The biblical Satan tormented Job by taking away what he needed, while the modern devil torments Faust by offering him whatever he wants. Goethe’s protagonist rejects the devil’s blandishments, eschewing the “gold that runs through my fingers like quicksilver, a game that no-one wins, a girl who ogles my neighbor while I embrace her, honor that disappears like a falling star.”
In a 1935 radio play, a man dies in a car accident and finds himself in a palatial home where a butler fulfills his every wish for wealth, women and so forth. The man (acted by Colin Clive, the first movie Dr. Frankenstein) cannot bear what he takes for Heaven, and tells his butler, “I want to suffer…I’m sick of Heaven…I can’t stand this confounded everlasting bliss…Well, whatever the devils do to me can’t be as bad as this. I want to go to Hell!”
The butler replies, “Why sir— wherever do you think you are? This is Hell, sir!”
America has turned into Hell — not the Hell of Christian theology, to be sure, but the real Hell in which the satisfaction of narcissistic desire drives the damned into ever more intense misery.
The playwright, John Balderston, wrote the 1931 film “Dracula” and other scripts in the horror genre. In 1960 Charles Beaumont, another genre writer, adapted Balderston’s playlet as an episode of The Twilight Zone. The theme derives from Goethe’s “Faust,” which in turn borrows from the biblical Book of Job.
The biblical Satan tormented Job by taking away what he needed, while the modern devil torments Faust by offering him whatever he wants.
Goethe’s protagonist rejects the devil’s blandishments, eschewing the “gold that runs through my fingers like quicksilver, a game that no-one wins, a girl who ogles my neighbor while I embrace her, honor that disappears like a falling star.”
Today’s Americans have taken the devil’s deal. As Faust told Mephistopheles, he is damned once he tries to hang on to the devil’s passing moment of pleasure. The Americans make a lifestyle out of it, and are just as miserable as the Colin Clive character in Balderston’s fantasy.
Balderston and Beaumont wrote horror fiction, but not in their darkest imaginings could they have invented the tortures that the devil inflicts on the young people of the West today.
Faust’s devil tells his victim that he can have whatever he wants; his contemporary successor encourages his victim to be whatever he wants. The updated Faustian bargain comes down to the “right to define and express an identity,” as Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy began his opinion in the Obergefell case.
An updated version of Balderston’s story would allow the victim to change his or her or their gender, or perhaps pick something hermaphroditically in between. He/she/they could be nonbinary, or omnigender, or polygender and pangender, transgender, two-spirit, genderfluid, genderexpansive or any number of other things.
I do not know the anatomical implications of these neologisms. For more information, I direct the reader to the website of Medical News Today from which I took the terms.
Bisexuality, Woody Allen joked, doubled one’s chances of getting a date for Saturday night, but the proliferation of so-called gender identities reduces the probability to near zero. Designer identities invented according to individual impulse create a class of individuals who, by construction, are sexually incompatible with no-one else (or perhaps with everyone else, which is just as bad).
A few clicks will take today’s 12-year-old to video sites that show every imaginable variant of sexual activity. Mephistopheles helped Faust seduced the innocent Gretchen and resurrected Helen of Troy. His successor today would transmogrify his victim into a participant.
What would the damned ask of the devil? According to a 2016 report by pornhub.com, the most popular search terms in the United States are “Stepmom,” “Lesbian,” and “Stepsister.” In Europe (including Russia) the top search term is “anal.”
Pornography is not the anticipation of “normal” sexual relations (I am aware how controversial the N-word is when applied to sex) but something entirely different: It is the awakening of an obsessive narcissism that encourages the victim to plumb the darkest recesses of his psyche.