The Epic Metaphor For Life

Tonight, I caught a few minutes of an interview with Sylvester Stallone, conducted by Pat Robertson. It was not a new interview, but part of a series of interviews of famous people discussing their faith. At one point in the interview, Pat Robertson asks Stallone how he can consider Rocky a Christian story, as it’s all about boxing and men slamming each other until they’re bloody.

Stallone replies (and I had to keep stopping it to get the exact quote or as close to it as I could; it was beautiful, and I didn’t want to paraphrase): “There is one thing about speaking the Word. Eventually, you do need the crusader, someone who has to go out there and defend it and face evil one on one. And that’s pretty much what Rocky is. And the entire Rocky series has never been about ‘staunch reality’ like Raging Bull or other boxing movies. It’s more a metaphor about life. And then at the end of Rocky, this last one, Rocky Balboa, he has basically come full circle, and he just, at the very end, he just disappears and the entire journey is over.”

Ever since John C Wright posted the transcript of a speech on his blog, Ancient Epic and Future Fiction, I’ve been mulling over the human need for epic stories. Epic stories are so rare these days that we have what I like to call “detox symptoms” when we encounter them. What that means is, instead of the profound psychic well-being that comes from engaging with epics, they instead make us angry and break our hearts. Jeffro over at Castalia House likes to put together groups of links to articles he’s been reading, and in this recent list we find an article titled How the Lord of the Rings Broke My Heart. The article is not new; it’s in fact three years old, and I really didn’t want to link to it because of that. It’s very strange when an old blog post, one the author may have moved past, suddenly gets all manner of traffic. However, my blog is read regularly by about ten people, so I’m not going to make much dent in her traffic — not as much as the Castalia House blog probably did last week.

If you do read the article, notice the fourth paragraph down, when the author discusses Eowyn and her story trajectory. Eowyn fights in battle, and then falls in love and desires nothing more than to settle down and become a healer rather than a battle-scarred warrior. Essentially, Eowyn is having her own personal story within a larger epic. It turn out she doesn’t want to be a warrior; she wants to be a woman, and this breaks the heart of our modern female reader/watcher. The author clarifies her thoughts in the comments, when she explains that it isn’t that Eowyn marries and becomes a healer that breaks the heart, but the language Tolkien uses, which implies that marrying and healing are what Eowyn should have done all along. Being a warrior is unnatural for a woman, Tolkien implies. Along with talk of sexism in the article, there is talk of racism, but the charges of racism are passed over fairly quickly.

I’m not mocking this woman’s article. I enjoyed reading it. But I have to admit to ultimately finding it sad. It’s sad to me because epic stories have for thousands of years used archetypes to describe what it means to be male and female, and these archetypes are upsetting to a modern audience. There is no longer any sense of completion through our being actors in a larger cosmic story. In an archetypal sense, Eowyn’s story is perfect because she does rise up and fight; she is truly strong. She crushes the shadow or monster.

However, she’s traumatized by fighting, which demonstrates her humanity. What she perceives as healing for this trauma is uniting with the masculine, rather than continuing her masculine role of warrior. This is ultimately what heals mankind — facing the shadow, standing up to evil, and integrating the elements that make us who we are. Also, it helps to understand that in an archetypal sense men are warriors and women are not. It helps us when we grapple with the reality that exists behind the metaphysical concept of archetype.

Returning to Stallone, he recognizes what his story is: a metaphor for life. His story is an epic, and because he’s a Christian, his story is specifically a Christian epic. It’s an epic for all the reasons he gives in the quote. And oddly, because the Rocky films were mass media hits, people watched them and weren’t upset or heart-broken by them (except perhaps by the silly Russian one). This is because our souls recognize truth when they are caught off guard and able to see it. The heart-brokenness — the “detox reaction” — is artificial until we’ve gone so far as becoming Gollum. That was just to bring the Lord of the Rings back into it.

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Our Epic Clash With Andromeda

perseus

Andromeda is the image of the chained woman in the night sky. Because I like mixing my constellation heroes, the other day I referred to Andromeda’s rescuer as Hercules. This is because Hercules, as positioned in the stars, has his foot poised above Draco’s head, ready to crush it. It was, after all, a kind of dragon — a sea monster — for which Andromeda was chained. She was to be the living sacrifice to the monster, punished for her mother’s crime of arrogance.

In her mythos, she’s rescued by Perseus, who has his own constellation (my apologies to Perseus). Perseus flies by, after having just killed the Gorgon Medusa. A hero’s work is never done, apparently. He spies the beautiful maiden chained to a rock by the ocean, and he swoops down to ask her who she is and why she’s there. To make a long story short, he eventually bargains with Andromeda’s parents, promising to slay the monster if he is allowed to marry Andromeda. Thankfully, Andromeda’s parents agree. I say thankfully, as they were the ones who agreed to sacrifice their innocent virgin daughter to the monster in the first place. Her father being king of Ethiopia, he could have sent an army to go to war with the sea monster. But instead he chained his daughter to the rock.

