Electric Fairytales: The Return of Mythic Consciousness in Movies

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In so far as the archetypes do not represent mere functional relationships, they manifest themselves as daimones, as personal agencies. In this form they are felt as actual experiences and are not ‘figments of the imagination,’ as rationalism would have us believe.” – Carl Jung

 “Surely you know that anything that exists, imagined itself into existence?” – Queen Sophie Ann, True Blood

Scrolling through the channels on my local cable network, I can catch T.V. shows like Grimm and Once Upon a Time. If you have H.B.O., then you can add big budget productions like True Blood and Game of Thrones to the list. Zombies populate video-games and vampire novels like Twilight steals the hearts of teenagers. The Harry Potter books and movies have been a decade-long hit. Adding to that, Snow White and the Huntsman will soon be in theaters. What’s with all this interest and intrigue in folk-tales and the supernatural? First, a few words on the medium that folktales are returning in to us:

 The Big Shift, Backwards?

No movie is mere entertainment. Behind each film, there are glimpses of subtle shifts and changes in a culture. Our own dreams, if we listen to them, can tell us much about what’s going on in our lives. Sometimes things we aren’t even aware of can pop up. The language of the imagination is a holistic “all at a172_lascaux1once” picture of our emotions, thoughts, feelings, reactions and aspirations. In the same way, movies and media are a collective imagination: a cultural dream.

As the mythologist John Ebert noted, when you step into a dark, cavernous theater, you’re entering a dream-like mode of experience. Doesn’t it feel a little surreal stepping out of the theater at the end of the movie? Walking to your car in the parking lot, your mind might be filled with images from this parallel world you just spent a good hour or two exploring. Your heart might be filled with emotions for the characters. Music from the film might be playing in your head. In other words, you have to “adjust” back to “reality.” The effect is amplified for me, personally, when I go to a matinee showing and have to adjust my eyes, stepping out from an artificial night-time back into the bright daylight.

Electronic technologies have “retrieved” the world of myth and magic for the modern person. So it’s not a far step to begin to see the denizens of this dream world as equally magical: fairies, vampires, supernatural stories and so forth have poured back into the modern mind through digital technologies. Since the Scientific Revolution, industrialization has slowly eliminated rural, agricultural societies and villages – along with their fairytales and folklore – and science has increasingly become the dispeller (note the magic language) of myths. The majority of the world’s population moved from rural to urban. Ironically, with electric mediums, magic and myth are able to piggyback into becoming the center of mass consciousness.

The prophetic media theorist Marshall McLuhan suggested that electronic media disrupt the neat, linear world of Western progress. They’re instantaneous, like a lightning bolt. While not fragmentary, electronic media potentially unite the world in a “global village.” What happens on one side of the planet can instantaneously reverberate across the planet, like some kind of giant Gaian nervous system. Gone are the days of the linear text. Sure, I still read, but blogs take up a huge portion of my time. They are punctuated with music, videos, and blinking messages from friends on Facebook.

We interface with luminous technologies, like the iPad or iPhone. As John Ebert suggests in New Media Invasion, these are analogous to the medieval illuminated manuscript.

But it hasn’t begun here. Ever since electricity began to be used for communication, like telegrams, it’s manuscriptcarried with it a revolutionary and Promethean spirit. It’s the other kind of fire, the lightning bolt, as Erik Davis suggests in his book TechGnosis. The crackling static of electricity and “white” noise has fascinated ghost hunters, who believe that the dead can contact us via “electronic voice phenomena.”

Whether or not it’s true, electronic media have played a key role in reversing the “Age of Enlightenment.” Texts have become hypertexts. Movies and T.V. have returned more mythical and image-based thinking. This Trojan Horse Electric has been triumphantly rolled into the city of Western society, but it has within its belly a plethora of magical and mythical beings. Through it, the materialist world is quietly being supplanted with a more dream-like realm of myth and supernatural creatures.

Naturally, the most common form of fairytales these days is science fiction. The genre legitimizes supernatural thinking through the veil of “techno-culture.” Magic is permissible this way. As the cultural philosopher Jean Gebser suggests in Ever-Present Origin, “machine” has its etymological roots in “magic,” “mana” and furthermore, to “make.” Technology has been used since the days of Greece and Rome, where temples would utilize various apparatus to make statues move and speak – a veritable ancient animatronic Disney World.

So if technology, “movie magic” and the imagination are all natural allies, it’s easier to see why fairy tales have made it to both television and the big screen. But what does all this mean? Why is there some kind of world-wide reversal? Why is myth and magic returning, ironically, through a medium that at first glance is antithetical to supernatural thinking?

