All Hail the New Gods

Everything we learn about myths when we’re kids suggests that they’re set in stone, somewhere in the deep past.  But myths and legends, like fairytales, are mutable.  Try tracking the various iterations of Robin Hood down the years – from nature spirit to anarchist to Royalist and back.

But what are the myths of the 21st century global culture?  That’s not a rhetorical question – I’d be interested to hear.  IN the seventies, Harlan Ellison published one of my favourite collections – Deathbird Stories – in which he examined the gods of the 1970s world:the god of TV, cars etc  It’s an intense collection of stories and had a powerful effect on the young me.  I don’t know if the tales stand the test of time as I haven’t read them in a while, but they certainly shaped my thoughts and my writing.

So where are our current myths taking us?  I think in the mythosphere we’ve certainly got percolating terrorism, the net, of course, and a growing environmentalism which is oddly harking back to prehistoric myths while remaining essentially now.  Serial killers made a brief appearance in the nineties, but they just didn’t have the legs to become truly mythic.

These are the things I ponder when I’m supposed to be writing…

9 thoughts on “All Hail the New Gods”

  1. I think freedom is one of the big myths of the modern era- we are told that freedom is to be cherished above all else, is the essence of a worthwhile society and so on, but it seems to me that there’s been a bit of bait-and-switch going on in the freedom-loving west. We hear about the importance of financial freedom and how it powers The Market ( economics is another modern mythology with no rationality behind it while the behaviour of market investors comes across as entirely superstitious ) but political freedoms are being quietly and relentlessly stripped away. “Look you are free to buy new shoes (if you can afford them)” says the front page while “you no longer have any freedom from state intrusion” is tucked away in the smallest print. If we want to be free from terror and the inexplicable thinking of foreigners we must be prepared to sacrifice our own freedoms of speech, thought and action. We weren’t using them anyway and surely the freedom to do something you never actually do won’t be missed?

    Another major feature of the modern mythic landscape is the Big Conspiracy where no-one in authority can be trusted and everyone has a secret agenda they are hiding from us. In a way this is the opposite of the freedom myth – the idea that we are all being constantly moved around like playing pieces for others’ sinister motives. There are dangerous and corrupt people at all levels of society but there are many more honest and sincere people genuinely trying to do the best for everyone. Sometimes mistakes really are just mistakes.

  2. I think one of the main – and most damaging – myths of C21st culture is that everyone has some sort of intrinsic right to fame and fortune…

    The rise of the Cult of the Celebrity, coupled with the seemingly unstoppable lowest-common-denominator voyeurism of reality tv means the no-one seems to think they have to actually work for a living any more. All they have to do is get their kit off or make an idiot of themselves in the right place at the right time and they’ll be living in the lap of luxury for the rest of their natural.

    Or maybe that’s just me getting middle-aged and grumpy?

    I do take Breakfast’s point about the Big Conspiracy, though. Although isn’t largely a symptom of the rise of secularism? We feel silly blaming God when calamaties happen, but we have to blame *someone*, dammit, so it must have been *them*…

  3. The Celebrity thing it it’s own destruction. Fifteen minutes of fame to five minutes to fifteen seconds of fame. At some point the massive turnover it requires just ceases to be feasible and the whole culture will undermine itself. It’s going to be one of those things that people either look back on and laugh, 50 years from now, or that just slips under the historical radar as a pointless whimsy of those old-fashioned turn of the century types.

  4. Maybe that’s it… born in a frenzy of a fin-de-siecle quest for a sense of significance, it’s only a matter of time before the world wakes up, takes a good hard look at itself and realises how dumb it’s been acting for the past decade… we can hope, eh?

  5. I suspect myth or legend may be made of certain unexplained or possibly suspicious deaths…eg Marilyn Munroe, Princess Di, Elvis, Kennedy etc. They go hand in hand with conspiracy theories after all.

  6. I agree with Ariel, and while there are people willing to buy magazines to look at Paris Hilton’s cellulite or some other ‘famous’ person’s blackheads, the rise of stupidity will forge ahead.

    Saying that, I did once consider applying for Big Brother to see what it would do for my book sales.

    I am very sad.

  7. You were prepared for the unforgiving eye of the camera to reveal the real you, Tim! Let’s face it, nobody comes out of that looking good…

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