Pop Culture Mythologies

A piece from the “ancient” archives, penned long ago…

Unlike the mythic stories and legends of Egypt and ancient Greece, which possess a certain immutable, ageless quality, our modern pop culture “legends” are malleable and, like so many unstable radioactive isotopes, tend to degrade over time.

When we are young, the “characters” in our pop culture myth have a certain reality. An imagined immanence. As we mature, become sophisticated, the real human actor, complete with all his or her faults, foibles and fanaticisms, percolates to the surface of our consciousness, marring the idealized image we once had. This sours us.

Cynicism, pessimism and a diminished faith in the general value of a symbolic or iconographic ideal follows.

What are the consequences of this fractured link to the true mythic past?

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4 Responses to “Pop Culture Mythologies”

  1. ricki Says:

    The ancients also soured on their gods. Every one of them had a human weakness, some had all of them, magnified many times. That’s the true wisdom of ancient mythology.

  2. The Necromancer Says:

    ricki: The Gods had faults, but they weren’t pale shadows of the ideal like some of the hack actors who’ve played them. Alternately, all sorts of mythic characters are distorted in this fashion. Leaves some baffled, I suspect…”Hmm, wow, I never knew Moses was a gun nut…”

  3. kerrjac Says:

    The way that you put it, it seems like not so much has changed. I’m sure that if you took a child from ancient Greece, his beliefs in mythic Gods and heroes would change as he grows up, just like any child today.

    Along the lines of Campbell’s archetypes, there is a grain of undeniable truth behind a culture’s superheroes – be them ancient gods, comic book heroes, or football players. It’s not a stretch to go a step further, and to consider that as society changes – with technology, science, education, wealth – a piece of those creatures will change as well.

    Furthermore, on a practical level, older legends are bound to be ‘immutable’, almost by definition. In every generation, there is weight given to history, along with a fascinating search for our origins. But it’s easy to look at the past through rosy lenses. Just because every song on a ’70s classics radio station was a hit doesn’t mean that every song written in the ’70s was also a hit. Multiply this effect (e.g., of keeping only the best) by thousands of years, and you easily get a skewed view of the ancients.

    But that is no reason to judge our heroes as lesser than those from the past. Those of the past can provide a sense of context and some great tales, but they ultimately remain on the fringes – tales from a people, who, as time grows, become further alien from us. There’s a good reason why the name Achilles doesn’t excite today’s children: today’s icons are more relevant. There’s even a case to be made for studying the heroes in today’s society, as a self-reflection, to learn – rather than to judge – ourselves.

  4. The Necromancer Says:

    @kerrjac: If only the tales of today were as instructive as the myths of the past. But I think they are burdened by greater banality and sheer idiocy than the epics of bygone eras. Still, I take your point about the multiplying effects of time and the loss of innocence. Always happy to have you chime in…

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