Posts Tagged ‘myths’

National Myths

13 October 2011

Dear J-

Censorship in America is a funny thing; I remember the spate of horror movies in the 80s where violence wasn’t necessarily condoned but each butcher-like splatter of gore was dissected and celebrated in magazines like Fangoria while mentions of sex were fairly taboo: Angel Heart nearly earned the kiss-of-death X rating just from the notoriety of a Cosby Kid in a sex scene. As a nation we’re fixated on Puritan notions of sex (keep the dirty bits under covers) and romantic vigilante notions of violence (who else could have come up with Batman, a character who uses his wealth to exact revenge on criminals?).

So it’s perhaps not surprising to keep hearing about the mythological silent stoic cowboy, refugee from tall tales and romanticized views of the West, Spartan in his lifestyle, ascetic ini his celibacy, and of course deadly with a gun at thousands of yards. That’s the myth we keep telling ourselves is true. Whole legions of men grow up steeped in cowboy culture, calling out flinty self-reliance and an implacable acceptance of no assistance. My way. No help. My wits against nature/the government/cattle rustlers/Indians/buffalo/the elements.

Thing is that we take all kinds of help from everywhere. There are whole mega-retail palaces devoted to the art of catching and killing animals for sport, not sustenance and serious survival; despite the paranoia that seems to infect the Boy Scout-trained always-be-prepared — zombie holocaust, thermonuclear war, apocalyptic governmental collapse, chaos and anarchy — I wonder how much of it is fueled by our national mythologies and reinforcement of those mores through media.




28 August 2010

Dear J-

When we were living in Davis, we used to pick up stray dogs on a semi-regular basis. One of the ones we picked up was a Shepherd mix like Bean, only slightly more contrasty (white and black instead of tan and black) and with more of the classic Shepherd features, with the pointy ears. We actually knew this one, Jack, as his owner used to hang out with us at the same dog park we would take Bean. We got Jack home and our cat, Bailey, who’d grown up with Bean and considered him like a father, had no problems at all with Jack until she spotted Bean right behind him; then of course she couldn’t get away fast enough, hissing displeasure the whole way.

It’s that way with myths and fairytales for me; I get so wrapped up in the idea that there must be a canonical version that I can’t believe that there might be room for another interpretation. It wasn’t until recently, for instance, that I realized that our modem view of Hercules is a composite of both Greek (who contributed most of the plot — ancestry, madness, and labors) and Roman (wholesale adoption through geographical locations) traditions. It’s not easy to swallow a Disney version of Hercules as some kind of cross between Superman and folk hero.

Yet if you allow for interpretation and literary license, the story isn’t so bad on its own. Had I kept my unreasoning distaste for anything but the most original forms of myths I’d never have enjoyed TH White’s view of King Arthur, say, nor Roger Green’s Robin Hood. We bring our own set of assumptions and cultural views when we tell stories, and it should be the talent of the storyteller, not the slavish adherence to source, that should make the difference.


Walter Read

5 March 2010

Dear J-

I’m reading a lot more lately, even if it is unfathomably fluffy stuff like Percy Jackson and Harry Potter; not sure if it’s inspired more by wanting to relive my youth or having to, given that our bedtime jobs are for me to read books and theVet to sing songs together with figgy. I woke up a little early so that I could finish The Last Olympian, in fact; despite me writing it off as being relatively unoriginal (Greek myth-based universe where the gods have survived and, unsurprisingly, continued to create more and more demigod children with the rest of us mortals), the books were a fun read and interesting enough to keep kids turning pages.

It’s got me thinking about the differences betwen cultural icons; in our Judo-Christian world, the God is a distant power, influencing everything, perfect, and yet relatively unknown, at least in comparison to the Greek gods, who loved to sport with humans and who wore their warts with some pride — jealousy and discord were never far from any Olympian gathering. God, it’s said, makes man in His image, and yet it seems we’ve made our stories in our image instead. The polyglot of United States citizens means that we’ve at least got a passing familiarity with many different influences, even if Greek gods underpin much of Western culture.

On the van yesterday one of our riders pointed out to me that the picture our company had chosen to represent the current Year of the Tiger was terrible: it was cartoony, but the mouth was hanging wide-open. It’s like the prohibition on certain gifts (no knives as wedding presents, for instance, as it represents severing a bond) or numbers (four is unlucky, as it’s a close homonym to the verb “to die” in Chinese which is why you don’t see too many cameras with four by itself in the numbering scheme); it is inauspicious to depict a tiger ready to pounce. There is still so much to learn about everything; we can only come to a better understanding of ourselves and our fellow citizens by keeping an open mind.