Monday, November 19, 2007

What I Mean by "Gods"

I've been doing a lot of radio interviews these past few weeks and I can tell that people are a bit thrown by the term "gods." I get the feeling some of these folks aren't exactly sure what I mean- do I think we should follow Homer Simpson's example and pray to Superman? Not exactly.

What I mean is this: superheroes have become the new mythology in much the same way that violent sports like football or UFC have become the new gladiator combat, or Burning Man has become the new Druidism, or heavy metal music has become the new Viking conquest.

Today's culture has this ingenious way of reaching back into history, discovering all of these compelling cultural details from our past and then updating them. And doing so in a way that the basic selling points of these practices are left intact, but all of the, um, excesses that clash with a post-Enlightenment sense of morality are not. So we can have all of the action and spectacle of violent sports, without putting the losing team to death. You can experience all of the sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll of the ancient mystery cults on the dance floor without some of the the, uh, excesses...

The way this is all evolving can be hard to explain to people unfamiliar with the immersive culture of fandom. You almost need to see it, and spend some time in it to figure out how it all works. The rise of role-playing games is playing a huge role in all of this, as is "cosplay" (costumed play), live action role playing, fan fiction and fan films. But as I write in the book, superhero films, TV shows and video games (both spandexed and plain-clothed) would not be so successful if this material was not striking a very deep chord in the society at large.