“Those Christians”

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We all have that *one* thing that rubs us the wrong way. You know, that one issue that a friend innocently brings up during a poker game that turns you into Mr. Hyde. Perhaps it’s something that embedded in your shadow, or perhaps it’s a cause you’ve silently taken the call to defend. Either way, you find yourself getting extremely defensive when that *one* thing is brought up.

Perhaps I have several such *one* things (just try engaging me in conversation that Walt Disney was anti-Semitic or whether Disney princesses are terrible role models. Go ahead. I dare you.). I think this is a side effect of being a PhD and a mythologist. This is one take-away I’ve gotten from spending the last several years reading Joseph Campbell: it’s impossible to look at people as anything but different versions of the same thing. Sure, I disagree with many other people’s opinions, but my line is whether those opinions are doing harm (physical, mental) to anyone. For example, I support Obama’s healthcare plan because it’s pathetic that people in this country can’t get the medical attention they need, and I disagree with multi-million dollar companies that claim that they will go bankrupt if they are required to provide healthcare to their employees. (but this is an issue for another day…)

So the *one* thing I’m going to touch on today is something I first observed at a Harry Potter conference a few years ago. In the same breath of asking for tolerance, a Potter peep spoke of hating “those Christians” for making her life difficult. Going to Pacifica, a similar conversation is heard on the sidewalks between classes: Why myth is so bereft in this country is because of “those Christians” (and the Enlightenment). “Those Christians” need to step aside and let a more natural mythology (often linked to the Pagan or New Age movements) develop. And I see similar criticisms frequently cross my Facebook feed.

How can anyone ask for tolerance while also being intolerant towards a particular group of people?

Blaming “those Christians” for everything wrong with the world is like blaming all of Islam for 9/11. Blaming the Bible for faulty faith is like blaming Catcher in the Rye for killing John Lennon.

There is a GIGANTIC difference between a religion and its followers. While there are many deplorable events in history that are done “in the name of religion,” the invocation of religion is a cover to justify the selfish act of conflict. Why, then, is it does it appear the be the MO of religious followers?

Joseph Campbell cites four functions of mythology: 1) a cosmology, a sense of where we came from and why we’re here; 2) a religion (as Bones has been saying lately, “We all need a mythology”); 3) social guidelines; 4) a psychological framework. When any of the four is threatened, we react strongly. We don’t like our sense of personhood, even if others see it as skewed, threatened. Because of the nature of humanity, we may react violently, or we may just weep in a corner. Get enough of us together, the mob mind might develop. Unite us behind a charismatic leader we are supposed to trust, say a Pope or a President, the mob mind will justify to itself that it’s okay to do heinous acts against The Other.

But it’s not–and to say that it is okay runs completely counter to most religious tenants. There are also centuries of documented corruption behind the core of all “religious” conflicts. The only way it seems we can overcome these religious issues is to take them off the table, which is why our Founding Fathers separated church and state, a novel idea at the time. However, because religion plays such an essential part in our identity, it’s difficult to leave those matters off the table.

This is one of those *one* things that has no simple resolution, other than perhaps we finally learn what that call for religious tolerance actually means. It doesn’t mean, “Like me for who I am, although I find you stupid.” It means, “I find you stupid, but I love you anyway, because I don’t know anything about you and shouldn’t judge you by the simple label of your religious values.” Tolerance doesn’t mean, “I’m okay with your religious some of the time, but not all the time.” It means, “Your religion works for me, but it doesn’t for me. And that’s okay.”

And you may not agree with my stance on this. And that’s okay.

Projection and Johnny Depp (and Miley Cyrus, too)

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The recent hubbub about Miley Cyrus and the recent VMAs has gotten me thinking about Johnny Depp. Or maybe it was a dream I had last night about the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction. Either way, my thoughts on Miley and Johnny both have to do with the same thing: our projections.

