Category Archives: Mythic Characters

THE HEROINE’S JOURNEY: An Ever Evolving Narrative of Empowered Females in Fiction PART#1 WRITER’s Q and A

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The Heroines Journey – An Ever Evolving Narrative of Empowered Females in Fiction

Over the last year I’ve been looking into the topic of The Heroine’s Journey through books, articles, youtube videos and of course perspectives from other writers of both fiction and non-fiction. This Q&A is several questions with some expert writers I admire and respect with differing contrasting points of view including Nicole Franklin, Kate Forsyth, Alice Li, Nav. K and Mike Madrid.

There will be an accompanying article up soon on this blog where I comment on some of the Theories and Ideas that are part of the modern version of The Heroines’ Journey, and ideas discussed in this Q&A as specific or unique from Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. So you can consider this PART#1 of #2 on The Heroine’s Journey and I will link the other article to this one once it is completed and posted.

So lets get into it, I hope you enjoy reading the insightful answers from these super-smart individuals as much as I did. It took several months to come together as people live in different time zones, in different parts of the world and are usually quite busy. Thanks so much to everyone who contributed!

NICOLE FRANKLIN

Nicole Franklin

Nicole Franklin is an award-winning filmmaker. Through her 25 years in the industry Nicole has been a television director, editor, educator, and contributing writer to such publications as The Good Men Project, Toronto-based ByBlacks.com and NBCBLK. For seventeen years, her company EPIPHANY Inc. has been producing independent films for numerous cable networks including Showtime, BET, IFC, Nickelodeon, Sundance Channel, FUBU TV and kweliTV.

In addition to the narrative feature on same-race discrimination in the workplace, TITLE VII, Nicole’s other credits include The Double Dutch Divas!, Journeys In Black: the Jamie Foxx Biography, Kids Around the World, Black Enterprise Business Report, Gershwin & Bess: A Dialogue with Anne Brown and the 10-chapter series Little Brother.   Nicole’s affiliations include DGA, PGA East, NABJ, The Black Documentary Collective (BDC) and NYWIFT. NicoleFranklin.com/cine.

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Q.Why do you feel that a Heroine’s Journey is needed that is distinct from Campbell’s Hero’s Journey?  How does it differ? How is it the same? 

I think the Heroine’s Journey is needed because as a Black feminist I could not pinpoint why a number of female leads in films I grew up watching were not satisfying role models for me.  Why didn’t I root for women who could change the world—women who were on their own, not handing over the reigns to their male rescuers?  And, why didn’t I root for them on a consistent basis?

Plots and storylines are much better in recent years, but it wasn’t until I heard Alice Meichi Li articulating the characteristics of a Heroine’s Journey vs. a Hero’s Journey while she was speaking on a NY Comic Con panel that I realized most female leading roles have been under siege. Manipulation and lackluster results from a journey that thrives on a woman’s insecurities and borderline insanity seem to have been acceptable practice for years. Li made me rethink The Wizard of Oz after seeing it hundreds of times. Once certain characteristics of female-driven stories seep into our subconscious as media consumers we’re doomed!

Q.How can writers adapt the Heroine’s Journey to their stories? (Nicole: I’m combining questions 2 and 3 here)

First writers have to realize there is a distinction between successfully writing a heroine into movie history or into oblivion. As illustrator Alice Meichi Li has noted, there is a fascination with the goddess/supernatural character Joseph Campbell often describes now being a hindrance, and not at all helpful as she would be to a man on a mission. Is it more of a standard to see backstabbing and deception between women when one’s happiness is within arm’s reach? You bet.

Second, more female writers and directors need to be hired as showrunners and creatives behind the scripts and behind the camera on an equal employment basis. Putting these two very simple suggestions into practice would be a terrific start.

Next, films, books and art are part of commercial business. Audiences must support heroines who rock with their dollars. Li mapped out a guide for what writers should avoid in their storylines starring female leads when I interviewed her for The Good Men Project here: http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/heros-journey-vs-heroines-journey-rewriting-privilege/

Q.What changes need to happen in society to further develop the idea of The Heroine’s Journey? (Nicole: See Question above)

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Q.What advice do you have for creators (male and female) who want to create good well rounded female characters?

I would refer creators to my article The Hero’s Journey vs. The Heroine’s Journey: Rewriting Privilege featuring illustrator Alice Meichi Li. Talking to her was so eye-opening for me as an artist, executive producer and feminist.