A Loss of Soul, and the Daimonic Reality

Carl Jung used the term “enantiodromia” to explain this. That’s a fancy way of saying that “a thing becomes its opposite.” You push something far enough, and it turns inside out. At the turn of the last century, the scientific, modernist era was pushing the rational worldview to an extreme. Just when everything was figured out, Einstein relativized the Newtonian universe. Neils Bohr relativized the observer and observed. Surrealistic paintings at the time are a wonderful image of the linear, rational world The_Persistence_of_Memory2“breaking down.” My favorite image is Dali’s Persistence of Memory, depicting a melting clock. In many ways, these breakthroughs in both science and art foreshadowed the electronic age.

But what is breaking through? It’s my belief that the return of a mythical and magical worldview is the eruption of older, shamanistic and animistic consciousness, long repressed by the modern, rational consciousness. It’s a cry for integration. Jean Gebser believed that our contemporary lifestyle and worldview constituted a “structure” of consciousness. But it was one of many. Ancient civilizations, like Medieval Europe, and indigenous societies, represented entirely different modes of being in the world. He designated these “structure of consciousness” as the archaic, magic, mythic, mental, and integral. These terms have since been popularized in Ken Wilber’s work and Integral Theory, but for this article I’ll be looking mainly at how Gebser used them.

Like Carl Jung’s theories on the Self, each “structure” of consciousness is like a piece of the psyche. The various ages have “fleshed” out dimensions of the Self, but the larger integration lies dormant, latent. The “archaic” consciousness is something like this latent Whole, out of which pieces grow and pass away. But each structure of consciousness does not disappear. It remains alive and well. Co-constituents of reality. In other words, the animistic/psychic world of our ancestors, a world chock-full of spirits and other planes of existence, doesn’t go away with the modern scientific worldview. It lives right alongside it, even within it. Science fiction is a terrific example of this phenomenon, whereby fairies and angels and gnomes can all come back in new garbs. In Star Trek, captain Kirk and his crew confront Greek Gods in space, while Captain Picard wrestles with the godlike Q, who exists in a dimension beyond time and space.

A major part of this mythic revival is the reversal of worldview. The old gods are re-asserting themselves. The Imagination of William Blake, or Carl Jung’s Psychic Reality are erupting back into modern consciousness. It’s my belief that these “eruptions” are common throughout history. The Romanticsteamerinasnowstormbyjosephmallordwilliamturner movement is one of the earlier examples, which was a reaction to the suppression of mythical and magical consciousness by the Scientific and Industrial Revolution. At the turn of the last century, however, this “eruption” intensified through the Surrealistic movement; new discoveries in science, such as with quantum physics; and later, the 60s psychedelic revolution. Art usually tells us what is out of balance, what needs to be integrated, and it also helps heal these psychic rifts and fragmentations of the psyche.

Now, a lot of this has to do with dropping our belief that the imagination is merely within the human skull. It also challenges us to leave behind our arrogance in believing that ancient societies were merely superstitious, projecting their childlike imagination onto the world.

Patrick Harpur, author of Daimonic Reality, claims that we’re currently experiencing a crisis of the soul. Over the centuries, the polytheistic and animistic worldview, the Anima Mundi, has been repressed, broken down, and downright abandoned. But in doing so, we’ve paid a high price. In a sense, we’ve lost our souls, that intermediary between the material world and the gods.

So what are daimons? In Timaeus, Plato describes an intermediary space between the One and the many, the Soul of the World. It also goes by the name Anima Mundi. Just as there’s a personal soul that mediates moreau-1between body and spirit, there’s a macrocosmic World Soul that mediates between the physical world and the gods. In this sense, each individual is a fractal, microcosm of the macrocosm. As Harpur believes, the daimons were the messengers for the gods. They were the nymphs, fauns, elves, trolls, jinn and fairies. They were also considered guides. Socrates had a daimon that simply told him “no” whenever he was making a wrong decision in life. Jung himself had a daimon, Philemon, whom he claims appeared to him even in waking life.

In the Symposium, Plato writes that “everything that is daimonic is intermediate between god and mortal. Interpreting and conveying the wishes of men to Gods and the will of Gods to men, it stands between the two and fills the gap... God has no contact with men; only through the daimonic is there intercourse and conversation between men and Gods, whether in the waking state or during sleep.”

