Update(circa 2pm): If you’re interested in the topic of superheroes as mythology, you can’t do better than this Jason Kimble post

Fragments? Sure. Are we Ruined?

(Soundtrack: Hole–My Body, The Hand Grenade)

I don’t know what (if anything!) you folks got out of yesterday’s discussion, but I’ve concluded that I focused my attack upon the wrong end of the “modern mythology” formula… “Mythology?” It’s a chimerical word. We gotta get rid of it!

But how about that “modernism”?

I’m particularly indebted to Bruce Baugh’s helpful suggestion that 20th century encyclopedistes of myth were, for the most part, depressed modernists seeking to hold the “center” in place. I like to think of the corporate superhero universes as “postmodern” (or “poststructural”), and this is why I disagree so strongly with Richard Reynolds’ Campbellian reading.

Joseph Campbell is the ultimate modernist–at war with the “superstructure”/”false consciousness”. There’s only one hero see? And there aren’t many archetypes, either. Just focus kids, that modernist light will see you through the haze of multiplicity. It’s comforting, I suppose… I work at a bookstore, and believe me, I know that, in many ways, we’re still living in a Campbellian universe–every second item I sell purports to tell its purchaser what “type” of person he/she is. What’s your aura? What’s your inner child? What’s your freakin’ blood type profile, for chrissake!

Whatever “mythology” once meant to those who actually lived in ancient Greece, Scandinavia, etc., in the 20th century it came to mean a system that helped make sense of the world and defined a place for every person in it. If you figure out where you “fit in”, you’ll be happy…

Of course, I think all of that is a snare and a delusion. Any time you think you’ve found your niche in the universe, you’ve actually found a coffin. Go ahead and get in if you want to, but don’t be surprised if it gets a bit claustrophobic in there. Not to worry–fresh air awaits you in Heaven!

Whenever I use the term “postmodern”, people get annoyed, but there’s nothing really new in “pomo” thought. Yeah a lot of the terms are newfangled, but the ideas go back to Plato’s opponents, the Sophists. And they really began to come into their own–on a popular level–with the Protestant Reformation. As far as I’m concerned, the most pernicious idea ever conceived is the “Great Chain of Being”: you know, God at the top, beasts at the bottom, humans somewhere in the middle, and all partaking of the same essence. Everything is really one thing. “Postmodernism” is an attempt to rescue “sophistry” from the pejorative connotations attached to the word by Plato. And one of the greatest blows ever struck against monism is the “no-prize”!

Since the dawn of human history, authors have been “cooking the books”, making certain that the sacred texts “mean” what they want them to mean. Radical Protestantism serves them raw. The “priesthood of all believers”–the idea that every reader of the Bible is free to make what he or she will of it–led to some pretty deluded stuff, but it was worth it. Let’s not forget that it also led directly to liberal democracy.

The “no-prize” goes all of this one better. By incorporating criticism into the scriptura themselves, and acknowledging that no one was really at the helm of the narrative ship, Marvel set sail on the “drift” that modernists aimed to still.

Good Afternoon Friends!



  1. Dave, I like the No-Prize bit especially! I keep meaning to blog on this stuff myself, but I’m just wiped out and full of pitiful excuses.

    What I’d really like to look at is how mythology works for fanboys. What we’re doing in talking about the myth and non-myth aspects of the culture are really the same as if we’re looking at radical Protestantism or classical Greece, rationalizing a culture from the outside. I would love to do fanboy anthropology to try to find out what’s really believed (like the Charles Xavier=MLK/Magneto=Malcolm X thing) about the nature of superheros and continuity and so on. Every so often I get this urge and end up reading various message boards until the entertainment masochism is too much even for me, but it’s something I wish I understood better and could explore more.

    This doesn’t help you, because you’re happy and saying fruitful things from the outside, but I wonder if it can be a mythology of sorts to the people within it and not really a mythology to those of us beyond its limits.


  2. Dave, your analysis of ‘Radical Protestantism’ is probably correct for the American iteration of same, and certainly there is room to argue that case in certain English cases, e.g., the Levellers, but Luther and Calvin (not to mention Oliver Cromwell) were hardly radical -social- reformers. You just can’t ignore the fact that for all Luther did to ‘democratize’ (for lack of a better word) religiosity, he had no patience for any wider version of democracy in society. See for example his reaction to the uprisings of the German peasants that happened as a direct result of Luther’s reformation. Luther thought it was fine for the peasantry to ‘make what they would’ of the -Bible- but not of the existing social order.–rob

  3. it’s true Rob–Luther & Calvin were ruthless in their dealings with the social radicals in their midst (the Munster Anabaptists, etc.), and I think a great deal of their ferocity can be attributed to fear of what they had unleashed.

    The same story repeats itself in New Enlgand (on a smaller–and more legalistic–scale), where the Puritan Magistrates were forced to expel Anne Hutchinson from the Bay Colony for taking their theological doctrines to a practical extreme that disrupted the polity (and despite the fact that Hutchinson clearly got the better of her accusers in court–I’ll never understand why no one has made a movie about Hutchinson! I don’t like the idea of heroes, but if I had to have one, it’d be her!)

    I think all that can be said for the Reformation is that it opened the door to the kind of social attitudes that we have today–they certainly did not prevail at the time, and, of course, Protestants of all stripes have a long history of halting before deriving the most radical social and theological conclusions from sola fides, sola scriptura–with a corresponding ossification of their doctrines!


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