Saturday, March 28, 2009

David Plotz

A review of David Plotz's book that he made from his Blogging the Bible - a wonderful and illuminating read.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Mythology in the News

I teach a class on World Mythology at school, and so I naturally look for news items that correspond to what we study. Usually, they're not too difficult to find, but for some reason, this week has been even more obvious than usual. There have been three more or less astonishing events that are worth sharing here.

First, there was the amazing and bizarre story of the soldier who dressed up as the Joker from Batman - makeup and all - and had a standoff with police up on Skyline Drive in Virginia. He had been in trouble before for wearing the costume and attacking his roommate with a knife and stun gun. After a car chase, he ended up trying to shoot himself with a shotgun, but after he refused to put the weapon down, he was shot and killed by the police. More details are in the article, and we'll hear more as the investigation continues.

Then, there was the case in Texas of the Fight Club for severely mentally disabled students in Corpus Christi. Apparently, it was set up by the workers in the school, and they took videos on their cell phones, which is how the police found out about it.

And then there was the man who was apparently trying to kill himself by jumping off Niagara Falls naked, and surviving, and then spending 45 minutes in the freezing waters, trying not to be saved by rescuers. They had to use a helicopter's rotors to blow him back toward shore. You've got to wonder what story lurks behind this, and what he's running from. The whole thing sounds like the story of Jonah to me.

These stories say two things to me. First, as my Mythology students will understand, this is evidence that we are living in the Wasteland. When people lose grasp of their place in the universe, there is a need for extreme action, and these poor souls are desperate to find meaning in any way they can. The Joker is meant as an example of what happens when a fictional society's laws don't speak to a troubled but gifted individual, who then tries to expose that society's hypocrisy and annihilate any semblance of what he feels to be a false sense of righteousness. However, because our society also doesn't speak effectively to those who are troubled, the Joker becomes a philosopher to be followed and even emulated.

As Joseph Campbell has noted, when we do not have a functioning mythology to explain our existence effectively, we reach for the closest and easiest way to make sense of it, even if that way is dangerous and counter-productive. And in doing this, we resort to all sorts of bizarre and nonsensical behaviors to force meaning on the world, since we don't believe we are able to find it.

Second, these acts show how completely the symbols of our current mythology have been misunderstood. They have been concretized, so that the symbols lose their meaning in a recreation of the act itself, with only the outer shell of its meaning still alive. These three stories are all responding to a very real need, but because the people have not had any guidance about how to deal with these needs, they respond in unhealthy ways. It doesn't have to be so difficult, or so tragic.

Monday, March 2, 2009


A few pictures of the amazing snowstorm we got last night. Time to go Wandering for a bit...