Myths of Our Day

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Post by dmc » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Today, I was watching the old movie "The Day the World Stood Still", on cable.
It made me think about the stories of robots and aliens that have been part of our folklore since I was a child.
I thought I'd ask you if you think robots and aliens could be focus myth figures in our present day mythology, and if so, is there any suggestion of these figures in Campbell's work?
And where would they fit in with our own myths?
buddha baby
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Post by buddha baby » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Joseph Campbell said "We (21st century Europeans/Americans) don't have a mythology."
We do have myths but not "a working mythology". Not all of our myths are labeled as myths. You have movies, songs, poems, stories, legends, folklore, and others. I don't think robots and aliens could be part of our mythology. I ask, Which of the four functions of myth would stories of aliens and robots serve?" Not the mystical. Not the pedagogical or the sociological because robots and aliens are not part of our lives or society. That leaves the cosmological function of myths. I guess stories about aliens could teach us about the mystery behind life evovling in this universe, etc. Campbell wrote a book titled "the Inner Reaches of Outer Space". I haven't read it but I think part of it is about the "are we alone in the universe?" question and might provide some insight.
In "The Power of Myth" video series (also in book form)Joseph Campbell talks with Bill Moyers about Star Wars. The "man vs. machine" issue comes up as well as the question of wether or not modern media such as movies could be considered myths.
Finally I'd like to say that "folklore" can serve a purely entertainment function. But then Campbell would probably say something about all things reflecting the transcendent mystery.
Also as to your qestion regarding the movie you saw (and I'm guessing you're talking about the alien/robot-end-of-the-world/mankind senario, there are many myths found in various cultures dealing with the end of time/earth/man/civilization. So, I guess my point about robots/aliens not being a part of our lives wouldn't necessarily disqualify them from being part of mythology.
Ultimately we look to science for answers and guidance but as current science has no knowledge of aliens, only speculation, perhaps movies and stories (consider the term "science fiction")serve to fill in the gaps in our minds as myths did (and do) for other cultures. I don't look to the folklore of Paul Bunyan and Babe the blue ox wrestling at the north pole when trying to learn about aurora boriealus. I hope some of this is helpful to you.

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Post by porcupine » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

I think the alien motif as mythology is worth exploring. As the previous post pointed out, the cosmological aspect is probably the most appropriate area to consider when finding a place for aliens in mythology.

Nevertheless, the concept can be stretched further and it may provide insight as to how we see ourselves based on how we interpret the possibility of alien life.

The first civilizations and mythologies sprung from peoples who studied the cosmos and constellations, and they created an entire system of order based on the regularities of cosmic space. Once a sense of understanding is achieved that let's humans see themselves as inhabitants of one planet among a universe of other planets, the step to wondering about alien life is not very far.

In the 20th century, the existence of aliens and UFOs has mainly culminated in a sense of citizens against a government with secret knowledge that may be used for military purposes. All the speculation about area 51 and Roswell manifests itself in this tug of war.

Perhaps the mystery surrounding the existence of aliens has lent itself to feeding a collective sense of powerlessness and mistrust of government that would have been fulfilled by other mysteries if the crash at Roswell had never become part of our folklore.

However, if we can get past the conspiracies and science fiction, I think there are more important considerations from a mythologial standpoint that should be considered when examining alien mythology.

For example, when Campbell speaks of the adventure and the hero, he often includes stories of the quest. That there is often a forbidden place where the youth are warned not to travel. There are perrils and danger and the conventional wisdom says to stay away. As such, the community at large does stay away. But in order to acquire the new material that can be brought back to the community, you have to venture into forbidden realms. There are countless stories Campbell uses to illustrate this point. And so the youth goes against the society and ventures north. They encounter all kinds of danger and strife. Maybe they are looking for their father. Whatever it is, after they complete their venture they come back with a different sense of self. They expand their cosmology and when they return to the community they are equipped to bring this news or revelation, or elixir and it changes that community forever. Of course sme refuse the return and that's a whole other story.

Being that space is "the final frontier" as William Shatner so aptly pointed out via Gene Rodenberry, isn't this the logical place for the next adventure? When the first explorers charted the seas, they too had visions of sea monsters and mermaids and those creatures found their way into their mythology. Just consider Homer's Ulysses.

Those creatures in the oddesy were of course a projection of inner fears of the unknown. And what else could they have been based on but imagined beings based on what was known in the human and animal world. Seductive Sirens, one eyed cyclops, a vengeful sea god.

In science fiction our ideas may be equally fantastic, but the ideas are tempered by astronomy. Like space itself, there are an infinite number of stories and possibilities waiting to be explored. Once territories become known, the speculation morphs and pushes itself farther afield. The moon isn't made out of green cheese and we know that with certainty because we've been there.

Campbell has also spoken of the sea as a representation of our subconscious. What then might space represent by this standard? I don't think it's any coincidence that many space creatures in science fiction have insect and aquatic creature qualities. They couldn't possibly look exactly like us, could they?
Bryan<br><br>"My patron saint is fighting with a ghost. He's always off somewhere when I need him most."
Robert G.
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Post by Robert G. » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

I always thought it was interesting that Campbell seemed to have an almost complete lack of knowledge of science fiction as literature. He seemed genuinely surprised that, when he finally saw the Star Wars films, they dealt with mythological themes, which I think are more prevalent than not in science fiction, at least if you disregard the Harlequin Romance equivalents. He also said that one of his first thoughts after seeing the films (only after all three had come out I believe) was how marvelous it was that the artist now had this unexplored realm for his imagination, when this had been going on for 50 years at least. When I heard him say in a different interview that the problems facing young people growing up since World War II were completely different than those faced by him and the writers and scholars that helped shape his thinking, and that he had no idea what those new issues were, I remember thinking that he might have had some ideas if he'd been reading science fiction. It really seems to me like this is the genre where contemporary issues and the mythic imagination have been most alive.

I do think that he was spot on in regards to those people that attribute the great monuments and societies of the past to some sort of alien intervention. Campbell expressed the idea that this was a hold over of the notion that somehow things "out there" were more wonderful and of a higher order than things on earth, that the earth required some sort of outside intervention and that we just don't have it in ourselves to measure up. This is not, however, the attitude that I find in science fiction itself (L. Ron Hubbard aside).

The associate formerly known as grdnfrk.

<font size=-1>[ This Message was edited by: Robert G. on 2004-12-03 16:31 ]</font>