Before I start this post, I’d just like to put a DISCLAIMER:
I, in no way, am hoping to offend anyone’s religion, religious beliefs or even fandoms, for that matter. I am not trying to say that what is in religious texts didn’t happen (who am I to say that! I wasn’t there); I am just hoping to draw some comparisons between what I’ve learned in studying religions and myths, and what I know of pop culture phenomenons and fandoms of today.
I actually really love religions and have studied many (in school and on my own). Religion is actually one of my favourite topics, especially when looking at them through the lens of History (which is, specifically, what I studied in school). I’ve come to respect aspects of all of the ones I’ve learned about and am in awe of people’s devotion to their chosen beliefs.
That being said, I, personally, have never considered myself to be of a specific religion. Recently, I have truly taken to the “spiritual, but not religious” phrase since it seems to very much apply to my state of mind where higher powers/beings and so forth are concerned.
Now, with that aside… What the heck is on my brain that got me back here?
I just (about, I have literally one page left) finished Mythology: An Illustrated Journey Into Our Imagined Minds by Christopher Dell. The bright blue cover really caught my attention and I liked the idea of a visual guide to mythologies of all types. I was not disappointed!
At the very beginning, Christopher Dell actually brings up the point that has formulated in my mind (and has been in my mind for a good fifteen years or so) that what we, today, think of as pop culture, will, in time, become the myths of the future.
Here’s a quote from him to explain and get you in the right mindset:
“What of myths of the present day? Is there a place for new myths, or do we live in a society too dominated by science? Archaeologists two thousand years from now may conclude that one of the most significant myths of the late 20th century and early 21st centuries was Star Wars; its characters were immortalized in small figurines, and countless nooks detailed their exploits. Moreover, they will find evidence of these stories worldwide. Archaeologists may even come to the conclusion that the narrative falls into canonical and non-canonical parts.*” (Dell, p.13)
*Note from me: *cough*TheForceAwakens*cough*TheLastJedi*cough*Solo*cough*
Oh excuse me, must be something making my allergies go a little nutty… 😛
His choice of Star Wars is a fantastic example of exactly where my brain went – and as he clearly states, two thousand years from now, people may look back and take SW to be the myths and legends that we, people of the 20th and 21st century, idolized and looked to for guidance in our lives.
Now, I’m going to take what he said one step further.
I believe, not only will pop culture (TV, movies, books) be regarded as the “myths” of our time, but also, that the fandoms – that is, collections of fans – created around them, may eventually be seen as religions of our time.
And, hell, isn’t that already a little true? For anyone who knows me personally, they know how often I have uttered phrases such as:
- “raised on Star Wars“
- “born into the Star Wars-life”
or have flat out said that Star Wars is like religion in my family.
It has, very significantly, impacted my life and belief system. I have, literally, likened my spiritual beliefs to The Force when explaining what I do believe to a friend – so, yes, already, Star Wars is that important to people’s lives.
There are, in fact, people who’ve marked Jedi on their country’s census as their religion. Sure, some people may have put it as a joke, but I’m sure at least one person in the thousands of people worldwide who marked it down did so because it actually meant something to them.
Right now, there is actually a huge rift in the Star Wars fandom that was caused by what many of us feel was blatant disrespect on the part of the Disney-Lucasfilm filmmakers (specifically because of The Last Jedi and the interactions of filmmakers with fans thereafter).
Though that would require an entire post all its own to explain and delve into, the important part here is that I (in a YouTube video review, and in real life to friends) have likened this to a schism in religion. Something has happened that has unequivocally and irreparably caused a split in a fandom, unheard of until this point. (Yes, not even with the prequels – people may not have liked them, but no one was really denying that they were canon – see, the canon vs non-canon debate has already begun and we’re not even at the year 4018 yet!)
People have said (tweeted) the line: “Get over it, it’s just a movie” to many of us while trying to defend the filmmakers and to those people I say: (1) if it’s just a movie, you need not defend (the rude, impolite) filmmakers (who’ve already made millions off of you); (2) it is not just a movie to so many of us.
The tensions over this are running so high and this further helped me to realize that Star Wars truly isn’t just a movie. At no moment moreso than when I saw my dad and mom watch TLJ – our dad was visibly angered by the movie and about three-quarters of the way through, he just couldn’t pay attention to it anymore because he went off on how they had destroyed not only a film legacy, but the emotional attachments we all hold dear in not respecting the characters and stories so tied to our family memories. And this, I might add, was coming from my dad, not my brother (three years old when the original came out), or my sister (born the year after), or myself (raised on the VHS and Special Editions).
That tells you something. That tells you that this cultural phenomenon means something, something BIG to lots of people.
But let’s back up from Star Wars for a second, because clearly I am biased where that’s concerned – let’s talk about other fandoms.
The thought that movies and books of today would eventually become the religions and myths of the future first came to me when I was in high school. I was reading The Bible (for fun, yes! I’m a nerd, did you not know this?) and the same time was (trying to) read Lord of the Rings (I only made it through FOTR…)
Something hit me one night at around midnight, when I was sitting there on my bed, surrounded by books.