This “daimonic” reality of beings that are both real and unreal, physical and imaginary, has been rejected by modern sensibility. But it didn’t begin with materialism. Since Christianity, Harpur believes, we have literally demonized the daimons. Yet, daimons are quite clever, even tricky. They’re shape-shifters, taking on whatever form is appropriate for a culture or a time period. So they became Angels, those intermediary messengers between God and the world of time-space.

Perhaps the archetypal daimon for our age is Hermes. Also known as Mercury, he’s the divine messenger. The god of crossroads, borderlines, and liminal zones. In ancient times, the “herm” marked doorways and blessed the merchants. Be warned, however, for merchants are tricky. Hermes is the trickster par-excellence. According to Greek myth, Hermes is a thief; stealing cattle from the rational god, Apollo, and fooling him by oaths and contracts so as to elude being caught. Hermes is also the first song-writer, after killing a turtle and converting its shell to a lyre (a gift he uses to please Apollo).hermes-salvador-dali

As Erik Davis notes, however, Hermes is no thug – but a mastermind. In the internet age, Hermes appears to be re-asserting his presence like never before (perhaps hackers should leave a herm on their desktops). Moreover, the internet age perfectly embodies the trickery of Hermes, who communicates both wisdom and deception. Davis suggests that Hermes would approve of the internet. After all, it’s made in his image, sharing the same qualities: speed (winged ankles), profit, innovative interconnection, and most of all, the "overturning of established orders.”

Hermes is a challenge to his rival, Apollo, the god of science and clarity. The winged messenger looks for cracks in the surface and seeks to undermine single-minded literalism in any form it takes. In many ways, Hermes appears to be the archetypal god of our age. He’s a daimonic personality par-excellence: sneaking in the back-door of Apollo’s science, and overturning the established order with a new, anarchic and rhizomatic age – what the sociologist Manuel Castells calls the Network Age.

Finally, Hermes is the lord of technology. Craftiness and cleverness are essential tools for “movie magic.” Davis writes that “Hermes’ trickery is not merely a rational device, but an expression of magical power.” As mentioned before, technology, or techne (meaning art or craft in Greek), is closely related to the machinery (machine, make, magic) of the modern age. One might wonder if we’re actually living in an age of spells and magic, rather than Apollo’s pure science and reason. If that’s the case, then the return of medieval fairy tales makes much more sense!

In a scientific culture, Harpur believes that daimons have returned to us in the guise of UFOs and aliens. UFO sightings are oddly similar to fairy sightings of old lore, and alien abductions are nearly identical to old stories of goblins and gnomes stealing away people in the night to poke and prod them.

Carl Jung himself believed that the appearance of UFOs were manifestations of the collective psyche. In the time of Cold War, where the world was so psychically polarized and divided, UFOs – symbols of the mandala – represented a cry for integration.

So let’s step away from the strange world of science fiction and explore a few examples of this “mythic” return in media.

Coming out of the Coffin, White Walkers, and Serpent Tails

I’d like to start off with True Blood. I picked this work because it came out a few years ago, and I think it perfectly reflects the return of the “daimonic” reality of little people and all things supernatural. First off, let’s take a look at the narrative.

In this show, which takes place in our world, vampires have literally “come out of the coffin.” They’ve announced themselves to the mundane world of modern civilization, which up until this point is basicallytruebloods02jcktsurfer1 our world. These beings, among others that the show introduces, were relegated to folklore and fairytales. They were fantasies. But the vampires here announce themselves and their whole underground social structure - of Kings and Queens, Magistrates and territories - all operating for thousands of years beneath the surface of human affairs.

To avoid spoilers, I won’t go into details about what the protagonist, Sookie, actually is. Suffice to say that she’s further evidence for this supernatural upheaval of the world. Throughout the seasons thus far, witches, demigods, shapeshifters, werewolves, and shamans all make appearances. In some sense, the show is revealing these daimonic creatures to contemporary audience and to popular culture.

Drinking a vampire’s blood, dubbed “V” in the show, produces supernatural erotic effects in the human body. It is a kind of tantric initiation with the unconscious and animal instincts, causing heightened senses (like smell, which can occur in Kundalini and spiritual activation). William Irwin Thompson has noted in Blue Jade from the Morning Star that the awakening of Kundalini is a “recapitulation” of the evolution of the nervous system, moving from the base of the spine and our lower instincts, into the mammalian brain (heightened sexuality and sense of smell), and then into illuminated eye. In some sense, the show is initiating the viewers into glimpsing a potential erotic spiritual awakening. But not without its darker side.

Like Br. Chris, I believe folklore is un-intentionally preserving and conveying spiritual knowledge. As the mythologist Joseph Campbell often writes, myths teach us how to live. They’re didactic. Meaning, they instruct us, teach us truths about life and guide us through the stages of childhood and adulthood. I believe they naturally do this, with or without our conscious help.

