Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Stories That Define Us

As the last blog post about myth and story was pinging about in my head, I encountered those troubling images from yesterday's shooting in Florida.  You've seen the images, and watched the video of Clay Duke, as he threatens school board members, shoots wildly, and then is gunned down by a security guard

What struck me most wasn't that this angry man seemed unable to kill those around him.  If you've got a 9mm pistol with a full magazine, and you're two yards away from your target, even I'd have trouble missing.  When a woman attempted to disarm him...utterly ineffectually...with her purse, he also didn't shoot.  It wasn't the violence that was most striking.

It was, rather, that he spraypainted the "V" from "V for Vendetta" on the wall.  That movie, with it's themes of revenge and uprising against a totalitarian society, never struck me as particularly amazing.  It was a diversion, and occasionally amusing, but too often overwrought and adolescent, particularly in the goofy "we're all wearing masks now" hoo hah doltishness of the ending.  Oops.  Spoiler.  Although really, it ain't spoiling anything special.

Honestly, I'm more of a Fight Club guy. 

Not that I'll talk about it


I didn't say anything.

V for Vendetta and films like it seem to be a big deal for many frustrated souls.  I've seen, for instance, lots of Guy Fawkes masks as Facebook profiles over the years.  This is a movie that expresses the inchoate, formless rage of those trapped in our frustrating, dehumanizing culture.  For folks with little other hope and purpose in life, these movies become the myths that define their existence.   This story of violent revenge, of rising up against the powers, was clearly a story that spoke into the life of this man.  It spoke his anger, spoke his frustration, and ultimately, it was part of how he ended his life.

As I re-immersed myself in Joseph Campbell yesterday, one of the things he notes is that in our era, the idea of defining story has become shallower and more immediate.  We're defined by global mass media.  Movies and television have become our storytellers.  The stories that pour into us from that big pipe articulate who we are...but they are increasingly not something we share across generations, or even necessarily with those around us.  The buffet-table myths of the modern era are as scattered and shattered as our increasingly diffuse sense of identity in a global consumer culture. 

Yet another reason that I find the great and ancient story of the Gospel so compelling.  If you want to find your ground and your purpose, the whirling chaos of this mass media era is not the place to look.