Q.What impact do you see The Heroine’s Journey having on the literature, films, comics etc of tomorrow?

We have a long way to go when it comes to a female protagonist whom audiences can cheer and demand sequels of beyond the small screen and printed pages of comics. Digital distribution outlets are now the widened doors independent artists have needed for years in order to reach a global audience. This is actually an exciting time to be a creator. And if recent box office numbers of Hollywood films starring talented, three-dimensional female leads are any indication, then this successful model has no choice but to continue and prosper. Bravo!

Where can people find you online, what websites do you contribute to, recommend etc?

Thanks for asking Jonny! I love connecting with people through my website, NicoleFranklin.com. Also, all of my social media profiles are there. I also am the founder of the tech education initiative Hack4Hope.org and the Executive Producer of LittleBrotherFilm.com, a 10-chapter film series with producer J. Tiggett on young Black males and their thoughts on Love.  As a writer I contribute to The Good Men Project, NBCBLK and Toronto’s ByBlacks.com.

You can also find Nicole on Youtube at  https://www.youtube.com/user/Nicoleedits/about?&ab_channel=NicoleFranklin

KATE FORSYTH

Kate Forsyth

Kate Forsyth wrote her first novel when she was only 7, and is now the bestselling, award-winning author of more than 25 books, including The Wild Girl and Bitter Greens for adults, and The Puzzle Ring, The Gypsy Crown, The Starkin Crown, and Grumpy Grandpa for children. Her books have been translated into 13 languages. You can read more about Kate at www.kateforsyth.com.au

Q. Why do you feel that a Heroine’s Journey is needed that is distinct from Campbell’s Hero’s Journey?

To be honest, I see the hero in Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey as being a non-gender specific term. A girl can be a hero just as much as a boy. However, both Campbell’s language in describing the mono-mythic Hero’s Journey and subsequent usages of the format are highly male-focused, so perhaps talking about a ‘Heroine’s Journey’ can open up new ways of thinking and describing a woman’s journey of self-discovery and change.

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Q. How does it differ? How is it the same? [as Campbell’s]

For me, the journey of all my female protagonists follow the mono-mythic pattern of moving through darkness towards light, and through a process of transformation that changes them from the beginning of the story to the end. The trials that they face, the ordeals and obstacles that they overcome, are very different according to the kind of story I am telling … and the type of person my heroine is.

The Hero’s Journey is often just a way of thinking about story structure … and in that sense, it does not matter whether the hero is male or female, or even human at all. I think the secret is not to be too rigid in following the Hero’s Journey – to think of ways to make it fresh and new and surprising. And recasting this quest in the shape of a Heroine’s Journey is one way to do so.

Q. How can writers adapt the Heroine’s Journey to their particular stories?

I always try and think – what does my hero/heroine want? What stands in their way? What is the cost of failure? What do they need to learn before they can get what they want? And then I plan their journey, placing more emphasis on the key psychological turning points in the narrative structure.

Q. What changes need to happen in society to further develop the idea of The Heroine’s Journey?

I’d love to see more movies made with strong, complex and interesting female characters. Often movie and TV makers (as well as novelists) think the way to make a heroine strong and heroic is to make her more masculine – I don’t think this is necessary at all.

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Q. What advice do you have for creators (male and female) who want to create good well rounded female characters that engage the audience/reader?

Make your characters flawed, with real-life fears and problems, and then show them as they grow and change on their journey. Dynamic characters are always more interesting than ones that do not change.

Q. What impact do you see The Heroine’s Journey having on the literature, films, comics, games etc of tomorrow?

I’d love to see more films and books and games being female-centric, with strong protagonists and an interesting character arc.

Q. Where can people find you online? 

My main website is Kate Forsyth at http://www.kateforsyth.com.au/

You can also find me on Facebook, Pinterest and my Amazon Author Page at the below links:

ALICE MEICHI LI

Alice Meichi Li

Alice Meichi Li  is a New York based visual artist and illustrator for comic books, magazines, and album covers. She is the creator of the independent comic book Sherbert Lock. Alice has received numerous awards and nominations from organisations such as the Society of Illustrators of Los Angeles and the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. Alice also contributed words and pictures to Nicole’s article “The Hero’s Journey vs. The Heroine’s Journey: Rewriting Privilege” that inspired this BATFAN Q&A you are reading right now.