Perseus slays the sea serpent; the virgin is released from her chains, and he marries her.

That is an epic story, mirrored in the stars. Thinking about it reminded me of another story I read earlier this year: Our galaxy is set to collide with the Andromeda galaxy in approximately four billion years. The galaxies will not merge nicely, really, as they will tear each other apart for another four billion years, until they’ve settled down and become an entirely new galaxy.

Perhaps we are the monster ready to ravage the virgin. Or perhaps the imagery is less nefarious than that. After all, we do have a Perseus arm on our galaxy, and if you study an image of the Milky Way, it appears that the minor arm, where we’re located, Orion Cygnus, is in the crook of the Perseus arm. I suppose such a collision of galaxies could be viewed as a marriage, a union on the grand scale, giving new meaning to the term “seeing fireworks.” After all, the two galaxies are attracting one another in a gravitational way. They can’t help but be drawn to one another.

If I had more time or energy or creative spirit left in me, I might write a goofy poem about being drawn in by the great Perseus arm — an arm mighty enough to slay Medusa and a sea monster — the arm of a true hero. Or I could write one about resting in the crook of his arm. In a cosmic way, I am Andromeda resting in his arm and being pulled in by him at the same time. It’s a beautiful place to reside. To take this imagery farther, Orion the hunter, who was stung by death, and Cygnus, the eternally dying swan with his harp, are joined together in Perseus’s arm as he reaches out to collect Andromeda. He’s holding and bearing the dead while he creates new life.

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The Great White Insult

Facebook and I parted ways. Twitter and I have never gotten along. But for unknown reasons, I thought about posting something to Twitter yesterday — perhaps just to keep a presence in social media — and I immediately shut it down. I despise the way we are being led by hashtags, memes, hatred, and idiocy.

For a start, there was nothing but yawn-inducing twitters in my feed. Second of all, I checked out “trending” hashtags and clicked on the #makeasongwhiter (I think that’s what it was). The goal was inherent in the hashtag. If one makes a song “whiter,” one makes it retarded because white people are retarded. The weird thing is I didn’t recognize anything in the supposed comedy. Meaning, I am white and have been in white culture all my life (I come from redneck stock) and nothing in the so-called “whitening” sounded like white culture that I’m familiar with.

I really shouldn’t have to point this out, but white culture is anything but monolithic. I am from the Pacific NW, am of Irish-Anglo ethnicity, and grew up in a big city. All of what makes me who I am causes me to go into culture shock when I hang out with Lutheran Germans from farming communities in the Midwest. I don’t have as much culture clash with Lutherans these days, of course, as I went through Lutheran catechism and attended a Lutheran church for years — in the Southwest, which is yet another culture altogether.

But I don’t think anyone cares that white culture isn’t monolithic, since the point is, as I already said, to call white culture retarded because white people are retarded. As I spend a fair amount of my time in a coffee shop, I’ve just gotten used to the fact that anyone who throws a hissy fit over their coffee is going to be accused of being “white,” no matter what their skin color or cultural heritage is. Calling someone “white” is an insult. Being born blonde is to be born a fool. In the last small town where I lived, local dark-haired females wore t-shirts that read, “I had a nightmare I was born blonde.”

To be honest, I’m a little sick of it. I like white European culture*. I like the great art, music, technology, philosophy, and intelligent — yes, intelligent, not retarded — discourse that white Europeans have brought to the table. I like their languages. I like their blue and grey eyes and blonde and red hair (Europeans are mostly brunettes, but they still produce the greatest number of blondes and redheads). I don’t particularly appreciate their crimes against humanity, but neither do I appreciate Asian, African, or South American crimes against humanity. In fact, I don’t like the human propensity to sin against both God and fellow humans, but I recognize that it is a reality of all men of every race. Denying this base aspect of humans has devastating consequences.

So I’m not going to deny “white” crimes. But neither am I going to deny the beauty that European culture has brought to the world.**

*You can argue about who is white all day — Persians are Caucasoid, for example — but I’m pretty sure that when people use the term “white” in a derogatory manner, they are meaning people of European ethnicity.

**And, no, for the record, I don’t feel oppressed. Not even close. Just a little annoyed and sometimes insulted.

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Systemic Oppression: Ivy League Version

Hierarchy is the way of the world; it isn’t a concept the white man made up to oppress minorities. In any case, white Europeans don’t make up the majority of the world. They are, like it or not, a minority group on the world stage. But let’s face it — most of my readers come from the United States, where there clearly is a white majority. And according to many, these white people have instituted and continue to maintain a hierarchy of oppression. I’m not going to argue with that. A hierarchy that leads to oppression is the way the world works.