Perhaps there’s some truth to the old Sumerian myths about the gods bringing the gifts of civilization to their people. Or earlier on, our ancestors 30,000 years ago rapidly began to develop highly sophisticated art and ritual. A key might be gleaned from the shaman, who’s able to traverse worlds, a daimonic personality him/herself, and functions as teacher, theologian, healer. He or she is able to enter these worlds of the Imagination and bring back knowledge and meaning to the tribe. I believe this is continued in civilization by mystics, who maintain a living relationship with these other realms.

 In a fascinating dialogue during Season 2, the character Bill appeals to the Queen of Louisiana in order to gain some facts about a supernatural being plaguing his town. It seems to transmit the idea that, somehow, reality is more dreamlike than we think:

“Surely you know, everything that exists imagined itself into existence"

           

In shows like Once Upon a Time, this idea is reversed, whereby the main characters are daimonic: they come from fairytales and are mythical beings themselves, but they’ve forgotten that about themselves and their world. To me, this reversal is a reminder that we are daimonic ourselves. We’re of this world and beyond it. The show acts as a metaphorical soul-retrieval, helping us recollect our “true nature,” in a jjPlatonic sense of anamnesis, or soul-remembrance.

One of my favorite shows at the moment, Game of Thrones, clearly expresses this narrative of a supernatural return.

This show takes place in a fictional, medieval world that’s nearly bereft of magic or anything supernatural. In the ancient times of this world, there used to be dragons. Now only their bones remain. Supernatural creatures, the White Walkers, and other odd beings used to plague the world and be a part of human life. But now it seems they’ve all gone. As I mentioned in my older article, There Be Dragons, the supernatural world is creeping back to life. The White Walkers are returning in the northern lands and dragons are born again from the south. Although the story is dramatic, brutal, and focusing on the baser sides of human nature, it is subtly being over-run with ancient, supernatural forces.

 

Fascinatingly, the character who’s heralding the return of the dragons, who have often symbolized nature, chaos, and in Jung’s psychology, the unconscious, is a woman – the Mother of Dragons. To me, this clearly symbolizes the return of the repressed unconscious, creeping up unexpectedly while the politics of power and wealth occupy the kingdoms.

Tying back to shamanism, the character Bran Stark is wounded in season 1 (in the pilot). Despite being crippled, he gains powers. Often, a shaman will go through some rite of initiation, usually a spontaneous illness or injury, that rockets him into the spirit world. Bran begins to dream of a crow with a third eye, and these dreams seem to foreshadow events in the story. In season 2, he begins to dream through the eyes of a wolf. Maester Luwin assures Bran that his dreams are mere fantasies. Such strange things have not existed for centuries, he tells him. Bran remains unconvinced, and later in the story, he will learn to dragon-queendevelop his shamanic powers.

Hints of Psychic Unity for a Planetary Age

It’s my belief that the return of myths and fairy tales in popular culture is further evidence for a gradual intensification of consciousness. A demand for integration. A search for wholeness and unity. It’s a yearning for the soul in Harpur’s terms, or the slow process of individuation of the Self according to Jung. In Gebser’s terminology, this represents the “integral” structure of consciousness. While not sufficient, or conscious, integrative in themselves, the abundance of myth and fairytale in popular culture is expressing a “mythic revival.” What has been suppressed must be integrated, somehow.

Perhaps it is only through losing our soul that we re-gain it with a richer, deeper understanding. Contemporary author Charles Eisenstein has written in The Ascent of Humanity that we’re going through a kind of Fall and Return, where we’re learning to listen to indigenous worldviews and re-integrate lost parts of ourselves.

While we shouldn’t abandon science, the spirit of the age is encouraging us to integrate all modes of consciousness on their own terms. In other words, with integrity. We are coming full circle to a potential re-sacralization (perhaps, a new, further intensified sacralization) of the cosmos. Interestingly, the Neo-Platonists described the Soul as a “sphere” of light. Gebser himself described integral consciousness as a sphere. And we’re indeed living in a spherical age, a global age, calling out for wholeness.

The electric – now digital – era is part of the retrieval of these ancient forms, or structures, of consciousness. As the world becomes enveloped in a web of communication systems, we’re seeing synchronous manifestations: outer forms of a new inner movement of consciousness. Maybe we’re hearing whispers from the World Soul.

~~~~

Editors- TJ Dawe, Chris Dierkes.