The copy of The Bible I had (thanks to the library – support your local libraries!) and my copies of the LOTR books… were laid out EXACTLY THE SAME.
That is, they both had the stories (including prose, dialogue and even songs/poems) and at the back had appendices containing: timelines, maps, family trees…
And in the moment, my seventeen-year-old brain exploded with the immense thought that, what if, one day, maybe a thousand or two thousand years from now, all record of JRR Tolkien as an author was lost, and, suddenly, people thought LOTR… actually happened?
(Again, I’m not saying things in The Bible didn’t happen. Ninety-percent of my studies of The Bible in school was actually piecing together the historicity in conjunction with history of the ancient Near East, so… I am most definitely not saying that. What I am saying is…)
People two thousand years from now might not have access to all the things we have today. In one of my classes (possibly Digital History, the course for which this blog was first created, lo those many years ago – in 2010), our professor actually brought up the excellent point that the things we are creating today (HELL, THIS BLOG!) are ephemeral things. If we lost electricity, access to technology, the ability to connect to the Internet, we’d never see any of the things being created now. Even if we had hard copies, so many of our items these days are made from recyclable materials and won’t last very long either.
But hey, what if some olde tyme version of LOTR from when it was first written was stashed in a Time Capsule and people (or supreme, much evolved human beings) in 4020 found it? What would they think of it? (I totally believe Christoper Lee must’ve stashed a secret copy somewhere to be found thousands of years from now. He loved LOTR enough to do so – there are tons of Tolkien scholars and fans who love it enough to do so. And if you haven’t yet, DO IT Tolkein scholars!)
(This brings up a whole other issue that I am not going to touch with a ten-foot-pole of an author who’s stories were suddenly believed as religion in this day and age already… But, see what I’m saying? It happens!)
On the one hand, we have texts that can be (mis)interpreted as religious/spiritual tracts, and on the other, we have the fandoms – the large and very visible followings of these “myths”
So, the year is 4018 and historians have managed to track down that in 2018 people were worshiping in various categories. Some of which included:
True Believers (a subsect of which would be, the MCUists)
And… whatever you Game of Thrones fans want to be called because I don’t know your fandom enough (or at all) enough to come up with a name for you. Winter…people…? (Winter seems to be a big deal in there, no?)
And so forth…
The funny thing is, the reason this came to my mind so strongly while reading this book (aside from my saying “YES, Christopher Dell, that’s what I’ve been saying for the last fifteen years too!” after that paragraph on p13) is because I have a hard time understanding Hinduism – and, ironically, though I said I am personally not affiliated with a religion, that is the religion that my family primarily is… (Some more than others – clearly, not me. 😛 )
Hinduism seems very complex and when I read (Dell, p343): “Effectively there are three principal gods […]: Brahma (the Creator), Vishnu (the Sustainer) and Shiva (the Destroyer). Each can have many avatars and alternate forms, allowing them to appear in different scenarios…” my brain said, to help me understand, “Oh, okay cool, so… kind of like The Doctor? (in Doctor Who).
And that’s when I sprinted from reading the book to write this treatise (of nonsensicalness) before I forgot.
Truthfully, is it not true that we are already worshiping in our fandoms in a lot of ways?
Yes, like I mentioned about SW – that’s a definite example. But also, while I was reading there was a picture of a 10th century amulet fashioned to look like Thor’s hammer Mjolnir (p316) and I was, coincidentally, at that same time wearing a ring in the shape of (MCU/Tom Hiddleston) Loki’s horns (ca. 2018, Hot Topic. Thank you Hot Topic).
I wear that ring as a symbol of pride to show that I am a Loki fan (and, also ***spoiler alert for Infinity War, but really it’s been over a month so if you haven’t made time to see it by this point it’s really your own fault if you see a spoiler*** To mourn my beloved Loki).
I wrote an essay in my final year of university (my magnum opus, if you will) about the pilgrimages people would take to Canterbury Cathedral to visit where, Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket was killed . They would clamber (or clamour? Or both?) to buy anything being sold related to him our of reverence (and in hopes for a miracle).
Fast forward nine hundred years after Thomas Becket was born, and here we fangirls are, doing the same for a fictional character (who is, ironically, based on a mythological character).
Did I buy the Loki ring in the hopes of a miracle? No, not really (but, truthfully, maybe a little… I am hoping for a bit of a miracle in the 4th Avengers movie…).
Did everyone who bought something at Canterbury Cathedral in the 12th/13th century necessarily want a miracle, or were they taken by the whole excitement of having a souvenir connected to the Archbishop?
And so, with all that out of my mind, I now take my leave.
You can agree with me or disagree with me; you can believe it’ll happen or think I’m totally crazy, but the fact of the matter is, we won’t actually know what’ll survive to the year 4018 (if anything) and what the historians of their time will think of us.
If my Loki ring does make it that far, they might just think: “Hey look, thirtysomething Canadian women of South Asian descent partook of Norse mythology…” and, I guess, in some weird way, kind of do…