Q.Why do you feel that a Heroine’s Journey is needed that is distinct from Campbell’s Hero’s Journey?  How does it differ? How is it the same? 

In a society like ours where women have historically struggled for equality, it’s hard enough to get to a level playing field — let alone set upon a journey for self-actualization. The Hero’s Journey is exactly that: a coming-of-age story where a boy can become a fully-actualized man and surpass his own masters through trials and tribulations.

On Maslow’s Hierarchy, multiple needs must be met before a person can achieve self-actualization, including the physiological, safety, love/belonging, and esteem. If a story takes place in a society like ours where many women can’t even feel safe walking around in our own gender, how can we ever achieve true self-actualization?

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I keep stipulating “in a society like ours” because there are plenty of heroines that take the Hero’s Journey in fictional worlds where they fortunately aren’t bound to a system of patriarchy. (see: Nickelodeon’s Legend of Korra) So my definition of a Heroine’s Journey is that where a lesser-privileged protagonist, most likely a woman, sets upon a path to achieve normality or equality to that where a Hero might just be starting off.

Where there are trials that will help the Hero along his way, there are traps and tricks that await the Heroine as she tries to obtain equilibrium in a world that has seemingly gone mad. Where there are Masters to guide the Hero along, there are wolves in sheep’s clothing to manipulate the Heroine along.

Great examples of the Heroine’s Journey would be Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz. At the end, neither Dorothy nor Alice become lauded as great heroes. They just return to the normal lives in their normal homes that they were striving for all along.

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Heroine’s Journeys reflect the struggles of women in a patriarchal society where being a woman basically means that the body you were born in impedes you from getting ahead the same way a man can. It can feel awfully like a world gone mad when a woman is constantly told by society that her life isn’t worth as much as that of a fetus.

That the work she does is worth around 77% as much as a man’s work, that she ought to keep at the “Drink Me” bottle to shrink small enough to fit society’s standards, or that she needs to destroy other women (Wicked Witches) to achieve her goals when in reality it’s actually a man behind the curtain who has the true power over her.


Q. How can writers adapt the Heroine’s Journey to their stories?A common piece of advice I see is “Just write a female character like a man”. Well, yes and no. If the story takes place in a patriarchy, but the woman faces zero consequences to acting like a man, then this is completely unrealistic. While I don’t agree with strictly adhering to a gender binary, I recognize that society does.People who fall outside of that gender binary inevitably face challenges from the people around them, and these challenges shape who they are.I had a great conversation with Phil Jimenez (writer/artist for Wonder Woman) once about how Superman couldn’t be written exactly the same if he were a woman, because people would treat him like a woman.
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Would the Daily Planet run the same exact articles on Superman if he were a woman? Wouldn’t there be the inevitable criticisms of her appearance or choice of costume?

Look at how the press treats male actors versus female actors in interviews. (For example — the types of questions Scarlett Johannson received from the press for her role in Avengers versus the types of questions her male co-stars received.

Spoiler alert: They tended to center around her body, costume and weight-loss, whereas her male co-stars were given more difficult questions about actual acting) There’s always going to be a slant. How a female Superman would react to *that* reaction would then shape her character differently than a male Superman.

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Q. What changes need to happen in society to further develop the idea of The Heroine’s Journey?To actually develop a Heroine’s Journey into a Hero’s Journey, we’d need to achieve true equality as a basis for all prospective Heroines to launch their journeys. Calling back to my response to the first question, it’s hard to focus on mastering any goal to a heroic extent if one’s basic needs aren’t even being met.

Q. What advice do you have for creators (male and female) who want to create good well rounded female characters?

First, read stories about real women and the obstacles they’ve had to overcome themselves. When encountering people who express the hardships they’ve experienced, listen or read with an open mind and open heart. Don’t be afraid to be wrong or question your pre-existing assumptions.

Second, don’t use rape or sexual assault as a character development tool unless you *really* know what you’re doing. And most people — men and women who haven’t been sexually assaulted — don’t. Even on Mad Mad: Fury Road, George Miller brought Eve Ensler (Vagina Monologues) on board as a consultant to make sure they portrayed a wide range of rape victims realistically and sympathetically.

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Q. What impact do you see The Heroine’s Journey having on the literature, films, comics, games etc of tomorrow?