~~~~

Sources:

1.  Davis, Erik. TechGnosis.

2.  Ebert, John. The New Media Invasion.

3.  Gebser, Jean. Ever-Present Origin.

4.  Harpur, Patrick. Daimonic Reality: A Field Guide to the Otherworld.

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11 comments

  • Comment Link Michael Milano Wednesday, 13 June 2012 18:02 posted by Michael Milano

    I also think the return of faiytales and myths in pop culture are a way for people to safely explore “alternative” spirituality. Many people (most of the people I know) find the standard Judeo-Christian spirituality to be lacking for a multitude of various reasons. However they still want to believe in something. Having entertainment vehicles (books, movies, etc.,) that focus on these mythical topics provides a safe way for the public to dip their collective toes in the water of different kind os spirituality.

    They can safely explore some of these ideas from the security of the couches and high speed internet connections. After all it’s just mindless entertainment.

    On a side note, I loved the mention of similarities between UFO sightings/abductions and fairy/goblin sighting from medieval times. It’s these little nuggets that make beams and struts so freaking awesome!

  • Comment Link Jeremy Johnson Thursday, 14 June 2012 22:48 posted by Jeremy Johnson

    Hi Michael,

    Thanks for your reflections! I think you make a very good point about the return of fairytales and old myths as part of the re-integration of previously oppressed, or simply discarded forms of religion and polytheism that were eliminated as Christianity rose to power in ancient Rome. The past two centuries have seen a flood of new, and old religious attitudes pouring into the West from all sides. I think this is part of the emergence of a global, multitudinous cultural ecology. A big challenge is learning how to get along in an "ecology of consciousness."

    Thanks for the note on UFO sightings resembling ancient fairy sightings, and abductions resembling goblins and fairies. Yes the parallels are striking. I don't know whether or not this is a new "daimonic" entity, that is co-created, co-imagined into being, perhaps incubated by our industrial civilization.

    Rudolf Steiner believed these entities were a form of the planet's spiritual ecosystem. They are analogous to the bacteria in our intestinal tracks. They have a necessary part to play "beneath the surface," analogous to dwelling in the underworld. They digest and break down negative human emotions and are part of the Earth. Hence the comparison between old goblin stories where humans are kidnapped and brought to caves, and modern-day alien abduction reports describe a similar "musky" setting. Strange stuff, but fascinating alright!

  • Comment Link Lincoln Merchant Friday, 15 June 2012 05:09 posted by Lincoln Merchant

    Great articles both Jeremy and TJ! As a genre nerd (well, sci-fi/fantasy & superhero, not so much horror) I love to read such depth analysis.

    I will have to sit with the ideas that the mainstream popularity of this genre has to do with more people entering post-postmodernism on some line or daimonic reassertion. Fascinating!

    I can tell you that there are also some more mundane reasons why this is happening now.

    1. Like Jeremy was pointing to, movie magic (special effects) has in just the last decade advanced to the point where what can be imagined can be presented on the screen in a "realistic" manner...on a budget and on schedule. In the past it was necessary for the audience to forgive cheesy special effects in order to suspend disbelief and fully engage in the story. This is almost no obstacle now. Audiences no longer have to bring anything to the theatre, it's all given to them. Nothing takes a non-nerd out of the dream anymore.

    For me, the hardest story to put on the big screen in terms of story-telling courage and special effects would be Milton's "Paradise Lost." Now that would be freaking awesome!

    2. George Lucas makes me think that while some of the creators might be post-pomo, they are intentionally creating movies that are as globally translatable as possible. It means that they are making movies not with the expectation that there will be a post-pomo audience, but rather that they understand where the global center-of-gravity is and are aiming at that. Everyone in the world who can get to a cinema knows the magic-to-mythic spectrum. In fact, globally speaking, that's where the majority live.

    Lucas did much more than incorporate the arc and archetypes of Campbell's Heroes Journey, he also primarily told Star Wars visually using referents from around the world. He purposely made the dialogue simplistic so it would be a)simple to translate into foreign languages & b) virtually unnecessary to understand what was going on. All the criticism of his Star Wars dialogue has always slid off him like water off a ducks back. He wasn't trying to win a screenplay Oscar. He was trying to say something that everyone on the planet could understand. Either that or he couldn't hear the critics because he was to busy swimming in his money bin.

    3. MONEY! One of the main reasons studios are funding all these superhero and fairytale stories is because they have to sink a quarter billion dollars into making them. They want a property with a proven audience and proven staying power. Almost everything coming out is either a sequel or an adaption of a classic book. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter?!?!?!