Johnny Depp experienced an exponential growth in his fame in the 2000s, arguably with the success of Jack Sparrow. Prior to the 2000s, his roles have been unusual–Edward Sissorhands–or they have spoken to a special Aphroditic place in our culture–Don Juan. With Jack Sparrow, however, Depp played (and rather well) a character right out of our cultural shadow. The Pirate pillages and plunders, and riffles and loots, and we’re not supposed to look to them as heroes. Indeed, we wouldn’t have seen Jack Sparrow as anything but another Blackbeard had it not been for his support of the Will/Elizabeth diad. In the popularity of Jack Sparrow, Johnny Depp went from being “that weird actor” to “The Sexiest Man Alive.” And it was thought for several years that is presence in a film or on marketing materials would guarantee success–blockbuster (and I mean financial) success. He continued to make successful films with Tim Burton (a relationship that I tend to trust for “good cinema”) but he also made some less successful films. Let’s consider those a moment (in no particular order):

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides: I love the franchise, but without Will and Elizabeth, Jack Sparrow seems lost. I’ve heard rumor of a Pirates 5, but I think it would only work if they tied up some loose ends (such as Will Turner’s son).

The Rum Diary: I liked this one, but I’m among an elite few. I think this one failed because people were expecting Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and got something else entirely. I appreciate Depp’s attempts to keep the works of Hunter S. Thompson alive, but it’s really not the time for him right now. Mythically, we need someone else.

The Lone Ranger & Dark Shadows: I lump these together because they are an attempt to revive an old television franchise for a new generation. Both were expected to do well–but how can they do well when their target audiences don’t even know the shows? Dark Shadows becomes yet-another-vampire-movie and the Lone Ranger, which I haven’t seen, doesn’t fit in our mythos that presently doesn’t have space for an old fashioned Western (exceptions: sci-fi westerns–Star Trek, Firefly–and historical fiction). Because of our apocalyptic myth transition, we are hungering for saviors. It shouldn’t be surprising that Marvel films are doing so well.

I saw a headline this morning that said that Depp is thinking about stepping out of the limelight. What’s happening to Depp is akin to what happened to Charlie Chaplin. For Chaplin, the public wanted the Little Tramp so badly that they weren’t interested in The Great Dictator, when he used his medium to send us a warning about what was happening in Germany. Our public wants Jack Sparrow so badly that we aren’t interested when Depp actually gives us cinema with a purpose.

I would love to say that we’ll stop projecting our Aphroditic expectations onto Johnny Depp, but I only think that’ll happen once we get someone else to project onto. Rather, I would love to see Depp take on roles that go beyond the “Johnny Depp” brand and challenge us to see him in new ways. We’ve seen Leonardo Di Caprio do this many times. While on screen, he’s clearly Leonardo Di Caprio, but he is also a character actor like Depp, and successfully challenges us to see him as Howard Hawks, J. Edgar Hoover, and Gatsby. Depp has convinced us to see him as Hunter S. Thompson and as John Dillenger, and yet we just want Jack Sparrow.

Back to Miley. Why is it that we continually see young female celebrities needing to exert their adulthood through sexuality? Why can’t we just let them grow up and stop being “that girl next door” (or Hannah Montana)? The Disney girls seem to fare less well with the transition into adulthood than others. We want them to continue being our image of what a role model for girls should look like, but we forget that we need role models for young women as well (otherwise they’ll look at Bella Swan from Twilight). Women just don’t have decent role models because women are still fighting the sexual role defined by a male-dominated Hollywood. I don’t consider myself a feminist by any stretch, but I can appreciate that need for role models, and the need for those role models to push back at our projections and exert her independence. (which, by the way, is what the Disney Princesses and heroines of the 90s did.)

The Up Series

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My post the other day about The Truman Show inspired me to see if 56 Up was streaming on Netflix yet. Since it is, I treated myself to watching it yesterday.

The_Up_series_DVDThe premise of the Up series (of which 56 is the latest installment) begins with the philosophy of “Show me a boy at 7 and I will show you the man.” Director Michael Apted initially interviewed a collection of British children at the age of 7, showcasing a slice of British life and classism. This series continued to follow some of these children, checking in with them every 7 years. Through this series, we’ve watched them grow up, seen their opinions and attitude change with age, watched their successes and failures. Even though we only see them every 7 years, somehow they feel like they are our friends and family.