Ultimately, I hope that exposing the struggles that Heroines have to deal with to achieve true equality will help others to be able to put themselves in a Heroine’s shoes and develop empathy for those who are less privileged than they are. But also, it’s just about time we had more stories focused on marginalized protagonists within their societies. In a way, the Hero’s Journey is easier to do than a Heroine’s Journey where a protagonist is just not the “right type” of person to succeed in that world.


Q. Where can people find you online? 

Here are the places you can follow my work…

http://alicemeichi.com
http://alicemeichi.tumblr.com
http://facebook.com/alicemeichili
http://twitter.com/alicemeichi

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I’m also doing covers for my husband’s comic, Sherbet, which is a dark comedy/sci-fi story that focuses on a lesbian detective who solves paranormal mysteries in a steampunk-inspired vaguely British future. (It’s okay because he’s British, too)  Sherbet would be another example of a woman who’s not adhering to a patriarchal society’s Heroine’s Journey.
NAV K

Nav K

Nav K is a writer and Blogger in Australia, a big Superman and DC fan who writes in depth insightful articles covering the DCU in Comics, Television and Film. You can find her brilliant Girl-On-Comic-Book-World blog at https://girloncomicbookworld.com/

She also writes about the Marvel theatrical films and Netflix TV shows such as Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage. She was last seen flying somewhere over the city of Metropolis.

Q. Why do you feel that a Heroine’s Journey is needed that is distinct from Campbell’s Hero’s Journey?

Considering Campbell’s Hero Journey structure was created a few decades ago, looking back at it you can see that it is very specific for a male hero. The structure draws upon stories that have come from the past, meaning it draws upon many stories where women were viewed more so as objects, to accompany a man, have children, be a prize etc therefore the structure isn’t completely relevant to a heroine’s journey. Because of critical social change over the past few decades it’s important to re-contextualize the hero’s journey to better fit a female protagonist.

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Q. How does it differ? How is it the same? [as Campbell’s] 

Universal elements from Campbell’s model that should be used in a heroine’s journey include the character being drawn into the adventure, facing psychological and/or physical threats and finishing the journey in a changed manner. However the heroine’s journey should take in aspects that are specifically related to females. The hero’s journey is often presented as a solo journey, however as women are typically communal the solo quest may not work as well. Also it’s important to incorporate the conflicting roles many women have in the life such as the family/work balance, maternal instincts etc.

Q. How can writers adapt the Heroine’s Journey to their particular stories?

Writers shouldn’t limit themselves to a strict structure for a heroine’s journey. Really what’s most important is to understand that you are writing a female’s journey, not a man’s journey, so don’t ignore feminine attributes. Not all female characters have to have some inherent maternal instinct, or longing for a community, however a heroine’s journey shouldn’t be afraid of incorporating female attributes.

Q. What changes need to happen in society to further develop the idea of The Heroine’s Journey? 

I think once this stigma is removed that no one cares about female leads, we will get a much better start on developing the idea of the heroine’s journey. Creators still choose to stick to the traditional male hero archetype as it’s a safer bet than focusing on a female lead. Once creators get an idea of greater acceptance in society for female leads, they will start creating better female characters. Just looking at the superhero sphere, there has been a lot of controversy at Marvel for their failure to recognise their female heroes as equals.

Black Widow doesn’t get toys and solo movies, and it won’t be until 2018 that we see a solo female superhero movie from Marvel. This is happening because Marvel don’t believe that a female hero can sell right now. So they will wait until Wonder Woman makes her debut and gauge the audience reaction to her so that they can commit more.

But considering there has been this controversy in the first place, from both female and male audience, recognises that there is an acceptance and want for more heroine leads. Furthermore understanding that the emotional side of a heroine isn’t a weakness can help propel the idea of the heroine’s journey, removing the idea that only the emotionless yet aggressive male heroes are the only heroic lead that works.

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Q. What advice do you have for creators (male and female) who want to create good well rounded female characters that engage the audience/reader?

Don’t be afraid to embrace the femininity of the character. You often see creators trying to develop “strong female characters” by stripping away the very aspects that make them female, and emphasizing their masculinity.

Writers shouldn’t be afraid to show emotional vulnerability, maternal instincts, communal values etc from female characters because they may be afraid of creating a weak female character. Just looking at one of the most talked about strong female characters in film this year, Furiosa from Mad Max perfectly captured her femininity, maternal instincts and strength.

