Last fall, Sue taught an upper-division (undergraduate) course in the English Department at the University of Dayton on visual rhetoric. In that course, her students read a variety of theoretical/critical books and essays that explore how images, sculptures, memorials, museums, and the like make meaning; how the people who view/visit them make (often contested) meanings from them; and how all that meaning-making is deeply rooted in history and politics. The class took as its shared visual texts the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter. After visiting both sites, students wrote a rhetorical analysis of one (or both) sites and then transformed their rhetorical analysis into a blog post. Today, we are pleased to publish Karen Naim’s blog post from Sue’s class.

Karen Naim is a senior at the University of Dayton studying English and International Studies.  She chose to major in English because of her interest in rhetoric and composition and the fascinating relationship between language and culture. Karen has thoroughly enjoyed her time at UD and the wide array of classes she has taken. Among her favorites are Rhetorical Theory, Literature and Human Rights, and Visual Rhetoric. Following graduation, Karen plans on working for a few years before continuing her education in either law or public administration. Karen is a Cleveland native, but is looking forward to where the future will take her.

“Our” Sin at Ark Encounter

Polygamy, giants, music, civilization, and metalworking. What do these have in common? According to Answers in Genesis (AiG), they are five of the sins that God saw as punishable by a worldwide flood. Ark Encounter’s exhibit, “Descent into Darkness” illustrates the sins that inspired God to punish all of humanity by way of a worldwide flood. These images are designed to appear as though they represent ancient cultures and peoples, but there is an air of familiarity in many of the images. Is this exhibit at Ark Encounter purposefully asking visitors to examine the sin in their own lives?

As visitors walk through Ark Encounter, they encounter a series of placards titled,  “Descent into Darkness.” The placards offer representations of sin that are supposed to justify a catastrophic world-wide flood. AiG believes in a literal interpretation of the book of Genesis; therefore, they believe that human sin inspired God to cause a flood that would drown all of humanity, and along with it all of human sin. Ark Encounter’s exhibit reflects AiG’s belief that sin deserves whatever punishment God sees necessary, and the suggestion is that today’s world is equally deserving of such catastrophic punishment.

Importantly, “Descent into Darkness” features images of sin that are surprisingly familiar. The polygamy panel shows a man sitting with seven girls in front of him. Two of the girls  are waiting on him, giving him food and water. Visitors familiar with popular culture will likely be reminded by these placards of popular music videos that we see every day. The music video for “Dynamite” by Afrojack & featuring Snoop Dogg, for example, wherein two women are dancing around the rapper as he sits on a throne, provides an obvious case in point. But it is just one of many possible examples.

The illustrations become only increasingly familiar as the music panel shows three people playing instruments and dancing. The people are dancing around a fire, which may be suggesting some sort of Satanic ritual, but the dancing is more of the focal point. As audiences look at this panel, they may ask “What is different from this and parties I go to? Is my dancing punishable too?”

As visitors continue to move through the exhibit, they are greeted by a mini-diorama that looks like a stadium. The stadium depicted there looks a lot like today’s large sports stadiums, complete with cheering fans. This scene looks like any professional sporting event until the visitors take notice of the humans fighting each other and the torture that is happening on the main field. But if one brackets the torture, they are likely to recognize a familiar scene they can easily insert themselves into. Thus, I wonder if like me many visitors think back to a time they were in a stadium with friends and family cheering on their favorite teams. What is so sinful about that?       

Through its “Descent into Darkness” exhibit, Ark Encounter places visitors in a position to look at the sin in their own lives based on AiG’s interpretation of sin and God’s punishment. If the images and dioramas were not enough to make the visitors catch the subtle hints of modern culture, the next section explicitly asks them to consider their own lives. As one panel specifically asks, “The pre-flood world was exceedingly wicked and deserved to be judged … Does our sin-filled world deserve any less?”

The question is not whether AiG meant to create a powerful parallel to today’s culture. Instead, the question is about how powerful this exhibit is in sending a message to visitors that damnation is close at hand.