The ancient myths of the Greco-Roman and Norse God’s were shared in order to show the listener how to live. It showed them how to behave in society. It demonstrated the relationship between men and women. It explained why the weather changed or why catastrophes happened. It explained the motivation for wicked deeds and what honor is. They also helped to hold together the whole of society. Since everyone in a society knew the same stories and lessons from the stories, it added a thread of commonality.
Joseph Campbell spent most of his life studying myths. His goal was to find the common threads in myths around the world. One of the themes that came up in most cultures is the quest of the hero. A hero overcame obstacles in order to become the person he needed to become. He would prove his worth, his place in society, become a man etc. These stories showed young men what they were supposed to do to become a man (women were often left out or given secondary roles). The quest could include defeating a monster, traveling to a distant place, or often a death and resurrection.
In America, we have many movies, but we have few stories of lore to guide the young generation in how to live. We have historical figures, like Davy Crockett, George Washington, Daniel Boone, and Martin Luther King Jr. but they are given a cursory telling at best. I am rather disappointed that such fantastic historical figures are not held up as bedtime and campfire stories. However, I am very thrilled that the United States is starting to tell stories of its own mythical heroes.
Our American Heroes are comic book heroes. Currently the comic book industry that is dominating the market is the Marvel Universe. Marvel is the company that has produced the heroes known as, Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, Hawkeye, Thor, The Fantastic Four, Dr. Strange, Ant Man (who is not like an ant in the same way that Spider Man is like a spider) the X-Men and many others. For many years, comics and baseball cards were what young boys would spend their allowance on every week.
Until the release of the recent blockbuster hits, Marvel Studios was slowly going under. Comic book sales were down and their profits were disappearing. Now bought by the Walt Disney Corporation, Marvel Corp. is taking the United States Culture by storm. With no signs of stopping the production of their main heroes, Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor, as well as planning to continue to add more Marvel heroes. Marvel is a major force in shaping our thinking. This is especially true because now they are making good movies. Through the flop of the Hulk films, the mediocre Fantastic Four, and the dismal falling of Spiderman, it seems that Marvel is learning to make good movies.
These good movies are not just fun to watch, but they are actually beneficial for our American character and culture. The marvel heroes, who will be the subject of the next several postings, are teaching young people the importance of right over might, relationships, honor, personal growth, learning from mistakes, and good choices.
The marvel movies are also so wide spread that they offer a semi common thread to the USA. They give an actual story to follow, and not just the commonality of consumerism, hard work and baseball.