I’ve been reading Jean Baudrillard’s America lately. It’s my first encounter with Baudrillard’s work and I sort of wish I’d started reading him sooner. His observations about American culture are clear and, to an extent, spot on, because he makes them as an outsider who wants to have a romance with America, but finds that that romance isn’t quite what he hoped. Somewhere in there, he made a connection between anorexic and obese cultures. Of course, as I sat here to write about it, I can’t find the quote, so it’s possible that I’m remembering it incorrectly, but the gist is that anorexic cultures consciously exclude and push things away, whereas an obese culture has to inject and absorb all they can. I don’t think anyone could refute the fact that America is an obese culture – our weight epidemic is famous around the world (perhaps more as a joke than as a serious medical concern), but it’s not just our material gluttony that is making us obese. It is also our mythological gluttony.
When I started writing my Master’s thesis a billion years ago – okay, maybe a million – I compiled a list of children’s/young adult literature that stood out at the time as prominent myths in literature and cinema – Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Narnia, His Dark Materials, Eragon/Inheritance. Some of these you can see on my Essays page. But, as I was nearing my due date and graduation deadline, it finally dawned on me that all of these stories, save one, are not American. Big oops, especially since I was trying to write about American myth.
But what I’ve since come to realize is that we are living in a culture of too many myths to choose from. Those from the other side of the pond are just as potent for us as those we create for ourselves (and in some cases, more potent). Lately, I’ve been distracting myself from the inevitable research by watching TV shows on Netflix Instant: Avatar: The Last Airbender, Heroes, Dr. Who.. All of these tap into something in the cultural unconscious that needs expressing. Of those three, only one is profoundly American.
With the global market being what it is, we have the opportunity to chose whatever we want – we can have our myths in any media, at any time, and we can change our mind about them on whim. But for myths to really work, can the Have It Your Way model really work? Or are we just overloading our circuits?