Friday, November 14, 2014

Hallmarks of Our Modern Myths, Part I



I often get letters from readers inquiring about the archives, particularly about the work dealing with movie symbolism. These posts seem to be the most popular series in the archives, though the particular exegesis at work might be a bit overwhelming to new readers. 

Since people are constantly discovering these posts I thought it would be useful to have a kind of thematic guide to the underlying themes in the series looking at films such as Star Wars or The Matrix, so neophytes can understand the basic issues that aren't always made explicit in the texts. 

Which is to say that there are a set number of hallmarks that I study in each film as part of an overarching exegesis, that ties these modern myths back to stories that are much, much older. This will be a work in progress, so if there are major revisions to a certain post (and there may be major additions as I go along) it will be reposted. So keep an eye on the site in the coming days.


MILITARISM

Most problematic in our mythos is the recurring theme of militarism and military discipline. Many of the heroes in our myths are either in the military or militaristic organizations. Self-discipline and aggressive strength are often glorified, even in those characters who are civilians. 

Star Trek not only champions the military ethic in the presentation of its heroes, it also positively presents a universal system of governance that is essentially a totalizing military dictatorship. Star Wars does the same (though to a lesser degree), glorifying the (celibate, self-denying, essentially slave-like) military order of the Jedi as its highest ideal. 

Similarly, Frank Herbert (the ur-source of many of Star Wars' concepts) presents a very positive image of militarism and feudalism in the first Dune novel, despite his protestations in later years that he was actually critiquing the corruptive aspects of power. 

Alien invasion films/shows such as Independence Day, Battleship and Falling Skies gives us not only a heroic panoply of warriors, they also hint at military rule. The Chronicles of Narnia is also unabashed in its worship of militarism and warfare. But military ethics and values extend beyond the obvious suspects here. 



Like Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica (the remake mostly, but the original as well) glorifies a militarized society in service of an existential battle with a wholly alien threat, in this case artificial intelligence.

2001: A Space Odyssey and the Mars movies present astronauts as heroes, even though they don’t engage in actual combat. But astronauts are also highly trained and regimented individuals, and NASA is for all intents and purpose a branch of the U.S. military.  

Likewise, Mulder and Scully may seem like mavericks, but both are highly-trained, elite Federal police officers. And the rebels in The Matrix may seem hip and countercultural, but they are in reality an extremely specialized and regimented guerilla army.  Similarly, Harry Potter trains at Hogwart’s, which resembles nothing less than a military academy for young witches and warlocks. 

It’s also worth noting that the four most archetypal creators of these types of myths-- Roddenberry, Arthur C. Clarke, C.S. Lewis and Frank Herbert --all served in the military.



HIERARCHY/MERITOCRACY

In addition to the explicit glorification of the highly disciplined and physically powerful individual (which is unsurprising given that many of these stories are action-oriented), these myths also champion other militaristic ideals. 

For instance, none of these stories seem to bother with ideals like democracy or egalitarianism (with the notable exception of Moore's BSG, which presents us with the unlikely concoction of a liberal military totalitarian state). On the contrary, most of these stories present us with hierarchies. Orders are given and followed and people seem to know their place.  

Subsequently, HAL is presented as a villain in 2001 because he usurps Dave Bowman’s rightful station as commander of the Discovery. And the first signs we see that Anakin Skywalker is crossing over to the ‘Dark Side’ is when he becomes insubordinate and breaks Jedi protocol. 

Even in Dagon, Paul’s refusal to go along with the plan laid out for him by his father is depicted as being literally self-destructive. When Uxia intervenes and physically forces him to submit to Dagon’s will, he is granted immortality.

Yet at the same time, these characters are not serfs, condemned to a lifetime of drudgery as in the Feudal system. There is a implied meritocracy at work, often presented in the form of military rank. Characters are seen being promoted or advanced, often to positions of great power. Luke Skywalker, Paul Atriedes and Neo are all examples of this. 

This closely mirrors the Mystery traditions, where initiates start off in positions of powerlessness but are allowed to earn the right of advancement, either in the form of rank or degrees. The creator of the national Sol Invictus religion, Aurelian, rose from humble origins to a position of supreme power through military service. 

This pattern seems to be a very important one in the Mystery tradition. Hierarchy is decided by merit, at least theoretically. 



The idea of justification by works is common in ancient Egyptian religion. When one appeared before Osiris in the Hall of Judgment, his soul was weighed and he was required to account for his life and justify his eternal reward through both negative and positive confessions (“I did this good thing and I did not do that bad thing’). The soul was then measured against the Shu feather of Ma’at, (which represented truth)  and the soul was judged accordingly.

That all these archaic concepts bled into these kind of entertainments speaks to the influence of Masonic and quasi-Masonic groups at the turn of the century in Hollywood and  other corners of the showbiz world. 

They also seeped into the work of writers like Herbert and Lucas through mythicists like Jung and Campbell, as well as more exotic occultists such as Aleister Crowley and Alice Bailey.


TO BE CONTINUED 

Note: As always, please be aware that, as always, The Secret Sun isn't just about the text. 
If you don't click the links, you're only getting part of the story.  

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