Myth and the Superhero
Is myth dead? Before we answer that question, we have a second. What is myth? Myth is a story, a narrative. We told ourselves myths to create the world around us with poetry. We told ourselves myths to explain who we are. And we told ourselves myths to entertain us. Is the myth of Hyacinthus not more poetic and beautiful? Myths are the grand narratives. Myths are the tales with layers and layers of meaning. And myths endure. Is myth dead?
No. Despite what a certain totalizing mythology has convinced itself, myth is not dead. The need for myth is not dead. Myth is not exclusively the “sigh of the oppressed” (although, could Marxism not be described as a “sigh of the oppressed”?). Just because we live in an age of science and “reason” does not mean that we don’t need myth. We make myth every day. And no amount of the “end of history” can negate that.
So what that we, in our post deconstruction age of irony , no longer believe in the literal truth of the myths? How long ago has it been since a majority of Europeans worshiped gods other than Yaweh? And still, the tales of the Olympians, the Aesir, etc. enrapture us.
Myth is not static. Myths change and mutate all the time. How many versions of a myth are there? And we make new myths all the time. George Washington and the cherry tree, honest Abe Lincoln, and chest pounding Teddy Roosevelt are all the stuff of myth.
We don’t worship the gods of old (okay, some of us still do). Nor do we worship the gods of the new (okay, some of us may take things a little too far). Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, Thor, etc. are all mythic. They have endured for decades when countless fads have come and gone. And despite the weakness of their home market, they as ideas still have a powerful hold on the imagination.
Are there ethical issues hounding this new mythology? Of course. Can this new mythology be challenged and deconstructed. Hell yeah. It cannot be denied, however, that superheroes are based on tropes originating in mythology and create new mythologies, each new creative team reinterpreting their charges until a new interpretation comes along.
Superheroes, along with fantasy and science fiction, are the closest genres we have today to myth (by and large).
Now, does myth exist solely in a reactionary framework? No. As I argued in the comments of my previous post: I believe that myth can be traditional, revolutionary, individual, and collective. It forms the foundation of a society and can provide the inspiration for that society’s destruction. Myths are not and never have been unchanging universal truths. They are constantly influx, mutating to fit the needs of changing times. Myths can be progressive, revolutionary even. It just takes an imaginative mind to see it. And sing/write/draw it anew.
I see myth as narratives small and grand, with layers of meaning and truth. I don’t take myth literally, but critically and metaphorically. Does Spider-Man teach us, “With great power comes great responsibility?” What does that phrase mean? How can that be applied to our own lives?
And as I see myth as small and grand narratives, I also see them deconstructed and exploded, only to be made anew.
That, to me, is myth.