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Archive for August, 2011

Whenever I write about the “terminus” myth form I get back worried responses. Have I fallen into pessimism, friends wonder? Do I personally believe our society/nation/world is headed for collapse? Am I undergoing some kind of medical or psychological trauma which I am in turn equating with societal decline?

Um… no. I don’t believe that “my” world, let alone “our” world, is destined to die. I believe what I hope most people believe—that a renewing, re-energizing transformation is constantly at work in nature, and that this process of growth and renewal forms the basis of traditional storytelling (as described by Joseph Campbell and countless others).

What I am concerned with is the growing popularity of a different narrative form, the terminus myth form, the polar opposite of an origin myth. I want to understand it better—to be precise, I want to understand the trend—and this has led me to explore a few parallels between “decline” or “destruction” stories and real life.

In fact, I’m more optimistic about real life than I ever was, despite having encountered some new health problems and facing (as I mentioned in the last post) the same economic uncertainty most everyone is up against. I’m finishing another screenplay and a handfull of short stories, none of which involve the Apocalypse or its aftermath. I’m enjoying my kids and I think they’re enjoying me. My daughter continues to draw on herself, with the latest offering pictured here—a “window” rendered in ball-point pen just above her hand. 

Who in his right mind would shutter such a window, such a beautiful image of hope? Not me—no matter how dark a future Hollywood paints, no matter how poorly Standard & Poor’s rates our prospects. Granted, I did previously apply the concept of the desperate trickster parent—the father who clumsily steps up when God withdraws His sustenance—to my own life and the life of our nation. That’s only because I try to err on the side of awareness instead of blissful blindness. Even when you’re analyzing a fictional construct, you’ve got to at least kick the tires of socioeconomic reality.

Critic Terrence Rafferty takes a more rigorously geopolitical view of the doomed-world tale. Although his recent New York Times piece focuses on zombie stories, Rafferty acknowledges their membership in the larger “collapsing society” genre, linking the mindless shuffling monsters of fictional nightmares to white America’s fear of hungry, brown-skinned immigrants.

It’s a valid comparison, refreshingly composed, but, all things considered, I prefer a more intimate reading. For me the terminus myth is about parenting—specifically a deep-rooted paternal fear of neglecting and losing one’s children, as well as an inverse need to dominate and neutralize the development of those children. From Apocalypto to The Road to I Am Legend, (all of which, by the way, exhibit some aspect of the zombie genre) this nightmare-fantasy makes gods out of bumbling fathers while tossing sons into the pit of non-characterhood.

The past decade of science fiction cinema has elbowed out the Luke Skywalker figure, that once-treasured youthful hero type. Today, big-screen futuristic visions feature brooding dad protagonists with one overriding purpose—to ensure a child’s survival or to scrabble for redemption after losing that child. (If the hero is indeed a young person, he or she will already be shaped by catastrophe and have no use for coming-of-age transformations.) Forget about teaching a kid to fight, hunt, think, make plans. That was a job for yesterday’s fathers, says the post-apocalypse film. Keep scrounging for food and picking off cannibals with your sling-shot, and you’ve got parenthood pretty much in the bag.

It’s safe to say I don’t subscribe to that vision. Nevertheless, I want to keep studying its hold on our culture, while looking forwad to a time when dreams of doomsday are passé.

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