Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Mythical Living Through - Shudder & Gasp! - Pop Culture

In the hallowed psychological halls of academia at the Institute where I eke out graduate level study of Mythology, and all that might mean, whispers circle at the edges. Furtive glances precede, sussing out those who might be listening, making sure only friendly voices are near when a certain topic is mentioned. This is not Depth Psychology, nor C. G. Jung. It is not ritual of which I speak, nor of the Eastern road to enlightenment. Jesus? No. Not religion at all. Barely mythological, if certain are listened to. Of what do I speak, true believer?

Pop culture. There - the heavens have rattled, the mind has felt tremors from deep within - but the skies and our bodies still stand. In the ongoing battle of high brow vs. low brow, art vs. - well what do They say is the opposite of art? - crap? Popular culture, the offering of these United States to the World.

Our entertainment is saturated with myth and psychological depth, but often ignored with the academic snort, a wave of the hand, a derisive comment, but mostly, with an ignorance claiming worthlessness to the whole part and parcel of the stories we live in. By focusing on religion, fine art and analysis, the actual mythical living this abundantly rich and mythical pop culture bathes us in - and sometimes cleanses us with - can be utterly ignored by the academy I am part of unless it can be linked to, as above, religion, fine art and analytical models that enable.... something. I don't quite know.

What I do believe though, is: read or embodied (embodied here meaning lived, because a story told that one finds enabling is often useful to then enact, somehow proving useful to one's lived life) - myth surrounds us. James Hillman - for all his output on patient analysis by relating our pathologies to Greek myths in order to see through and understand them, allowing ourselves to move beyond those pathologies - has a major idea that seems to be mostly ignored for what it implies, for what it imagines. He stresses that mythically living is the aim.

We need to see the stories that surround us at all times, the possibilities that those stories offer us. If we are in need, the stories that have gone before us can offer insights and ways to help us. But what of those who are relatively free of pathology? Myth still surrounds us. The idea of mythically living still offers us a rich, and deep, embodied way of life, a way to see the world and our world in more satisfying and meaningful ways.

To remain stuck in pathology turns the screws on ourselves, ferreting out deep insidious problems where there may only be a lack of ability to see the wonder and the awe. Why settle for problems when you can be awed? This is not to say there are not deep and disturbing problems that some of us have real troubles with. But without that, why not aim for awe?

And religion in our society has proven mostly incapable of providing awe. It seems harder and harder to maintain a story - a mythical life - that is capable of explaining everything in one system. The more stories we have, the more stories that provide that wonder and awe as example, the easier it is to mythically live. Thus, the American idea of the melting pot can be seen as that cauldron of story that Tolkien wrote about. And then, Enter - pop culture.

Our master mythologists today are our storytellers. The ideas run thick and deep in film, literature, comics, music and every other style and genre of art. Some is crap. Some provides wonder and awe; wonder and awe that provide stories to enable us to be in that rarefied space known as mythical living. Simple as that. Can pop culture do that for us? Surely no, the academy shouts loudly.

But of course, it can. This post was originally going to be a fun musing on paranormal investigators, an archetype that I was drawn to even as a child. Scooby Doo and his people investigated mysteries. One favorite show for me as a child was "Kolchak the Night Stalker", a Chicago newspaper reporter who found a new monster every week to investigate. A bit unbelievable that he was able to do that led to an early demise for that show. And recently - Hellboy, Mike Mignola's masterful empire of comics, animation and film about what seems to me to be the ultimate in paranormal investigation. All pop culture. All fun. But utterly mythical - providing stories that allow us to view the world through mythical eyes and re-see what is actually there.

I'll give only one example. In "Hellboy II - The Golden Army", after two viewings, I was still somewhat unsure of exactly why Hellboy and friends quit the B.P.R.D. at the end of the movie. Sure, it seemed wrong that the elf prince had to die. He was on the side against humans, but his cause seemed somehow just. And the princesses death certainly underscored how unfair it was. But this is what they do - fight the occult evils of the world. Why quit over this one?

And it now occured to me how powerful an earlier scene had been - a scene invoking landscape and a way to see mythical living in our world. It did not evoke pathology, but conveyed an actual way to see life anew. In that scene, Hellboy deafeats and kills a nature elemental, a giant flowerlike plant spirit that raged over the concrete streets and in its demise left a green paradise, plants and flowers, another world of beauty that could only be seen through after the nature spirit died.
This dreamlike scene, in which the human looking Liz meanders through a spray of falling seed and watches greenery sprout and spread instantaneously, is pop culture at its best. It offers images and narratives not only for the filmed story, but also for us and our lives. Here is pop culture myth powerful enough to hold its own with classical myths, showing us a possibility, one possible way, to live our lives. Hellboy quits because he sees through his life to the larger universal. Mythical living.

"Hey, that red devil is from a comic book!" They rant and rave.
I say - Throw back the curtains and open the doors. Emerge into the world and breathe. Deeply.


Gentian said...

oh you go, Joe!

I'm working Gandalf, Dumbledore, and Ged into my paper on wizards, along with Moses, Prospero, and Merlin . . .

Nikki Faith said...

Power to pop-culture!!!! :)
While many academic circles turn their nose down at it, the field is growing. ;)

Joe Muszynski said...

Yes indeed, academic study of all this wonderful material is on the rise - but mostly in English departments. I think if I was in one of those depts, I would not even have thoughts like this.

Seems sad that in my program there is so little looking forward - or even just around.

Nikki Faith said...

Well, then, you should move to California - we just ooze with pop culture - and major in English! Just think, we could get coffee every week and share all our grand ideas. ;-)