But they’re not.

Each installment is edited in a very creative way that highlights some aspect of British society–the inherent classism, political attitudes, etc. Through this careful editing, Apted or someone one his team, makes a statement at the expense of these people. And that has been the criticism against the series, coming from, among other sources, the subjects themselves. Some recognize that they only participate in the program at this point because it is an opportunity for them to advertise for their cause. One man, Nick, has said that he’s going to be remembered for the series, not for his work in Physics, and finds that a little sad.

In a way, Michael Apted has given us a real live version of The Truman Show. We see these people for a short period, but we watch their stories unfold with the same engrossed entertainment that we watch reality television, that the people watched Truman’s story unfold.

But, just as with Truman’s story, there is a tragic side, and that’s the way that the series has impacted the lives of the people involved. One man, Peter, left the series after 28 because there was a negative publicity campaign about his comments (seemingly spun to be a criticism against Margaret Thatcher) that impacted his work. (He came back at 56 to use the platform to promote his band.) Another man, Tony, a professional cabbie, told a story in 56 about a time when he was driving Buzz Aldrin and another cabbie asked for his autograph. Tony assumed he meant Buzz, but the cabbie really just wanted his autograph! (Ok, that’s a positive story, but it speaks to the level these people are getting recognized.)

I enjoy the Up Series. I want nothing more than to start a campaign to help Jackie, and to send sweaters to all their grandbabies. I want to ride in Tony’s cab, and take a class from Nick. Their lives are captured forever in these little documentaries, these little nuggets of hyperreality. This is why we think the Up participants are our friends, and it’s the same reason we watch every 7 years.

I started watching the series because I was curious. I continued to watch the series because I was captivated. I am not oblivious to the political spin each installment is given. But what do we get from it?

Reality and The Truman Show

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“It’s not fake. It’s just controlled.”

I know I’m a little late to the party, but I finally saw 1998′s The Truman Show. I’ve heard much about the show for ages, so I’m not sure why I haven’t seen it before now. (Unless it’s because it’s *THAT* movie that everyone has seen already, so no one wanted to watch it with me, and I tend to watch familiar films, television shows, or documentaries when I’m alone.)

The premise is that Truman slowly discovers that his entire life has been lived on a live, 24-hour television show. It’s like what we call reality tv without the editing. Truman has no control over his life, which causes a major existential crisis. The producer, Christof, and his team fabricate every single one of Truman’s experiences.

Which invites the question, just how much control do we have over our lives?

Anyone who grew up in America following World War II has had their entire lives influenced and shaped by corporations and what Jean Baudrillard calls “hyperreality,” a simulated environment so perfect that we willingly accept it in lieu of it’s real, non-simulated counterpart. Examples permeate our consumer culture, from themed restaurants to shopping malls. Disneyland is cited by Baudrillard and Umberto Eco has the paragon example.

We would like to believe that we have control over our lives, that our decisions make a difference. My cousin recently posted on Facebook that he young son, with no known exposure to Disney princesses, could describe princess attributes. Is this because the princess is an archetype that all children can identify? No, it’s because the image is saturated across modern culture. (I’ll add here that this cousin lives outside the United States.) Prior to 1989, Disney’s princess line-up consisted of FOUR princesses: Snow White, Cinderella, Aurora/Sleeping Beauty, and what’s-her-name from The Black Cauldron (thank you to Amy Davis for that reminder). Now, almost every Disney movie has a princess and it has branded them as their own franchise. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that this young boy can identify princess behaviors.

And there’s the decisions we make thinking we are doing something good for the world, like buying eco-friendly products (that are really produced by the big corporations). For example, until I had a major life-change that hindered my idealistic intentions, I cloth diapered my baby. Once upon a time, cloth diaper options were a square of fabric folded just so and safety pinned to baby. A single Bum Genius brand diaper can go for $20, and the thinking is that what’s $20 if you’re helping the environment? What’s wrong with that square of fabric?

