Thursday, November 10, 2011

Revisionist Mythology II -- The Groundlings Strike Back

In the comments of our last thrilling installment, a dispute arose concerning the veracity of a statement made by Alexis:
“...this insistence that [Star Wars] is ‘the greatest movie ever made’ is merely a bit of social wish-fulfillment...”

The Anonymous Timothy expressed a desire for Alexis to prove this statement; after all, the burden of proof lies with the party making the assertion. Alexis indicated that Alec Guinness' autobiography contains sufficient proof; alas, Guinness' statements are hearsay and we cannot accept them as proof. Alexis then said, “Try Google.” Personally, I take this to be a cop-out. Nonetheless, as a nascent blogger attempting to cater to his audience, I followed up on Alexis' suggestion. (I used dogpile instead of Google, but that's how I roll.)

Of course, nearly every movie has its proponents. (Some wag has even put forth an argument for The Dukes of Hazzard.)

Anyway, this BBC poll from ten years ago seems on-point...and, yes, it tends to support Alexis' position. So, there are (many) people who consider Star Wars to be “the greatest movie ever made.” We may not concur but, to these people, Star Wars is the greatest movie ever made. The world will never come to a consensus as to “the greatest movie” because such a determination is inherently subjective. Certainly Star Wars is a very popular movie but, in terms of cinematic art, it is subject to criticism.

Thus we have an elitist/populist dichotomy; the intelligentsia as opposed to the groundlings, the people who read Proust as opposed to the people who don't and (if I may be permitted once again to invoke Orwell) the Party as opposed to the Proles.

So where does Joseph Campbell fit in to all of this? Well, Alexis suggests the possibility that Campbell may have been misquoted. This is a valid observation and if we expect Alexis to provide proof of his assertions, we should practice what we preach. However, it doesn't really matter what Campbell said because, according to Alexis, Classicist academia considers Campbell to be “something of a whack job.” Thus, the elitist/populist dichotomy is at work again, academics versus the mythology of pop culture. Whether whack job or uncultured dolt, we are back to where we began.

I find Campbell's insight to be fascinating and educational. Without further ado, here are some quotes from Campbell's The Power of Myth.

BILL MOYERS: Do you think...that a movie like Star Wars fills some...need for a model of the hero?

CAMPBELL: I've heard youngsters use some of George Lucas' terms – “the Force” and “the dark side.” So it must be hitting somewhere. It's a good sound teaching, I would say.

CAMPBELL: Well, you see, that movie [Star Wars] communicates. It is in a language that talks to young people, and that's what counts.

CAMPBELL: ...Star Wars is not a simple morality play, it has to do with the powers of life as they are either fulfilled or broken and suppressed through the action of man.

CAMPBELL: Certainly Lucas was using standard mythological figures.


I think these quotes give us a good idea of Campbell's attitude about Star Wars.  This movie may no longer 'speak' to Alexis' view of life, but it 'speaks' to a great many others' view of life.

As this post draws to a close, I pose a question. With regard to “social wish-fulfillment,” isn't that the basis of mythology after all?


  1. Of course SOME fans think Star Wars is the best movie ever made. L'il Lexi in his crumbled ivory tower was suggesting the majority of Star Wars fans do - which I asked him to prove and he was unable. There is a big difference between Some, and Majority. In fact, it seems the majority of Star Wars fans prefer Empire Strikes Back to the first one. This is purely anecdotal, though, based on conversations over the decades, so I will not make a bitter dismissive pronouncement to that effect.

    But, thanks for the Campbell quotes, definitely adds context to the discussion. For reasonable people.

    And shouldn't that be MISTER Anonymous Timothy?


  2. Allow me to express my apologies, MISTER Anonymous Timothy, bitch.

  3. That's better!

    It's been a while since I read Campbell, but I seem to remember Hero With a Thousand Faces going into more detail about Star Wars.

    As to your question at the end of the post - good point. Yes, I guess, though there may be some deeper stuff than that as well.


    At any rate - off topic - did you happen to save the gist of that Axe and Hammer post? Or your own reply? Was it really as offensive as JRT was saying? That was grendelwolf, right? I occasionally looked in on that blog and never got an inkling that would happen.

    MISTER Anonymous Timothy Bitch

  4. Hero With a Thousand Faces pre-dates Star Wars; however, there may be a later edition with a foreward or something that talks about it. There is a picture of Luke Skywalker on the cover of my copy, but no Star Wars information inside.

    If you want to know about the A&H post and trust me with an e-mail address, contact me at the address in my profile. Yes, I found it offensive.

  5. BTW, Alexis has a new table up:

  6. This table is useless! USELESS!!! It completely disregards the economics of beekeeping during the Thirty Years' War! Why am I surrounded by Idiotz(tm)?!?!?!