I’ve been thinking about myths and legends lately. It’s easy to point out the mythology of other times and places: Zeus and his many consorts and offspring; Romulus and Remus; Coyote; King Arthur; Rostam; The Yaksha; Paul Bunyan; Prince Ōkuninushi.
Some people would include the stories in the holy books of the major religions in this category as well, of course. I tried to pick examples of religions that are either no longer followed or not taken to be literally true or infallible by the people who believe in them. While I don’t consider the term myth to be a slur by any stretch of the imagination, I know a lot of theists do when it’s applied to their beliefs and my intention here is not at all antagonistic.
What I would like to do today is to make projections about the future. 200, 500, 1000 years from now, what will schoolchildren (or bored college freshmen, or obsessive grad students) study when they take a course on the mythology of our time period?
Few people sit around campfires and tell legends these days, but as long as our species exists there will be stories that speak to us so much they are passed down from one generation to the next.
I can’t say for sure if all of these legends will survive long enough to be picked apart as examples of what our culture values, but I think they have a decent shot at it.
- Superheroes. Superman and Batman have been part of pop culture for well over 70 years. Spiderman has been with us for a little over 50. Their stories are reshuffled for each generation to better reflect current trends, but their core identities remain the same.
- Zombies. They fade in and out of popularity, but war and economic depressions bring them back with a vengeance. With climate change predicted to have severe consequences for the environment and human society over the next few generations I strongly suspect the story of the dead coming back to life is here to stay.
- Urban Legends. What’s interesting about this category is how often they’re taken to be literally true. Everyone has a friend of a friend of a friend who claims to have dissolved a tooth in coke overnight, believes that roasted fetus is a delicacy in Taiwan, or narrowly escaped being bitten by venomous snakes in the ball pit of a local restaurant.
- Bigfoot. Mothman. Aliens. Some people believe these entities actually exist, but everyone know their basic stories. It would be nearly impossible to exist in modern day, western society without ever having heard of encounters with creatures like these.
- Slender Man. He’s the newest example of 21st century mythology I could find. Even though he’s completely made up (and from what I’ve read was actually intended to be a hoax from the beginning), rumours about him are swirling faster than they can be stamped out. If I end up getting another lifetime or if time travel is invented I half-expect him to become firmly entrenched in 22nd century culture.
What examples of 20th and 21st century mythology can you think of?