manage your time and/or prioritize tasks? (This can be either in your job, university, or personal life. Wherever it’s hectic, how do you manage multiple situations?)

Hopefully this helps in preparing you to A) expect certain questions relative to preconceived notions of Religious Studies, B) explain how Religious Studies can apply to the job world outside of academia, and C) be another successful student of the University of Alabama that chose to pursue an education in the Liberal Arts and Religious Studies, even though you may not have long-term goals in academia, because you understand that the job market is accepting of all types of degree earners with strong critical thinking skills.