    It comforts the studio to know that audiences will instantly understand what the movie is going to be about. If they can make the trailer look cool then maybe the audience will likewise take the risk of shelling out the cash on the outrageous ticket prices.

    4) It's us. Generation X, raised on Saturday morning cartoons, is hungry for nostalgia. What do the Transformers movies say about us as a people?

    5) I have to admit that the regressive fantasy aspect is still very appealing to me. To imagine that you have special amazing powers that allow you to break out of the mundane rat maze of life and strike a blow against the global powers of oppression....ahhh! Sure you can have a commentary track from Cornel West and Ken Wilber going, but you're also thrilling as Neo beats down a bunch of Agent Smith's with a big pipe. Boosh!

    Cheers!

  • Comment Link TJ Dawe Saturday, 16 June 2012 00:02 posted by TJ Dawe

    Michael - I'm fascinated by that parallel too, UFO abduction reports in the last few decades, and sightings of fairies and goblins in medieval times. Our imaginations and inner depths choose to manifest in images and fantasies according to what we have available to us as a culture.

    Also, I totally agree about fantasy offering a sense of spirituality that doesn't have the baggage of organized Judeo-Christian religions (and hadn't thought of that at all). Few, if any, fantasy fans would think of the fictional worlds they love as being spiritual, or their interest in them being a sign of their attraction to spirituality. And our blindness to that exact connection helps fans keep drawing from that well, unconsciously and unselfconsciously slaking at least some of their spiritual thirst. And traditional religion did offer some of this same sense of wonder to believers (and still does, I suppose). To believe that God inhabits every atom, that physical laws can be suspended, that a chariot of fire can descend from the sky, that loaves and fishes can be multiplied to feed a multitude, that a dead man can rise - that's wondrous stuff.

  • Comment Link TJ Dawe Saturday, 16 June 2012 00:07 posted by TJ Dawe

    Lincoln -

    1. totally agree. Special effects are making more kinds of stories plausible to present to audiences that aren’t willing to simply accept half-assed effects because they love the genre anyway. It’s interesting to note what these special effects are used for. In the 90s, following the incredible success of Jurassic Park, there were all kinds of spectacle movies, often featuring natural disasters and big animals: Twister, Volcano, Dante’s Peak, Independence Day, Godzilla, Jumanji. These movies were notoriously short on story (most haven’t survived into any lasting popularity at all, even as so-bad-it's-good cult movies) but long on effects. The audience was drawn to Twister because of that shot that closed the preview, in which a car is very realistically hurled straight at the camera. The draw was not Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton’s romance. Jurassic Park had a pretty lame story, but people couldn’t resist the thrill of dinosaurs more realistically presented than ever before.

    2. again, I agree. American movies - the blockbusters, anyway - make the bulk of their revenue overseas, so movies that are dialogue light do better. In the 80s, Stallone and Schwarzennegger’s movies did better than anyone else’s worldwide. Short lines, simple story, lots of action. George Lucas’ emphasis on visuals over dialogue can partly be attributed to his being an Enneagram Type Nine (he had an assistant attend the Enneagram Institute’s training, and bring their teachings to him, and self-identified as a Nine, according to teacher and author Russ Hudson). Nine is the Peacemaker, the Dreamer, the Mediator, and often excels at non-verbal forms of expression (Walt Disney and Norman Rockwell were both Nines, and I suspect the great comic book painter Alex Ross is as well). Nines are usually gentle, and would prefer to tell a story everyone can get, with a happy ending. Lucas has always maintained that the Star Wars films are kids movies - he deflects all criticisms of his tin earred dialogue and forcedly goofy comic characters with this disclaimer. This tendency, whether it connects with his Enneagram type or not, connected with the market at the right time and in the right way.

    3. yet again, I agree. there’s a proven audience with this stuff, so they’ll milk this cow till it’s try. Hollywood is run by businessman, not artists.

    4. Nostalgia - excellent point.

    5. This element is tremendously appealing to me too. When I read superhero comics, or watch Lost, or the Lord of the Rings movies, or The Dark Knight, I’m not doing so with a condescending air of gaining insight into what childish minds enjoy - I get right into it, and that feeling of being a kid and genuinely believing in the possibility of this stuff existing, is amazing, and thrilling and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. And I want the good guy to win, with every fibre of my being.

    So the thing to point out with the various reasons you bring up - why all these zombies and vampires and superheroes now?

    1. Special effects were focussed on different things in this 90s.

    2. worldwide top box office draws in the 80s involved muscular men - often soldiers, cops and mercenaries - firing guns and beating the shit out of people.