Reality television is one such hyperrealistic world we consume. Each episode brings into our homes someone’s “life” in a very controlled environment. Each participant is informed–to differ from Truman’s experience–of the level of involvement the show will actually have in their experience, some events are actually heightened in the interest of “good tv.”

Why are we so interested in reality television? Even though we know the set-ups are fake, we willingly accept their version of “reality” almost as reminders that our lives aren’t nearly as pathetic as we think they are. This is why reality shows dominate television.

The really sad part is the comment about our world that we choose hyperreality over reality. Is it because current culture sucks that much or is it because we are being blinded by leisure at just how much it sucks. Or is the argument that the world is suffering in fact part of the simulated illusion?

Post-Dissertation Blues (Pacifica-Style)

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One of my cohort defended his dissertation the other day. Out of my cohort group, that makes three of us (including me). But my cohort extends farther. I’ve adopted all of my Pacifica friends as “my cohort.” We may not have gone on the journey at the same time, but we nonetheless went on very similar journeys. I could say, we went on the same journey together.

During the process of dissertation formulation, everyone is quick to describe “dissertation monsters,” or little bits of life that get in the way of writing the dissertation. These range from feelings of inadequacy (“Why am I even torturing myself with this. NO ONE is going to care!) to life changes (divorce, death, move, etc.). They also encourage us to build a system for dealing with these dissertation monsters. Talk to your friends, take some time off from the dissertation… blah blah blah. Those of us on the other side of the dissertation can tell stories of how we almost quit because of our Dissertation Monsters, and we can stand with pride next to our diplomas and our pretty copy of our dissertation and say, “We did it.”

But then there’s that unspoken bit that they didn’t prepare us for. The Other Side of the Dissertation. The, “I completed my dissertation, I owe a quarter of a million dollars in student loans, I can’t get a job. Now what?” The Post-Dissertation Blues.

I think I’ve said it before, but Pacifica Graduate Institute isn’t like other graduate programs. It’s not a degree mill. The academic work we do during the program works us as much as we work through it. Something within our shadows is activated, and how we deal with this shadow flavors our approach to the program. For me, it was the money thing, and I hear the same concern echoed among many of my peers. It does make us feel like Atlas or even Sysiphus to come out of this program, stare at the mountain of debt, and try to figure out how to pay it off (or at least down).

It’s because of this level of self-work, however, that we actually have a Post-Dissertation post-partum period. Our dissertations aren’t just about analyzing Jung or Campbell and getting a degree. We pick topics that aren’t only interesting, but near and dear to our hearts, often dealing with as much autobiography as academic research.

Disclaimer: I do know there are people who graduate and hit the ground running into academic work. Power to them. Seriously. My hat is off to you.

My dissertation is about Disneyland, but it really is about so much more than that. It’s about identifying the mythology that has ordered my entire perspective. It’s about defending why I don’t subscribe to traditional approaches to myth and academia, and helping to explain why others share my perspective.

By the time I started writing my dissertation, I was running on fumes. I had a year off between undergraduate and grad school, and maybe a semester between my Master’s program and Pacifica (a semester spent getting into and ready for Pacifica). So from the start of that Master’s program in October 2004 until the end of coursework in August 2010, I had been functioning solely as a graduate student. THAT IS SIX YEARS. Three of those years were spent at Pacifica, being worked on and massaged by a variety of world mythologies, and they were, hands down, three of the most intense years of my life. Much of my cohort can’t share in the timeline of graduate student, but most of them can share in agreement that the three years of Pacifica work are three of the most intense years of our lives. Is it the vibe of Pacifica? The content? The faculty? The contrast between one week of intense class followed by three weeks of intense loneliness? It’s all of that. And I’m not going to say that those of us who made it to the end are any stronger or better than those that don’t. It’s more that what we are seeking is something that only Pacifica can provide. It’s that the myth of Pacifica (and yes, there is a very strong one) is the myth we need. Those who don’t make it all of the way through the program are looking for another myth. My hat goes off to those friends as well, and for those who are still on their search, I wish you well.

