Sunday, September 24, 2006

Modern myth-making

"Are we still a myth-making culture? I mean, from how I understand it, the ancients used myths to explain the phenomena around them, but in this day and age, we think we've already explained everything. Do we still make myths? Or are we doomed to rehash the myths that our ancestors made?"

That was me posing a question in the class that I sat in yesterday. I'd like to think that it was an earnest question, though I won't deny that I was trying to impress the folks around me with such a seemingly deep thought.

"Yes, we are," Dr. Garcia answered. "Up to now there are still areas which science and philosophy fail to answer adequately, and this is the area where myth-making comes in. And, you might note that many of the modern myths already become intergalactic in nature."

In hindsight, it seemed like a silly question to which I already knew the answer. Fiction is my hobby, and I have one leg firmly planted in the realm of fantasy and science-fiction. Of course we still make myths! Star Wars, for example, is our modern fairy tale; in fact, just one among many. All you need to do is take your pick from among the multitudes of choices in fandom.

On the other hand, the modern myths of this category do not really satisfy my criteria for myths of the order that the ancients seemed to hold. No one really looks to Star Wars as a real story, except perhaps in the lunatic fringe of geekdom. The myths of old at least seemed to be wrapped in the essence of reality and were widely believed and accepted by a large number of ordinary people.

Ordinary people. That's one of the keys of a myth of the first order, that it has to be accepted as the truth by ordinary people. Some myths may spring from the imagination of priests and poets, but it takes the mass of ordinary people to give life to them. A very democratic process, we might say.

Perhaps Dr. Garcia was referring in part to the cult of UFOs when she pointed out to the intergalactic nature of modern myths. Some folks, notably in the United States, seem to have made a new religion out of this, sometimes with disastrous results, e.g., Heaven's Gate. But UFOs are too far out in the fringes of society to be considered part of the lore of ordinary people.

To be continued....