    3. Hollywood’s inclination to play it safe and sink their budgets into stuff there’s a built-in audience for has only recently embraced zombies and wizards and vampires. In the 80s they were cranking out sequels to slasher movies, Police Academy, Beverly Hills Cop, in the 90s they made movies of The Flintstones, The Terminator 2, The Beverly Hillbillies, in the 2000s there were movies of Scooby-Doo, Charlie’s Angels, etc.

    4. Nostaligia’s a strong factor, for sure. But nostaligia can bring anything out of the past. Why this, now?

    5. yes - all of this stuff is tremendously fun. But why a bigger and wider appreciation for this kind of fun with these stories now? Jurassic Park was fun too, so was Terminator 2.

  • Comment Link Lincoln Merchant Saturday, 16 June 2012 23:16 posted by Lincoln Merchant

    Gotta say I think a key word in all this is "global".

    We've got global trade making possible a "worldwide box office" concern.

    We've got the same advancements in computer technology that gave us the world wide web giving artists the SFX tools to put anything they imagine on the screen.

    We've got global pop culture movies laying the groundwork for a system of shared visual and story references that make meta-cultural communication and cooperation possible.

    We've got a global financial crisis which helps make the global economic system easier to see as an object, rather than as the environment. Trevor Malkinson's Zombie Politics piece articulates the negative response to the crisis. Superheroes represent a more inspirational and empowering response to the same crisis. Superhero comics were born and reached the zenith of their popularity in the last great financial crisis, the Great Depression.

    As for vampires, wizards, and the fairytale stories...I don't know. I think the first Harry Potter and Twilight books might have just been black swans that caught on and started a fad. Maybe it's a generational thing to do with target age group of those books.

    I'm not sure you can lump zombies, superheroes, vampires, and fairytales together. I do enjoy the Neil Gaiman style of deconstructing myths, legends, and fairytales. His classic Sandman is fantastic! Are you guys reading Fables or The Unwritten? Some great comics in the Gaiman tradition!

  • Comment Link TJ Dawe Monday, 18 June 2012 22:53 posted by TJ Dawe

    Lincoln - excellent point. Being Canadian, my consumption of media is pretty American-centric, so I can't confidently claim to know if these artistic trends are consistent in Asia, Africa, South America, or even Europe. Would you say they are?

    Harry Potter and Twilight could be black swans, but now the Hunger Games is proving just as strong, and I remember nothing of this kind before Harry Potter. Adults weren't reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Encyclopedia Brown or Choose Your Own Adventure novels in the 80s, were they? I'm ready to see if young adult novels that reach genuine popularity with adults continues or not, but if I were put money on it, I'd say that they will.

    Great point about superheroes in the Great Depression.
    I lump zombies, superheroes, wizards, zombies and fairytales together by virtue of the fact that they break the laws of physics, and the audience doesn't seem to mind, or even notice. As I said in my article, genres in which the fantastical happened and genres where the laws of physics were always respected - there were sharp lines between these. Were there popular TV shows in the 80s that incorporated these elements? Beauty and the Beast, maybe (which I never watched), the Misfits of Science (which lasted one season), Automan (same thing)(and which was rooted in technology). In the movies there was Return of the Jedi, Willow, Superman II, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Beetlejuice. The runaway bestsellers were by Stephen King - which often did dip into the fantastic, Tom Clancy (which didn't), Michael Crichton (didn't)(well, sort of, with the reanimated dinosaurs - but there was a base in science for that), Spy Catcher (didn't), The Satanic Verses (did). Hmm - plenty of exceptions, now that I look at it. It'd take a more systematic study to see if this theory holds up.

    I've read five volumes of Gaiman's Sandman series, and loved them. Have yet to explore Fables and Unwritten, though they've come highly recommended from others as well. Where's a good place to start?

  • Comment Link Jeremy Johnson Saturday, 23 June 2012 14:09 posted by Jeremy Johnson

    Hi Lincoln! Let me respond to some of your thoughts first.

    And apologize for coming back to this late. I've had to wrap up my third semester in grad school, so it's just been day upon day of annotations and essays. But that's over with, for now!

    "In the past it was necessary for the audience to forgive cheesy special effects in order to suspend disbelief and fully engage in the story. This is almost no obstacle now. Audiences no longer have to bring anything to the theatre, it's all given to them. Nothing takes a non-nerd out of the dream anymore."

