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HomeEntertainmentPerspective | Roy Lichtenstein’s pop-art take on Eve hides some deep theology

Perspective | Roy Lichtenstein’s pop-art take on Eve hides some deep theology

This Roy Lichtenstein painting may look superficial and silly. But I’ve given it a minute and think it’s underwritten by some deep theological thinking. I’ve filed it, consequently, in the same part of my brain as Britney Spears’s “Oops!…I Did it Again.”

I’ll explain. But first look at what the painting (which is at the Broad museum in downtown Los Angeles) actually shows — and how it shows it.

Rendered as a frame from a comic strip, Lichtenstein’s painting is composed of evenly spaced Ben-Day dots and unbroken areas of flat color divided by black lines of varying thickness. It shows a young woman, closely cropped, shedding a single tear, her slender hand reaching into the tree overhead. A speech bubble indicates that she’s sorry.

Lichtenstein was one of the founding figures of pop art. He had the great idea of transposing throwaway, small-scale comic art into built-to-last, large-scale fine art. In doing so, he drew people’s attention to how much visual intelligence lies behind comic book art. At the same time, he created a nifty cover for a rich spread of subversively playful meanings.

Here, the young woman stammering her apology beneath a tree might be just a girl apologizing to her boyfriend. But she also suggests the biblical figure of Eve. And if that interpretation holds (I don’t think Lichtenstein was too invested in this — he just liked dangling the possibility), there’s something very heavy about her apology.

After all, this lovely young woman with her blond bob and glistening lower lip is on the hook for nothing less than original sin. The Fall. The entire debacle.

Lichtenstein is toying with us. Conscious of the weight of the matter, and of countless predecessors — many of them giants of Western art — who have addressed the same subject, he gives Eve the comic book treatment.

And just like that, with a puff of dust — a varoom! a whaam! a pow! — the whole biblical catastrophe is made to float off into the ether, like a sitcom gag.

Of course, Eve’s purported responsibility for original sin is also an origin story for misogyny. (It had to be the woman’s fault, right?) But here, the woman’s affected stammer and single, immaculately manufactured tear cast doubt on her sincerity.

And that’s why, for me, “I…I’m Sorry!” calls to mind one of my favorite moments in pop culture: the bridge, or interlude, in “Oops!…I Did It Again.”

“Britney, before you go, there’s something I want you to have,” says the astronaut love-interest in the song’s accompanying video. He presents her with the blue diamond from the blockbuster film “Titanic.”

“Oh, it’s beautiful,” says Britney, “but wait a minute, isn’t this…?”

“Yeah, yes it is.”

“But I thought the old lady dropped it into the ocean in the end.”

“Well baby, I went down and got it for you.”

“Aww, you shouldn’t have.”

Britney’s “Aww, you shouldn’t have” is the equivalent of “I…I’m Sorry!” It’s what the woman is expected to say, what the moment apparently calls for. But it’s followed by a kind of shoulder shrug, a “whatever,” an “oops,” because it bears no relationship to the reality of the situation, as determined by the self-empowered protagonist. Britney is not in love with this dude. Eve is not sorry.

In both scenarios, a whole alternative narrative moves into view. You might see it in the next frame.

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