If science fiction is the mythology of modern technology, then its myth is tragic.
~ Ursula K. Le Guin
I believe in mythology. I guess I share Joseph Campbell’s notion that a culture or society without mythology would die, and we’re close to that.
~ Robert Redford
So this morning I find myself contemplating the following terms: myth, legend, urban legend, pop culture and cult classic. Is there a difference between these? I am concerned that I may have used some of these terms inappropriately.
Per Merriam Webster, the terms are defined as follow:
- A usually traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon
- a popular belief or tradition that has grown up around something or someone; especially : one embodying the ideals and institutions of a society or segment of society
- a person or thing having only an imaginary or unverifiable existence
- a story coming down from the past; especially one popularly regarded as historical although not verifiable
- a popular myth of recent origin
- Urban legend
- an often lurid story or anecdote that is based on hearsay and widely circulated as true
- Pop Culture(Dictionary.com)
- refers to the education and general “culturedness” of the lower classes
- commercial culture, mass produced for mass consumption by mass media
- Cult classic(allwords.com)
- A work of fiction that is extremely popular with a select audience but may or may not be successful at the time of the work’s original publication
Per yesterday’s discussion on mythology, the terms I have just defined provide insight into the pathways for someone or something to ascend to the class of myth.
For starters, myths are accepted by a large enough base that it pervades throughout the group psyche. Both “pop culture” and “cult classics” can be a fertile ground for the birth of modern day myth. While “pop culture” is dynamic and transient reflect the immediate thoughts of the masses, “cult classics” by definition have endured the test of time and continue to sustain the myth inherent to it:
James Bond and other spy movies popularized the notion of the “International Man of Mystery” so much so that it has become a societal myth. This myth was reinforced by the casting of similar character types over and over by many of the writers.
While vampires and werewolves had roamed the halls of literature for a grand while, it was the Twilight series that ultimately popularized the notion of “Team Edward” and “Team Jacob”. As quickly as it surfaced, it appears to have faded away from the collective memories of the masses.
The movies in The Lord of the Rings series showed me how far Tolkien’s work had penetrated each household around the world. It seemed no matter where you live or what you do you knew about Tolkien to some extent or the other. In my opinion, his work belongs in the global myth category.
The TV show Firefly which was cancelled after its first season back in 2003. To this day, people yearn for its return. A global subculture was created to support this cult classic and ensure its spirit never dies. These people are still actively working on getting the show back on the air. And, yes, I am one of them. Each of us in our way is immortalizing that show and we are effectively passing on that passion to our young. In time, there may be a large enough base that will transform this cult classic into a myth.
Legends are born out of the improbable and the humanly impossible: Gods and Goddesses, superheros, athletes, discoverers and expedition leaders. Whether a tale as old as creation or the feats of modern day athletes and physical warriors, these stories grip our attention and focus as strip them raw of nuggets that contribute to our personal mythology. When enough people do that, legend becomes myth as well.