It’s because of the Pacifica myth we stay through until the bitter end (of course work, the dissertation is another matter). And it’s because of the Pacifica myth that we can go to an event on campus, such as a friend’s dissertation defense, and feel a brief surge of revitalized energy. But it’s also because of the Pacifica myth that we leave the program SO VERY EXHAUSTED. For those who aren’t Pacifica people, I can only sum it up this way: You know that kind of really intense dream? You know, that kind that keeps you engaged for a period of time, shocks you awake, and affects your mood for the rest of the coming day? Like that episode of Friends where Phoebe was mad at Joey for the entire episode, only to remember that she was mad at him because of something he did in a dream. Pacifica is like that, every day, for THREE FREAKING YEARS. Now, think of how exhausting it is to wake up from those dreams. Perhaps you are mentally refreshed, but your body isn’t. Pacifica is like that, every day, for THREE FREAKING YEARS. And then you have to write your dissertation.

And this is where I laugh loudly to myself. It’s a wonder that any of us do finish.

But then we do, and we’re exhausted, sad, depressed. Now what? We can’t find jobs. Our degrees are too weird and Academia, the path that most of us set out to achieve, isn’t hiring. (This, sadly, isn’t a problem with the larger model of Academia, not just with Pacifica folks.) Our families, who have suffered while we did this work, are on edge, wanting our attention or our active contributions again. Our friends, those few who still speak to us (because they understand the difficulties of going through grad school), are only willing to be so patient while we whine about how there are no jobs, how we need to make money to pay our loans, and so on. They tell us, “buck up and get a job already!” without considering the hit that we all take to our resumes by the life change of going through this work. Our old jobs or professions no longer want us. Without considering how few jobs there are, or that it can take upwards of a year or more to get a phone call. I just received a couple rejection letters from applications I put in before I started working on my dissertation. Our loan creditors send us statements that ask for four digits worth of repayment, and are only willing to negotiate so much.

And in the middle of all this? We’re supposed to publish, but we can’t even write a sentence. Think of how many blog posts I’ve made since finishing my dissertation. The few that I’ve made are difficult enough without having to think about articles and books.

So, to my Pacifi-peeps who are going through these Blues: it’s ok. Most of us go through it. Let’s share our tears together.

To my Pacifi-peeps who are getting near the end: don’t try to fight it. One of the often used images at Pacifica is that of the Underworld. You may think that your coursework is the Underworld. You may think that writing your dissertation is the Underworld. In truth, it’s this period after completion that is the Underworld, and guess what? We have to be here. We have to work through the last little bit of Pacifica to emerge.

To our families and friends: I know it sucks. We already asked for 5+ years of your time, but now we have to ask for more. We need your support now more than ever, otherwise the work we did is for naught.

We are phoenixes. We are burnt up from the work and research. We can only emerge from the ashes when we are meant to emerge from the ashes. I defended in May 2012, and I’m still struggling. I know that I’m not alone, and that does make it a little easier.

Please share your experience Post-Dissertation in the comments, whether you had the Blues or not, or even whether or not you went to Pacifica. I would love to hear your story, and I think more grad students and post-grad scholars need to know that it’s not always possible to walk into the Academic Publish-or-Perish world. I would also like to hear what you did to solve some of the life stressors (such as lack of employment) and what directions that helped move you.

Song of the South

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I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the gone-but-not-forgotten Disney film, The Song of the South. There are a couple reasons for this:

One–I was watching some of the collections in the Walt Disney Treasures series a while back, and some of the special features open with a disclaimer from Leonard Maltin about how the cartoons were made in a different cultural environment. Rather than bury the cartoons, Maltin encourages viewers to use them as gateways to conversation about changes in American culture.

Two–I’ve been reading Jim Korkis’s book, Who’s Afraid of the Song of the South? and Other Forbidden Disney Stories.

