Cinema As Mythology

         In this paper I attempt to show how cinema (and more broadly, media) can be viewed as a modern form of story telling and has taken the place (or reflects the lack) of mythology in our modern culture and the ways in which this modern mythology interacts with gender and globalism.
        One of the main features of globalization is "the rapid flow of capital, people, goods, images, and ideologies across national boundaries, which continuously draws more of the world into webs of interconnections..." and that with this " culture has become increasingly deterritorialized and circulatory instead of being tied to the nation-state" (Wekker p. 223, 225). Some critiques of globalization focus on it's perceived effects of homogenization as well as it's seemingly dominantly unidirectional role ("from the West to the rest") stemming from power imbalances. 
        Mythological scholar Joseph Campbell often speaks of the demythologized world, of the world lacking a properly operating mythology. He posits that one reason there is such a high level of violence in America is because we have no "ethos" which is in part due to the diversity of it's citizens (Campbell p. 8). I believe that this lack of a properly operating mythology is one factor that makes cinema so appealing to our culture. Visionary activist, Caroline Casey has mentions this in her discussion of what she calls "toxic mimics." She uses a biological example as a metaphorical analogy to explain this concept of the toxic mimic: when one is deficient in the nutritional, necessary form of iodine, one is more susceptible to absorbing iodine in it's toxic form, it follows that when one (or a culture) is deficient in a properly operating mythology one is more susceptible to the toxic mimics of mythology (in this case mass media or cinema). When there is a lack of a guiding vision or ethos one becomes addicted to things that "numb the pain of alienation," alienation being "existing without a unifying vision that makes us feel connected to the whole of creation." 
        Joseph Campbell notes that much of our mythologies are outdated and severely need updating if they are to suit our current needs: "The only mythology that is valid today is the mythology of the planet--and we don't have such a mythology... In bounded communities, aggression is projected outwards... The myths of participation and love pertain only to the in-group, and the out-group is totally other" and that "We need myths that will identify the individual not with his local group but with the planet" (Campbell p. 22, 24). The dissolution of the nation-state then, could be regarded as positive in the sense that it may serve to soften boundaries, and lessen this "othering." The task then is to soften boundaries without creating homogeneity.
        Certain parallels can be drawn between Campbell's discussion of the the Yaweh cult and Roxana Preda's ecofeminist reading of Pocahontas. "The Yaweh cult was a specific movement in the Hebrew community, which finally won. This was a pushing through of a certain temple-bound god against the nature cult, which was celebrated all over the place. And this imperialistic thrust of a certain in-group culture is continued in the West" (Campbell p. 21). This continuation can be seen in Preda's statement: "The logic of reason that prompts men to claim and use the land in order to create a civilization on the Western model is the same that leads them to destroy the natural elements that do not serve their purposes and also to kill one another for property. The film seems to suggest that the fixation on the 'Idol of the Head' has led us to ignore the great potential that emotion and the body both have as ways of knowing and suggestions for living" (Preda p. 22). Further addressing these two points of view she says,  "...we are made to see the operations of very old dualisms which are valid to this day. The differences between enchanted and instrumentalized nature, between the wisdom of magic and functionalizing rationality, between the moral assumptions of autonomy and those of care are grafted upon gender and racial positionings. A marriage of contraries, a dissolving of dualisms does not seem possible, it is suggested" (Preda p. 22). Hakim Bey also sees a need for a dissolving of this specific dualism and sees art as one of the primary sites for this action, he says  "for us the link between poetry and body died with the bardic era--we read under the influence of a cartesian anaesthetic gas... at any cost re-connect poetry to the body. Not crimes against bodies, but against Ideas... which are deadly and suffocating" (Bey p. 19).
        Cinema's current seeming preoccupation with violence and often negative portrayals of women (or women being a representation of nature and vice versa) could be another extension of our outdated Yaweh-based mythology, and as a refusal to affirm life: "In the biblical tradition we have inherited, life is corrupt, and every natural impulse is sinful unless it has been circumcised or baptized...This identification of the woman with sin, of the serpent with sin, and thus of life with sin, is the twist that has been given to the creation story in the biblical myth and doctrine of the fall" (Campbell p. 47).
        Just as Roxana Preda reminds that it is up to us to seek solutions to dissolving dualisms, Caroline Casey informs us that "Critique without vision is complicitous with dominance, but if we can compost tyranny into rich nutrient for growing a culture of reverent ingenuity, then we have a nearly inexhaustible source of renewable energy." In imagining and implementing a so-called global ethos or mythology then, the idea is not one of homogenization through dissolution of dualisms but one of universal human values that can co-exist with diversity. Campbell also reminds us that since cinema may be our "conterpart to mythological re-enactmets" we need "the same kind of thinking going on into the production of a movie that goes into the production of an initiation ritual," and that the people writing these stories need to take on the sense of responsibility that that entails (Campbell p. 82). Since cinema is where many of us turn to fill the lack and craving for mythology in our lives, this is precisely one of the places where we can begin to address these problems and imagine solutions, and again in the words of Caroline Casey, ask ourselves "What did this want to be before it became toxic?"                 Filmmakers can begin to create acts of what Hakim Bey has called "Poetic Terrorism," whereby ""...we can begin to contemplate an art which re-creates the goal of the sorcerer: changing the structure of reality by the manipulation of living symbols (in this case, the images we've been 'given' by the organizers of this salon--murder, war, famine, and greed). We might now contemplate aesthetic actions which possess some of the resonance of terrorism... aimed at the destruction of abstractions rather than people... " (Bey p. 39).
        If media can be viewed as a medium of "soft power" mediating our experiences of reality and reflecting and affecting our beliefs, behaviors, and attitudes we should not allow it to do our dreaming for us. We should not allow cinema to become a toxic mimic of mythology, but utilize it to it's full potential as a useful tool for providing solutions to existential, social and global problems.

Works Cited

Bey, Hakim. T.A.Z. The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism.     2nd ed. Canada:                        Autonomedia, 1985.
Campbell, Joseph. The Power of Myth. New York: Doubleday, 1988.

Casey, Caroline W. Visionary Activist Astrology. Coyote Network News.

Preda, Roxana. "The Angel in the Ecosystem Revisited: Disney's Pocahontas and Postmodern     Ethics." Critical Studies,         vol. 24 (2001): 317-340.
Wekker, Gloria. The Politics of Passion: Woman's Sexual Culture in the Afro-Surinamese     Diaspora. New York: Columbia         UP, 2006.

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