Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Plagues of Egypt in Pop Culture

I’ve been looking forward to The Book of Everything since last spring when I first watched a clip of the show. The story is one of complex themes and nuance, but it’s also been crafted with a remarkable sense of humor. At the center of the story is Thomas Klopper – a complex and sensitive 9-year-old boy – whose own sense of humor develops despite the challenges he faces at home. In the production, Thomas rebels against his strict and religious father’s rule – but his rebellion starts small. Inspired by Biblical passages his family has been reading nightly at the dinner table, Thomas attempts to recreate the Plagues of Egypt in his family’s home.

While I remember the Plagues of Egypt from my own Sunday School classes, I’d find it difficult to name all ten if quizzed. Below is a refresher course for those of us who may have forgotten – or never knew them in the first place. Inspired by young Thomas’s playful sensibilities, I’ve compiled the list purely from music, movies, television and other pop culture artifacts that have used the Plagues of Egypt for their own inspiration.

 1. Plague of Blood – “Don’t Drink the Water” by Dave Matthews Band from Before These Crowded Streets 

In the first plague, the water of the Nile River turned to blood. The repeated refrain of “Don’t drink the water / There’s blood in the water” is as haunting a depiction of this plague as any I can imagine. 

 2. Plague of Frogs – Magnolia, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
This movie premiered in 1999 to critical acclaim as well as a fair amount of head scratching. But film geeks like me have since spent countless views finding the various references to Exodus before the sky begins to rain frogs in the film.

 3. Plague of Lice – “The Meaning of Lice” by Stephin Merritt from Plague Songs
I admit, this might not be the most inspired selection in this list, but I was fascinated to discover that the British Arts Organization Artangel commissioned a song cycle about the ten plagues in 2006 featuring Rufus Wainwright, Brian Eno and Imogen Heap as well as this gem from Stephin Merritt, lead singer of The Magnetic Fields

 4. Plague of Flies – “Lord of the Flies” from The X-Files
Depending on which Biblical translation you’re reading, the fourth plague was either flies or wild animals. However, this episode from the ninth and final season of X-Files depicts an appropriately terrifying (and lethal) invasion of flies. 

 5. Plague of Pestilence – Pestilence in Alpha Flight from Marvel Comics
The most obscure in this list is definitely Pestilence, a super villain in the Alpha Flight comics who was apparently based on real-life arctic explorer Francis Crozier. Pestilence’s super powers included controlling spirits of the dead and summoning forms of disease and death. 

 6. Plague of Boils – “If I’m Dyin’, I’m Lyin’” from Family Guy
The entire Griffin family is visited by the Plagues of Egypt in this episode from 2000 after Peter claims to be a god. But it is Peter’s son Chris who comes down with a nasty case of boils – every pimply teenager’s worst fear. 

 7. Plague of Hail – The Day After Tomorrow, directed by Roland Emmerich
Nothing says impending doom like killer hail, as seen in this scene from the film. If giant hail ever falls from the sky in Tokyo, I will be the first to seek refuge in the New York Public Library. You heard it here first. 

 8. Plague of Locusts – The Day of Locust by Nathanael West 
While the novel (and eventual film adaptation) does not depict a plague of locusts at all, this 1939 novel uses locusts as a symbol of violence, desperation and apocalypse in its depiction of Depression-era Hollywood. 

 9. Plague of Darkness – “Moses spread the darkness over Egypt” by Marc Chagall from the series The Story of Exodus
Chagall, one of the most celebrated artists of the twentieth century was commissioned to illustrate the Old Testament in 1931. While he worked tirelessly on the series from 1931 to 1934, World War II ultimately halted his work and the series was not completed until 1956. 

10. Plague of the Firstborn – “Creeping Death” by Metallica from Ride the Lightning
This track from Metallica’s second album was written from the perspective of the Angel of Death. It is one of Metallica’s most popular songs, no doubt in part because the grisly subject matter is rather befitting of their thrash style.

In the comments, tell us where else you’ve seen the Plagues of Egypt depicted over the years. What did we miss?

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