Q. What impact do you see The Heroine’s Journey having on the literature, films, comics, games etc of tomorrow?

Its clear creators are having a stronger focus on female characters. You can watch an action movie now where the female isn’t just always the damsel in distress character anymore, we have stories like Mad Max, Hunger Games etc. Especially within the superhero sphere you can see the huge impact the heroine’s journey is having.

Wonder Woman who has for the longest time been viewed as this feminist icon is finally getting her debut on film decades after her creation. And we can see in these female superheroes that they aren’t being stripped of their femininity to create a “strong female character”, these characters are embracing it.

Q. Where can people find you online? 

You can find me at girloncomicbookworld.wordpress.com which is basically a place with discussion and opinion on everything comic book related from movies to TV to actual comic books!

Follow Nav on Twitter @Nav_Kay

Nav K articles:

Comic Book Movie Articles

Comic Book TV Shows

Comic Book Character Analyses

MIKE MADRID

 Mike MadridMike Madrid is a native San Franciscan and a life long fan of comic books and popular culture. The former advertising executive is the creative director at Exterminating Angel Press. He is featured in the documentary “Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines.” He also has a fantastic TV news anchor worthy mustache.

Q. Why do you feel that a Heroine’s Journey is needed that is distinct from Campbell’s Hero’s Journey? How does it differ? How is it the same?

Traditionally in Hero’s Journey stories, the male protagonist starts out being hindered either by youth, inexperience, or both. But he often has a mentor to guide him on his journey to being a hero. However, the fledgling is never shown to actually be hammered by his gender. This is not the case with many heroines in comic books.

Women who want to take on heroic roles in comics often have their abilities questioned simply because they are female. And this skepticism often comes from their fellow male heroes. These women usually need to undertake this journeys to heroism on their own, without the help of a mentor. So, the Heroine can start off her journey facing adversity not only from her foes, but her allies as well.

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Q. How can writers adapt the Heroine’s Journey to their particular stories?

I’m not sure that a female hero has to have a distinctly different journey from a male. The motivation for being a hero should be the same for a woman or a man:the desire to make the world a better place. The end goal is going to be the same, although the woman may face additional or different challenges along the way. A woman’s methods may differ from a man’s, but that’s what will make her a believable character.

Marvel’s current version of Thor, who is a woman, is an interesting example of a female hero’s journey. The new Thor has had quickly assumed a mantle of great power, and the reader sees her jump right in and grasp her new role. She displays a formidable persona that convinces her fellow heroes of her tremendous abilities.

But through Thor’s internal dialogue the reader can experience how this heroine is evolving in this role and learning about her new life. So she seems like a real character without having to be presented as a bumbling newcomer trying to figure out how to swing her hammer.

Q. What changes need to happen in society to further develop the idea of The Heroine’s Journey? 

Well, obviously women have to be viewed as being equal to men. This is a challenge in America, where women aren’t paid the same as men and where we’ve never had a female president. As much as comic books present this fantastic view of the world, often the values seen in these stories are much the same as what we see every day in our so-called “real world”.

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Q. What advice do you have for creators (male and female) who want to create good well rounded female characters that engage the audience/reader?

It’s good that the mainstream comics industry has finally recognized that there is a sizable readership, both female and male, who will buy titles featuring strong heroines. The problem is that these characters are sometimes just written as men, with breasts.

I think the most successful recent incarnations of Marvel’s Black Widow and Spider-Woman and DC’s rebooted Batgirl are good examples of characters that are shown as strong and capable, but still also come off as believable women. A woman doesn’t need to suppress her female nature just because she has taken on a heroic role. She can be strong and brave, but still show compassion and understanding.

Q. What impact do you see The Heroine’s Journey having on the literature, films, comics, games etc of tomorrow?

I think the Heroine’s Journey can teach readers, particularly female readers, how to overcome obstacles in order to achieve their goals. However, I feel like comics often focus on this journey for too long in the case of female heroes. While people ideally continue to grow and learn new things throughout their lives, as a certain point I feel it’s important to show female characters as established heroes rather than continually putting them in the role of novice.

This has been the case with Wonder Woman throughout her long career. Male writers seem to think she is a more interesting character when she is the outsider learning what it takes to be a hero. And so we have seen her origin story continually retooled and her journey toward heroism beginning anew again and again. I prefer when Wonder Woman is simply presented as an established hero on the same level as her contemporaries Superman and Batman, rather than a few steps behind them.