I’ll be among the first to admit that I tend to see the world through Disney-colored glasses (if I can coin a phrase), but I struggle to see why this film should be so marred in controversy, and in light of some of the other “questionable” cartoons collected in the Walt Disney Treasures, I don’t see why the film can’t be distributed for educational purposes at the very least.

It’s a beautiful film, and one that is recognized for its technical achievements. It was the Disney studio’s first major foray into live action production, and it was the first film that seemlessly blends together technicolor film and animation, paving the way for Mary Poppins and other films.

Its inherent flaw is that The Song of the South doesn’t make clear what time period it is portraying, which leads people to assume that it’s about happy slaves, which isn’t historically accurate. The film is actually set during the Reconstruction and the African Americans who work on the plantation (perhaps a bit of an anachronism) are all free. It is difficult to faithfully capture the heart of Harris’ stories without taking a few CYA measure to make sure the film will be well-received. Korkis suggests (and I have to agree with him) that this major flaw is the result of Walt not taking into consideration that people will take a live-action film as a real, bonafide, authentic portrayal of the time period and neglected to take appropriate measures.

Iger has said that Disney won’t ever rerelease the film in the US. Perhaps his future replacement will reconsider, given that, again according to Korkis, there’s an online petition that already has “tens of thousands of signatures.” Clearly, there is an interest.

So let me just come out and say it, having seen the film–it’s not a racist film. There is no harm being portrayed about any group of people in the entire film. If we can get over the politics and down to the heart of the film, it’s one of the most integrated films of the era. A lot can be learned about relationships from a close read of the film. Korkis poses the argument that part of the reason for the controversy comes in response to the first draft of the film’s screenplay–one that was actually racist–and not from a single viewing of the final product (the film did receive mixed reviews, probably because the seed of distaste had already been planted–I question the objectivity of these reviews).

The controversy of the film is also indicative of the era of the film’s release. Perhaps it’s time to consider rethinking the controversy in the interest of furthering interest in Disney history? After all, in the Disneyfied versions of stories, kids are going to remember Splash Mountain before they remember The Song of the South or any of Harris’s original stories.

 

Dueling Fandoms?

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There have been two interesting trends on Facebook lately:

One is the posting, sometimes obsessively, of pictures that have captions or other statements. This seems to suggest that we’re trending toward visual communication again.

The other is posting photos that use images from respective fandoms and using the captions to put them at odds with each other (as though they were meeting somewhere in their respective media). For example, one such image crossed my Facebook this morning:

Dueling Fandoms

 

In this particular example, images from Harry Potter are pitted against other groups, such as Dr. Who, etc.

Why I find this noteworthy is that, when the Harry Potter books were coming to an end and the HP Fandom had to reinvent itself–a time before other fandoms such as Dr. Who had really taken off–the community was talking about House Unity. To paraphrase the Sorting Hat, in order for the wizarding world to overcome evil/Voldemort, everyone had to work together toward the common goal, not against each other. There’s the unspoken component of “do this in order to support the Chosen One, who will cast the final spell and destroy You Know Who once and for all.” We see this similar theme echoed in Avatar: The Last Airbender and to an extent in Dr. Who. But in light of the dystopian nature of stories like The Hunger Games or the vampire stories (which Barnes and Nobel collect under the section heading, “Teen Paranormal Romance”), it seems that we are once again reverting to the very human tendency of dueling against ourselves.

Did we lose a sense of the “common goal” when Obama was re-elected? or when Occupy lost steam?

Or is being our own advocate just too overwhelming?

What we do within fandoms reflects how the myth is communicating to us, how it’s working it mojo. If we are designing duals, are we also experiencing conflict between the mythic messages?

What happens if we, in the course of experiencing media burnout, also experience mythic burnout?

Comments welcome.

