Calvin and a (Pop) Theology of the Cross

10 May 2007

No, this is not going to be about the Calvin you might guess.

I was driving down Chicago Avenue in Evanston the other day, when I saw a truck with a bumper sticker (well, more of a back windshield sticker) I had never seen before.

The sticker had Calvin (of Calvin and Hobbes) kneeling at a cross, presumably praying.

Now, I’d never been much of a fan of the appropriation of Calvin as the ubiquitous pisser: on Chevy logos, on Ford logos, on GMC logos, on what have you.  Why Calvin?  As mischievous as he was in the comic strip, I don’t think he ever peed on something, and if he did it was a useful, acceptable pee, like one might sprinkle on a dying campfire.

For years, the only Calvin I saw on the backs of trucks (because I don’t ever think I saw it on the back of a car) was a Calvin who, in a gesture of mock modesty, grinned at other motorists while his body turned away, his fly open, peeing on the truck owner’s particular object of scorn.

And now this.  Calvin kneeling at the cross.  What does this mean?  I don’t do semiotics, textuality, or hermeneutics, you’ll have to ask someone else for that.   Or I can give it a shot in my pedestrian way.

What struck me is that in the first appropriation of Calvin (i.e., the tinkler), we took a mischievous but inquisitive character and made him into a Dennis the Menace-ish persona, who we would be if we didn’t have to abide by the conventions and customs of civilized society.  I wonder if this really means that the truck driver, if we put social norms aside, would actually want to urinate on other driver’s vehicles, auto maker logos, and, if they’re really mean, driver side door handles?

But now with the cross, we don’t have a return to the Bill Watterston character; that Calvin probably wouldn’t kneel at a cross.  I have to assume that Calvin kneeling is the mirror-Calvin, the Calvin who represents who we would like to be or who does what we would like to do, if only we could do it without the approbation of others.

Do these stickers —of which I’ve seen only one—  indicate, “kneeling at a cross is something I feel moved to do inside, an expression of faith I believe in, but that I can’t actually do in public, because people would look down on me for it?”

In terms of a (pop) theology of the cross, what does this sticker mean?  The cross is something on the level of a logo, which can be alternately reverenced or peed on (one must assume the latter is a possibility, since we know Calvin does that a lot more than anything else)?  Is the cross something the sticker sticker (i.e., the person putting said sticker on truck)  is somewhat ashamed of, unable to interact with it (as with the scorned logos) as he or she might wish, but still holding in a place of reverence or holiness?

I grant that I may be overthinking this, but it was an odd thing to see, after seeing Calvin relieving himself on all and sundry things over the years.

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3 Responses to “Calvin and a (Pop) Theology of the Cross”

  1. David Says:

    Well, from a Lutheran perspective I guess Calvin the tinkler and Calvin the kneeler could represent our life as both saint and sinner.

    I’m like you; I have never seen the Calvin stickers on a car or even a mini-van. What does that say about car owners vs. truck owners?

  2. Tripp Says:

    I think Calvin is repenting.

  3. Larry Says:

    I like your analysis, it is at least supportable as a possible effect. I think though it is also a desire to redeem an image, but I don’t think the general effect is that.
    I also have been a little puzzled by the peeing Calvin.
    But as a possible effect of these two contrasting images I think you might be on to something.

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