Q. Where can people find you online? What projects / websites / books etc are you involved in?

Besides The SupergirlsDivas Dames & Daredevils and the companion volume Vixens Vamps & Vipers, I am doing a series of collections of the adventures of some of my favorite Golden Age heroines like Black Angel and Spider Widow. You can find more information about my books at  heaven4heroes.com.

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Note from BATFAN JOHN: I own all three of these books, and I highly recommend them, Supergirls is a fun informal history of female pulp characters and Superheroines, while Mike’s other two books contain reprints of vintage comics along with some introductory essays to the comics and their era. You can find Mike’s books on Amazon.

THANK YOU so much to everyone who made this article so much fun to put together and read. Thanks to Nicole, Kate, Alice, Nav and Mike. Words can not express how grateful I am to you all for your insightful and interesting diverse answers to my Questions.
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Batfan John’s Snappy Answers to Batman Related Questions #1: What is your favourite version of Batman?

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“A great rabbi used to say, “I never asked myself if I could do it. I only asked myself if it needed to be done.” In his relentless struggle against evil, the Batman never asks himself if he can do it; he asks only if it needs to be done” –  Cary A. Friedman, Wisdom from the Batcave.

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The Darkness in Humanity – Batman as Avatar of our Shadow Self

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“Batman is a metaphor for the alchemy of our own soul. He symbolises how to integrate and transform our darkest impulses and direct them toward our highest good.” – JOHN SORENSEN

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YES FATHER… I SHALL BECOME A BAT

Batman symbolically represents the darkness that is in all human beings. Not just potential darkness, but the darkness that is factually in all human beings, whether we acknowledge it or not. Those who claim nothing like that is in them, are most at risk to succumbing to their own disowned behaviors through total ignorance of them.

Other fictional characters who we could call avatars of darkness and shadow include Dracula and Darth Vader – characters who have surrendered to their darkest, most murderous, primitive and single self oriented survival impulses.

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What distinguishes Batman is that he walks the line between darkness and light – choosing not to kill. He skirts around the edges of the abyss, he’s been there and knows the temptations that would lead him down the path of total surrender to darkness like Darth Vader. Unlike Darth Vader, Batman has journeyed into darkness, into the very depth of his own mind, heart and soul, seen what lives there, what drives him and used that power, harnessing it for his own ends, rather than becoming a slave to darkness or evil like Darth Vader or Dracula.

Integration is key. Being all light is as dangerous as being all dark, simply because denial of emotion is what feeds the dark – Brene Brown

Seeing the existential abyss of darkness for what it is, Batman transcends and includes all his pain, his miseries, his best and worst qualities. He transmutes it all into an unwavering passion for his vengeance or justice driven mission as Batman.

So let’s take a look how dark Batman is, and how he uses that darkness as a weapon, along the way we’ll also take a quick look under the cowl to check on his mental health and see if those internet fan theories can hold any water.

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BATMAN – SAVIOR OR HERETIC?

Batman accepts all that he is; the good, the bad and the ugly. He makes no apologies for his flaws, and if anything he is his own worst critic -taking on the responsibility of the world when it is not truly his responsibility to fix the world (of Gotham City) and nobody ever asked him to.

Batman does not suffer from introjection – that is the unconscious “exterior” voices of societies values, his parents and heritage. If psychological Projection is the disowning of your own qualities that you project and see externalised in another, then its opposite is Introjection: turning inward something that belongs outside.

It is a small but key distinction in Batman’s psychological make up, but one that many people fail to notice when they project their own fears and insecurities onto Batman and assume he is like us. He’s not like us, Batman lives at a higher level than we do. Rather than try and become more like Batman, those fans and critics have tried to make Batman more like themselves, assuming that he must share their flaws, rather than having transcended them. The road to self-knowledge is filled with many pot-holes of ignorance.

Batman makes conscious what lives and thrives in darkness. Batman is not afraid to look into his own mind, his own soul and see all his failures and bad habits. Bruce Wayne lives in alignment with his core values. To get from being Bruce Wayne to becoming Batman means a journey into the mythic, into the recesses of Bruce Wayne’s heart, mind and soul, stripped bare and laid naked, he is reborn in a baptism of pure darkness, everything unessential falls away until there is only the Bat and his mission.

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You can call Batman a nutcase, an eccentric, an unholy warrior on a mission of vengeance, or just a man who  decided to do something different to process his trauma over the death of his parents, by dedicating himself to a worthy cause. Super-heroes do tend to have the mind set of wanting to save the world, or at least leave it a less shitty place than when they entered it. It’s part of their attitude and psychological make up. It’s what distinguishes them from non-heroic individuals. They are here to make a difference and don’t sit on the fence.

