Imagination is better than knowledge.
Do you ever wonder why there is a general fascination with superheroes, especially for young people in their mastery of maturity? This complex question must be examined in reference to ancient mythology, today’s social conscience within social media, and creative writing to create a kinder, gentler superhero for our times.
Who hasn’t been fascinated by Greek mythological heroes, creatures and what they represented about the origin and nature of the world? There were gods, goddesses, half human, half god, magical mortals with and without superpowers, battling fearsome creatures like the Minotaur or Medusa, who are still part of our modern folklore. It can also be said that many of these brave heroes were willing to take risks, face dangerous situations in order to gain more understanding of society itself with many moral affiliations.
For whatever reason, children are fascinated by grim tales of ogres crushing their bones or wolves hunting their grandmothers. Perhaps there is solace in reading such an ending where everybody seems to live-happily-ever-after; a common phrase deeply embedded into our daily stories as well.
The effect and value of myths or superheroes cannot be understated because they can actively impact our thinking or cognitive frameworks as to what is right, wrong, good, bad, enemy or champion. But ancient champions never had to face the cyber world, an interactive matrix where the dividing lines between virtual reality and the real world are often blurred.
So, what kinds of superhuman forces affect our modern social conscience? Where do superheroes exist today? Who lives happily-ever-after in our current struggles and culture?
It makes me weep like the myth of the weeping willow tree that serves as a reminder that love cannot exist without tears. Take a look around at what young people see and acknowledge as superheroes. One type is found in comic books via movies and video games; and a second type is found in the social media circus, especially for young teens.
Today’s cultural heroes on films have almighty superpowers to vanquish evil forces that would destroy humanity or the earth itself. They display great fights with dismemberment flying everywhere in a violent phantasmagoria. Good wins over evil but at what spectacle on the visual cortex and collateral damage to the innocent?
Video games particularly add a depth of hyper-realism with graphics that bring the actions closer; blood, guts, and brutality are now full frontal. At which point can game violence jump from the screen to the family room or public front? The impact of violent media on kids is relatively unstudied or unknown; never a problem with Pegasus, unicorns or dragons until their violent modernization in Game of Thrones.
Today, our culture has been impacted and controlled by an almighty Zeus is known as the internet with its lightning bolts of interdependence and interactivity. There is no doubt that interactions with open-ended, unlimited media exposure have profoundly influenced the social, economic and even political arenas; as well as impacting the mythic and moral spheres of influence.
Two new kinds of internet action figures have arisen.
First, there is a new class of social media heroes or heroines who have mortal characteristics but with supernormal magnetic attractions based on looks, money, connections, or fame who call out their siren song for everybody to like and follow them. But they live in reality shows that are as elusive as the Elysian beautiful meadows in the mythological underworld where only the godly favored could find perfect happiness in an ultimate paradise where popular brands abide, where money talks, with or without justification or morals. Mere mortals dare to dream, like mini gods and goddesses, as close as their fingertips as much as their newly programmed mind can turn the abnormal godly world into normal. Do these self-entitled heroes have the right to feed on dispossessed and vulnerable victims for what purposes like old ogres in Grimm tales?
Second, there is the active digital cyber hero who wants to be the all-mighty “tough guy;” quick to bully, derogate, and offer safe haven for followers of the same stripes and scars. This profound leap from ignoble loser to worshiped hero would never happen in a mythological world where strength in morality was as important as physical might. It can be said that only a socially abnormality like this can threaten the shared social consciousness where such mass media control can produce and endorse an anti-hero. Even democratic rules can dissipate in the flood of the richest and boldest celebrities who offer the most happy-ever-after mantras.
As a teacher, the point I am trying to make is that any cultural system helps to reproduce itself by the value of its symbols and heroes. We are all plugged into this public arena, watching and participating with different distinctly human behaviors; honor, pride, respect, or guilt, selfishness, shame, disgrace, and dysphoria.
So, how do we find a social conscience in a digital society where approval and disapproval are determined by narcissistic rewards of living up to hyped-up, unnatural group expectations even when virtual group standards are less worthy of social unity and freedom?
Remember what happened to Narcissus who was a very beautiful young man in Greek mythology, loved instantly by many for his looks for whom he only showed contempt. He even cast aside a nymph now forever called Echo because she wilted away from her unrequited sorrow to a mere sound. In retribution, a goddess, led Narcissus to a pool to see his own reflection, but when he realized that a reflection can never materialize into reality, he committed suicide. Therein lies the moral that ego should not be about vanity or true self is beyond self-reflection or public perception.
So how does this morality apply to posting Selfies for gratification for the sake of whose morality?
We can never undermine the fact that the combined power of the group in our culture is what makes our social conscience; greater than an individual, a collective rule of thumb. Our society’s heroes, groups and norms are us.
However, the ingrained problem in any culture has always remained that we cannot remove the images, icons, and concepts once they have marched across the stage or infiltrated the brain. People just want to believe in the impossible, in following the promises of heroes to add some magic to ordinary lives. Contradiction is futile in any cognitive schema of hope and living happily-for-ever-after.
Finally, so how can creative writing help? We need to create new heroes who are gentler, kinder and more interactive who believe in the greater good in a more equitable and democratic society without recourse to violence. We need a brighter “heroic imagination,” with attitudes about caring, helping others, and moving forward to defend moral causes. The internet offers such potential where every person can collaborate and share our acts both online and offline.
Here are two examples of creative writing to help set new role models for noble goals.
A story about a teen girl’s survival in social media with a personal superpower tool; namely, the management of a timeline connecting in real time the intangible past, present, and future. What can be more powerful than that for success?
A story about a special water sprite with roots on a mission to discover cyclical truths in the natural ecosystem with continuous surprises about the interdependence of all living forms from the smallest to the invisible largest inhabitant.
Our culture needs more stories and movies, especially for younger people. How about your imagination to create a reality that matters to humanity? What kind of superheroes can you introduce with morals and beliefs to change the world? How can we work together towards making the dream real and to live-happily-ever-after?