Stories are my myths. They have helped form my belief system. X-Men, Superman, Stars Wars, Dr Who, Spider-Man, Lord of the Rings, and He-Man. All of it. These are my legends, my myths. Our myths.
(Hang on. Quick disclaimer. This post is all James. I’m not saying Chris is or is not of the same mind here. Also, I’m not trying to offend. This isn’t religious for me, it’s myth. K, continue…)
I remember an old episode of Northern Exposure. In the episode, a native man is asking the people of Cicily to tell him the stories of their people. He wants to find white man’s myths, the stories of their creation and how they explain the world. But the stories of all the non-native people weren’t tales of creation or gods, they weren’t myths in the traditional sense. The legends, the stories everyone had about their people were urban legends.
Now, many years later as a try to write this post, I can’t find any trace of the episode. I don’t own any seasons, and I haven’t seen any of it since it was on the air. But I know this episode happened. (Though, it would be very Northern Exposure-esque (is that a thing?) for me to remember an episode that helped me think a certain way, though that episode might not even exist.)
Anyway, I’m rambling, and straying from what I want to talk about.
While that episode is good, I believe that comics, not urban legends, are our stories. Not just comic books, but the comics and books and movies and cartoons that are spanning 2 or 3 generations are our new legends. Not just white man’s stories, but modern stories. These are our myths. There are origin stories for characters, tales of gods, half gods, and super-humans saving the poor mortals, as well as tales of mortals saving themselves from the gods. They reflect Norse, Greek, and Roman mythology, and even take quite liberally from them. We have stories which follow the classic hero’s journey, or even comics and movies which involve huge twists and adaptions to the mythological characters themselves. We haven’t let go of these archetypes, they have continued on with us, growing with us (for good or bad).
Our modern stories do not tell how us our people came to be. That is an old tale, and whether you believe in science or religion, it isn’t a question we need our modern day legends to explain (unless, of course, Ridley Scott can actually make it interesting…). Our legends aren’t about gods creating us, our stories are not our religion. We know (at least, some of us) that we came here from other countries. Other places of myth and legend. We grew out of other cultures, other myths. So no, our modern day myths do not have stories of great floods or being moulded from clay and given life.
Geek Culture Is Important
I’ve been hearing a lot lately about how geek culture is useless. Especially now, with the recent Star Wars marketing craze, I’ve heard a fair bit about how the geeky fans should pay attention to things that actually matter. About how if people cared about third world starvation and terrorist bombings as they do about where Luke Skywalker is now, they could do some real good instead of just playing pretend and watching movies. Why, I ask, are these things separate? Star Wars: The Force Awakens was aware of this, helping to raise over 4 million dollars for UNICEF through Force For Change. That was fans of Star Wars, donating small amounts of money to help real issues. Is it a perfect solution? No, but it is something. Can’t we love geek culture AND care about real events in the world?
Can’t a story help us understand the stupid events that we inflict upon ourselves?
Yes, it’s made up, it’s pretend. But come on, so too is our economy. Money, stocks, the price of oil. It is ALL pretend. It’s all man-made, and maintained by belief.
I’ve recently read American Gods by Neil Gaiman. This story of the old gods, the old beliefs of the cultures that came before us only reinforced the idea for me, of our stories and where they come from. What they mean to us. About how we’ve taken from other cultures, cultures we came from both long ago and 400, 200, or even 5 years ago. About how stories stay with us, and evolve with us. About how new gods arise, and they’re neither good nor bad, but simply fed by our belief. We don’t need stories to explain how the gods made us, or how they bring the rain or destroy our crops.
We need these stories to help us understand our current struggles.
I don’t think this is a new idea. The X-Men are not a new thing, not a fad created for movies. They are our fears of rejection, of existing a society which doesn’t want individuals any longer, but deep down we know it still needs people who are unique. Superman is also not new, but I believe helps explain a lot of our current world, how someone who is forced from their birth culture can love, care about, fight for, and belong to a new one. Most of Marvel’s line-up consists of geniuses who played god with science, and either used their intellect to destroy something or alter themselves. This idea is at our core right now, as we have significantly expanded our understanding of both our bodies and the universe in the last hundred years.
Longer, in fact. Look at the now classic characters of doctors Frankenstein and Jekyll. Sherlock Holmes and Captain Nemo. Written as stories to entertain, they are now all rooted in our mythology as archetypal figures. Their authors and creators used stories to help explain the changes that were occurring in the world at that time. Narnia hasn’t gone anywhere. Middle Earth is ingrained more in our culture then ever. And I firmly believe that in a few generations, the stories of Hogwarts, Wayne Manor, and the Starship Enterprise will still be told.
James, You’re Being Ridiculous
Now just wait a second. I know that our modern day culture isn’t going to the be building temples to honour the glory of Magneto, or hold sacrifices to appease the hunger of Megatron. We’ve evolved…well, kinda sorta…beyond that. And our myths should too. Just like in American Gods, our stories need to evolve with us. We might not have great temples to these new mythological figues, but we have theme parks and billboards (not necessarily a good thing, by the way…). We put these character’s faces on bags of oranges and toys for our children. We get tattoos and write songs about them.
We build grand movie theatres that could rival any Greek temple, and we do this across quite a few countries.
Look, I know what I’m saying is VERY debatable. I’m saying that Captain Kirk is just as culturally important as Zeus. That Superman or Princess Leia can go toe to toe with Noah, Loki, or Gitchi Manitou. Ridiculous? Yeah…well, maybe.
But I still believe it.