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It should be noted as a Truth, that there’s just too much doing on these days. I’m not just talking about media overload, but there’s something in the air, a tension. I’m now living in a whole new region of the country, having left my home state of Texas just in time for all the drama about women’s rights to go to a new level:

I’m working in a very depressed city. A city that once shone as an industry leader, then *something* happened in the 1920s (*cough cough*) to destroy the paper and textile industries, and the city never really recovered. But this little city is filled by people that love it and is surrounded by a larger community that has a lot going for it:

The personal difficulty that I’m running to is that this area is a very difficult for one who identifies with Walt Disney values to live, because there is a lot of social awareness and poverty–things counter to Walt’s utopian vision:

So what do I bring to the region? What should I bring to the region? There are a lot of silent voices wanting to speak out:

Meanwhile, the Disney Channel recently turned 30:

Exciting changes

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It’s spring! A time for new beginnings. I’m celebrating this spring by making some changes to this site. Exciting new things are in the works.

One change is that you’ll notice, if you have ever visited my site more than once, that my portfolio is disappearing. I am taking it down to work on a project I have in mind. But I’m also taking it down because it doesn’t fit with the future Mythic Thinking Xx.0.

I wrote in my biography a couple years ago that I’ll contemplate what “About Priscilla” means once my dissertation is complete. In the months after my defense–we can call this the postpartum period–I wasn’t sure what I wanted to be when I grow up.

I do now.

So stay tuned.

We are living with half a religion.

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Last night I had a dream in which a dear friend of mine went on an uncharacteristic rent about the soullessness of Walt Disney World. In this dream, I responded. We were at WDW, a place I long to visit (having never been), and our public debate was making cast members uncomfortable. Here is what I realized in my dream:

I maintain that there are two myths at the core of the American cultural psyche: Utopia and Manifest Destiny. Tucked under Manifest Destiny lies our relationship to consumption. For the American, there are three modes of consumption:

  1. Survival—well, duh.
  2. Power—By consuming the resources, none of the other kids can have them, making us king of the playground.
  3. Unquenhable Hunger—Our consumption is also a need to satiate a hunger, to fill some kind of spiritual hole.

I am an apologist for consumption. I don’t believe that the solution to number three is to reinfuse myth into our culture. If there is any single characteristic inherent in Americans, it’s our resourcefulness. We have been writing our own myths for centuries, albeit in nontraditional forms. I do believe, however, that the solution to number three is to rewrite the consumption myth altogether, but I’m digressing from my original intended topic.

It occurs to me that number three exists because our country was founded by Protestants. Sure, Protestants brought a strong work-ethic to this country. But Protestants also brought half a religion with them. Protestantism is Catholicism without the mystery and mysticism. I’m not sure why anyone would want to take the mystery and mysticism out of Christianity, but there you have it.

My flavor of Protestantism is Episcopalian. “The Thinking Man’s Religion.” The lineage of the Episcopal Church can be traced to Henry VIII and the establishment of the Anglican Church. Henry wasn’t trying to take the mystery out of Christianity; he just wanted power and control over the church. Oh yeah, and a divorce. As such, I grok the mystery of Christianity, but not the mysticism.

Let me also take a moment to point out that today’s Catholicism is not Christopher Columbus’ Catholicism. The Catholic Church has had to change dramatically over the centuries to fight against the allure of the Protestant Churches and, increasingly, other religions altogether. This, and the ease of establishing Protestant denominations/churches, is why Christianity is such a mess.

I’m not suggesting that America would have been “better off” if it had been founded by Catholics. Look at the history of Meso- and South America. At least the Catholic conquistadors were consciously searching for modes of consumption, but they still slaughtered anyone in their path who wasn’t cooperating. There’s that annoying relationship between consumption and power again.

I am suggesting, however, that Americans need to relearn the mystery and mysticism of SOMETHING. Perhaps “traditional” or “organized” religions is not the answer (I’m including Native American traditions here). Perhaps, instead, the secret is to disconnect from the Information Superhighway. I have to give kudos to Henry David Thoreau. While his abandonment of civilization isn’t for everyone (assuming there are still remote parts of America left), his attention to the little things is. How easy it would be to embrace the mystery the Romantic poets saw, and find even a little solace in our Soulless? world.