Op-Ed: Myths matter
Ralph K. Ginorio
| January 14, 2022 1:00 AM
Myths matter. The stories that we tell to make meaning in our lives reveal something essential about who we really are. The morals of our fables indicate how we want the world to work, or maybe how we fear it actually operates.
Throughout our short history, we Americans have traditionally been seen by the more sophisticated Old World as childlike “gee-whiz” optimists. Our stories were classically simple, with square-jawed, white-hatted heroes overcoming the villains against all odds to win a happy ending. Our classic story form was the Western.
The motives of our heroes were similarly straightforward. Protecting innocence, saving the imperiled, serving truth, upholding justice and being fundamentally decent; all of these were reason enough to step into danger.
Who, in these stories, embraced the risks of a heroically lived life? Everyday people who suddenly understood that if they, themselves, did not act, then no one would. One simply needed the courage of one’s conscience.
No problem was too great for our hero. Even if one died in the effort, the sacrifice would matter. The world could be saved, if only we took heart and tried. The only inevitability was that despair brought defeat. Living boldly and being true were the indispensable basis of victory.
Sophisticates from abroad could not help but be befuddled by our basic nature. They knew better, as the representatives of cultures far older than ours. They had long ago given up simple answers and happy endings. Their classic story form is the tragedy.
Traditional Eurasian stories are profoundly pessimistic. In them, all life ends in death, all virtue is belied by our inescapable susceptibility to vice and every institution is irredeemably corrupt. Happiness and victory never last.
Even through the mid-1960s, our stories were different; we believed in our ability to take the worst that the world had to offer and make it right. We had outlasted the Great Depression and overcome fascism, national socialism and imperialism. We helped free the survivors of the final solution and were standing up to the communist masters of the Gulag. America’s everyman had saved the world.
Since the late-1960s, our myths began to lose their characteristic American optimism. Skepticism about our worthiness as heroes and doubts about our definition of happy endings made our stories more introspective. Unless we were scrupulously virtuous, our heroes and villains would be essentially the same; both willing to harm others in service to their self-interest.
In the mid-2000s, just after the immediate reaction to the events of Sept. 11, 2001, our popular culture joined the high culture of the Old World in cynicism. For nearly two decades, our stories are about fatally flawed and hypocritical heroes slogging through a morass of broken relationships and shattered dreams only to discover the true villains are themselves.
To see this devolution, look at “Star Trek,” “Doctor Who,” “Star Wars” and “James Bond-007.” Compare Captain James T. Kirk to Michael Burnham, Tom Baker to Jodie Whittaker, “A New Hope” to “The Last Jedi” or “Dr. No” to “No Time to Die.”
The fundamental shifts in everything about these sagas are not merely the result of aging franchises running out of steam. The very ideals and sensibilities of today’s filmmakers are unrecognizable from those who began these tales.
Perhaps these differences are a result of the replacement of overtly Judeo-Christian assumptions with those of secular materialism. Without the possibility of redemption and heaven, life has no hope. Logic without faith makes existence grim.
Consider how we must all have changed, how far we have come in just 50 years. Is this truly progress? If so, is it worth having?!
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In Maine and then Idaho, Ralph K. Ginorio has taught the history of Western Civilization to high school students for nearly a quarter century. He is an “out-of-the-closet” Conservative educator with experience in special education, public schools and charter schools, grades six-12. He has lived in Coeur d’Alene since 2014. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org