Summary: A people’s myths reveal much about them. Today we look at our myths as shown by Hollywood on the big screens. It shows a people with powerful fantasies, but they point to a dead end instead of a viable future.
“All fantasy should have a solid base in reality.”
— Max Beerbohm’s novel Zuleika Dobson (1911)
- Our heroes
- This is the best possible ending for a lone hero
- Question for the comments
- A change of trend?
- For More Information
(1) Our heroes
America’s film heroes follow a deep thread in America history, going back to the mythical cowboys of the post-civil war frontier. Lone rangers, film noir detectives, 1960’s anti-heroes, lone heroes, vigilantes, lone superheroes. We love tales of solitary men fighting the forces of evil in the community — often the leaders of the community — and ride out of town into the sunset.
When it comes to our heroic myths, it’s all “High Noon”. We play the role of civilian bystanders. Ignorant, passive, perhaps even cowardly.
Our myths have dug into a fun but futile rut, one that is symptomatic of our inability to take collective action. It’s symptomatic of our dysfunctionality. Our weakness. And grown worse over time.
- GI Joe fought COBRA,
- UNCLE fought Thrush,
- SHIELD fought high-tech organized crime,
- Flemming’s British Secret Service fought SPECRE,
- In science fiction Heinlein’s Space Patrol kept the peace and EE Smith’s Triplanetary fought pure evil.
These stories mirrored and magnified the organizations that fought for our rights during the generations following the Civil War: unions, progressives fighting for clean food and water, groups fighting for civil rights for Blacks, women, and gays. Brave people working together, against greater powers, often sacrificing all they had — eventually gaining sufficient popular support so that the government puts their reforms into action.
Both this fiction and our history have gone down the memory hole. In response we have fantasy (“what I could do with superpowers”) pointing us away from our strengths. Men and women with godly powers in tights. Lone heroes, often in rebellion against their own organization — or fighting it after it turns against them (as in the Bourne and Mission Impossible films).
These are not dreams that can inspire us to do great deeds in the real world. These are visions of despair, an admission that we cannot imagine a way to recovery what we once were. As a retreat from the real world we would do better to adopt a life of heedless fun (hedonism) or great food (Epicureanism). Individually we are pawns. Together we are a people capable of great things. Or could be.
(2) This is the best possible ending for a lone hero
Here is the conclusion of “Rollerball” (1975), a new-born hero in a world without heroes. A world designed to prevent the rise of heroes. Heroic survival, battered, alone and vulnerable. Nowhere to go but in circles. Around and around. What kind of sequel could we write? Nothing inspiring. Most likely he could retire with a large pension, perhaps hitting the speaking tour for fat fees.
(3) Question for the comments
Superhero comics are, I believe, largely an American art form. Yet the current wave of Hollywood bockbusters have found large audiences overseas, even beyond the English-speakng nations. How do these people regard our heroes? How do they integrate them into their society’s myths and dreams?
(4) A change of trend?
It often pays to watch for contrary trends, such as the appearance in the Disney/Marvel films of SHIELD. It’s had a rocky history in the comics, as a brave true group of defenders becoming evil, then defeated, closed, reopened, rinse and repeat. Let’s see how Hollywood handles this.
The SHIELD TV show shows SHEILD’s heroic side. The trailer for “Winter Soldier”, the second Captain America film, shows a darker version of it. Which will gain the greater traction?
For More Information
- A philosophical basis for the Batman saga, 23 July 2008
- Sources of inspiration for America’s renewal, 23 April 2009 – The Law of Equivalent Exchange
- The problem with America lies in our choice of heroes, 12 November 2010
- Robocop is not a good role model for the youth of Detroit, 12 March 2011
- We want heroes, not leaders. When that changes it will become possible to reform America., 11 January 2013
- Our choice of heroes reveals much about America, 2 June 2013
- Hollywood’s dream machine gives us the Leader we yearn for, 30 June 2013