The modern American version of oppression, however, is a picnic compared to comparative cultural/historical oppression. The other day, I read an article about Harvard women protesting against Harvard’s prejudices regarding single gender clubs. Harvard, being the diverse place it is, does not bother itself with freedom of association and would like to curb single gender clubs. Instead of protesting this clear violation of freedom to associate, the women instead protested against their safe spaces being taken from them.

Women at Harvard, apparently, are oppressed. Regularly. So much so that they need to belong to single gender clubs for their very safety against the daily violent rape they suffer, which Harvard will do nothing about. No, wait, for a second, I thought I was discussing Saudi Arabia, where women have to wear garments that cover their entire bodies, lest they be violated. Rather, this is Harvard I’m talking about, where rape can mean anything from the traditionally assumed forced penetration or insertion (as I’m aware that men can also be raped) to unwanted sexual touch, i.e. the ugly creep nobody likes sidling close enough to breathe on attractive women. The traditional version being rare on college campuses, unwanted sexual touch has had to become the new de facto crime.

Look, I’m not going to deny that oppression still occurs within these here borders of the United States of beautiful America. I’m sure it even occurs at golden Harvard. But it resembles the American income gap, which modern American socialists like to complain about. Sure, we have an income gap, with numbers ranging from fat and happy to off-the-charts fat and running banks and buying up entire countries all over the damn globe happy. In other words, our poverty looks like other countries’ wealth. Our oppression looks like freedom. Our safe places are bizarro worlds where perfectly safe and highly privileged Ivy League students can still be victims.

Thank God for the oppression we do have. If it weren’t for this oppression, we might all fall into our own little reflective pools and drown.

 

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The Manipulable Ego

We all have an outer person we want the world to see. This is not terribly profound; most middle school students understand this concept intimately, even without studying philosophy, psychology, or sociology. The problem is we grow up and become more mature, refined ego-driven adults who continue to adjust others’ expectations of us, and we are often in complete unawareness of it. This lack of awareness — perhaps it is denial at core — helps us maintain the same lies we were telling at age thirteen.

Despite our refined cultivation, are ego fixations are obvious to those who know us intimately. But they are also obvious to those who want to manipulate us. Politicians, for example. Media. Advertisers. The irony, of course, is it’s easy to scoff at the way other personality types are manipulated. It seems funny to us, so obvious, so very blatant. We would never be deceived that way. No, of course not, because we are too busy being deceived in the only way we can be.

Now that I’ve said all that, I don’t want to scoff exactly, but I would like to highlight the way a few common personality types are manipulated.

The coward. He (using he as the default) is fearful and attempts to arrange the world so that he has a constant security network around him. Because he fears being without security, he is manipulated by advertisements that play on his fears and promise security. From forced insurance plans to TSA at the airport, he’s willing to take a thermometer in the rectum as long as he feels safe afterward. Abusive relationships can be an integral part of the security network.

The seeker. He is indolent, and because of that, is quite ready to always be seeking truth and never landing on it. Standing for something might shatter his calm. He is manipulated by advertisements that allow him to maintain this sought after stasis, to buy some good beer, watch the most entertaining shows, take the most peaceful vacation… and completely miss what’s going on in the world, like that underhanded bill the president just rammed through.

The inquisitor. He is resentful of a world that lacks perfection, but primarily he is resentful that he isn’t perfect — that he can never be perfect. This makes him angry, but he’s not aware of how angry he is because he’s too busy trying to make himself, his organizations, and his surrounding world more perfect. Do advertisements offering a perfect world work on him? Sure, but frankly, this person is often used to push forward agendas to eradicate bad-think. In other words, he becomes an unwitting manipulator for evil that he perceives as being right.

As an observer of the world, I would say those are the three most common ego types. That’s kind of funny, actually, because the observer would, no doubt, be my ego type. I’m far too stingy with my time and energy to do anything but observe, really. And read. And research. The more you know. Actually, that particular ad is a bit too childish for the observer.

I’ll just flip through my Sci Am to find the more effective ones. Ah, What can X teach X about X? Everything’s better with science. Scientists helping scientists. Multiphysics For Everyone (picture of serious-faced goober sitting at multiple computer screens with multiple tabs open). Ads aimed at the observer appeal to the desire for omniscience and correct logic, and consequently, the correct side of science, lest he be called a science denier. Shudder. But the manipulation can go the opposite way: he can be led into all manner of wrong-think science due to his readiness to spot patterns everywhere. The observer unwittingly covers over real government conspiracies by shouting Aliens! in crowded rooms.

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