    Yes I think this is probably one of the biggest factors influencing these movies in hollywood. I might add, though, that there is something to be said for older films. Today, CG is used TOO much sometimes. Somehow movies lose their magic. Or they never gain it in the first place. I've found fewer and fewer films that are able to not get greedy with the CG, letting the computers do the "magic" for them without adding the artist's balance. I think this is an issue to keep in mind. But generally, I think you're right about CG. It made Lord of the Rings possible. It made Harry Potter possible.

    " George Lucas makes me think that while some of the creators might be post-pomo, they are intentionally creating movies that are as globally translatable as possible. It means that they are making movies not with the expectation that there will be a post-pomo audience, but rather that they understand where the global center-of-gravity is and are aiming at that. Everyone in the world who can get to a cinema knows the magic-to-mythic spectrum. In fact, globally speaking, that's where the majority live."

    I think this is true. But it's also true that even in "pomo" and "post-pomo" societies, magic lives on. Which is largely the point of this essay. I don't believe we ever get "past" it. Magic lives on in us and through us. It seeks to be found because we seek it in life. Sure, it enthralls the majority of the world's population because that's "where they're at," but more so, maybe more importantly, it's got to be such a huge hit because it's what we are missing from the sterility of a disenchanted life.

    This is the life we all grow up into. And it's exactly the life that Spielberg and Lucas try to recreate through their "movie magic." Anyway, my two cents!

    Will respond more later guys!

  • Comment Link Jeremy Johnson Saturday, 23 June 2012 14:17 posted by Jeremy Johnson

    Just as a quick note, what you guys are mentioning about the world crisis right now is an important point.

    As the system breaks down, I think human beings have a natural affinity to start imagining. It might seem like a distraction from the chaos of life, but I think it's just the opposite. We are trying to re-endow life with some kind of meaning. The imagination is like a healing balm that we can apply to cultural wounds as we try to solve them, as our own personal dreams might also be.

  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Thursday, 28 June 2012 23:18 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    Jeremy, finally getting some time to post a comment here, after working overtime trying to get my posts done for Undead Weeks.

    Just wanted to quickly say that I really appreciate the (Gebserian) vision you are holding around the return of the magic and mythic as being not just whimsy or regression. I completely agree that this is way deeper than just some remnants of our past resurfacing in some fun way. This is the return of important repressed contents that have been kept at bay by the limitations and organization of the modern rational consciousness.

    I'm going to write about this next week in a post surrounding Troy Wiley's new video series (Neotribal Zeitgesit), but I think that mainstream Wilberian integral hasn't done enough (or much of any) of including when it comes to the 'transcend and include' equation. But listen to how John David Ebert describes the Gebserian view of integral consciousness:

    "[The former structures of consciousness] don't just disappear when a new structure comes along. The new structures come along and take the field, but the old structures become latent, and they can be activated in each one of us at any time; and part of the integral consciousness structure that came about from about 1870 on is the need to realized this, to realize and render transparent within oneself which consciousness structures are there and when and how they're active and when they're not and when they're to be used".

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_JPjZ7Pmf7A&feature=player_embedded

    That's a very different view, and it calls for a whole different orientation to these former stages of consciousness. I think there's a big project of re-integration waiting to happen, and this doesn't just mean watching superhero films. It means recapturing the real and still useful intelligences that have been lost in the modern period. I also agree with your frame around the re-enchantment of the world, I think that's bang on.

    I came across a passage from the poet Gary Snyder yesterday that reminded me of your article and prompted me to leave this comment. It's from an 1961 essay called 'Buddhist Anarchism'. He writes:

    "The traditional cultures are in any case doomed, and rather than cling to their good aspects hopelessly it should be remembered that whatever is or ever was in any other culture can be reconstructed from the unconscious, through meditation. In fact, it is my own view that the coming revolution will close the circle and link us in many ways with the most creative aspects of our archaic past".

    http://www.bopsecrets.org/CF/garysnyder.htm

    And this reminded of a classic poem of Snyder's called 'What You Should Know to Be A Poet'. The first section goes like this:

    What You Should Know to be a Poet

    all you can know about animals as persons.
    the names of trees and flowers and weeds.
    the names of stars and the movements of planets and the moon.

    your own six senses, with a watchful and elegant mind.

    at least one kind of traditional magic:
    divination, astrology, the book of changes, the tarot;

    dreams.
    the illusory demons and the illusory shining gods.

    ~~~

    Again, it reminded me of this intelligence of recapturing lost ways of knowing and being that are still valid (and important).

    Thanks Jeremy, keep up your great work in this project of retrieval and integration, peace.

  • Comment Link math daimon Monday, 23 July 2012 02:47 posted by math daimon

    It's interesting to notice that before the 60's there was also a renewed interest in the mythical/magical.

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