The “save the world” mentality is something that exists in individuals here in the real world too, and it has its healthy versions – serving food to the homeless, fundraising for community and charity projects – and it’s unhealthy pathological versions –
suicide bombing, acts or murder, torture, terror etc for the often delusional perceived higher good (for the State, for God etc).

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THE STATE OF BATMAN’S MENTAL HEALTH

Arrogant, angry, stand-offish, emotionless, doesn’t work well in teams, shuns help from others, psychotic, a mentally ill man child. Sound familiar?

What is the state of Batman’s mental health, and who should we trust on this subject? There is no shortage of internet fan theories about the state of Batman’s mental health, some of them make good valid points, some are partial truths – while others are just plain old Wrong with a capital “W”.

“He’s an angry repressed rich boy who takes out his frustration and anger beating up criminals”

“He suffers from PTSD, depression and can’t let go of the death of his parents”

“He’s a schizophrenic savior who suffers from messianic delusions”

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I am continually amazed at some of the ideas I see posted online about Batman that make it obvious that some people either have not read many Batman comics, or don’t know how to use the dictionary.

Coming up with a fancy theory or great sounding idea does not make it true no matter how much you want to believe it. That also applies to myself and my articles here. Feel free to disagree with any of them. Feel free to write a rebuttal or prove them wrong. In my mind I’m right, but I know other people with very different opinions about Batman who also FEEL they are right.

For example there are people who would label Batman a psychotic, a schizophrenic, as suffering from post traumatic stress (reliving the pain of his parents death) or any number of other conditions. Robert E. Terrill has written a thoroughly engrossing article that uses Jungian ideas and terminology to categorise Batman as a Schizophrenic acting out his delusional dreams because he is unwilling to do the real hard work of true psychological integration.

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The article Put on a Happy Face – Batman as Schizophrenic Savior by Robert E. Terrill you can find online as a PDF, it’s about 18 pages long and well worth reading – but keep in mind this article deals with the 1989 movie version of Batman, not the Batman from the comic books. It is worth reading though, even if you strongly disagree with it as I do.

A contrasting perspective is the one Robin S. Rosenberg takes in her book What’s the Matter with Batman? An Unauthorized Clinical Look Under the Mask of the Caped Crusader.

Robin’s published book on the Psychology of Batman addresses each one of the various things he may or may not suffer from. She cuts through the confusion of Bat-Mind-Theories like a brightly lit Bat-Signal in the night sky.

Point by point, Robin Rosenberg states the essential criteria needed to satisfy being considered as psychotic, schizophrenic, PTSD, personality disorders and more. And by and large Batman meets some of the criteria for various disorders, but not all of the criteria to meet the requirements as having any of those conditions.

I tend to trust her point of view over fanboys and fangirls as Robin Rosenberg is a trained Psychologist, as well as a fan of Batman and other superheroes. It’s also possible she is wrong, but I urge people to make up their own minds and not take my word for anything. Robin has also been talking, lecturing and writing about human values and heroes for over a decade, so you’ll excuse me if your  “Batman is nuts ‘coz my brother ‘sez so” theory doesn’t hold much sway with me.

Robin’s criteria rather than just being a fan theory, or fun writing experiment uses the terminology of mental health experts. You can read a great extract from the book at Psychology Today: What’s the Matter with Batman?

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THE BATMAN OF MANY THEORIES

There is a fair bit of information and misinformation (mostly on the internet) about the state of Batman’s mental health, usually from people who misuse the terminology of Psychology to make it sound like they know what they are talking about. That Batman meets some of the criteria for various types of mental illness lends credence to those half baked fan theories you read online on reddit or Quora.

Batman is an emotionally stunted man child who refuses to grow up and takes out his frustration and unresolved pain from the death of his parents by punching people

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Some people think Batman is a Schizophrenic, others say he is psychotic, or has post traumatic stress disorder, depression or any number of other behavioral dysfunctions. It’s easy to see Batman as this hyper-aggressive psychotic lunatic if all you have ever read is Frank Miller’s version of Batman, which is purposefully and masterfully exaggerated and over the top, as are most of Miller’s stories.

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Can Bruce Wayne ever be truly mentally healthy and happy, as long as he is Batman?

One perspective is that As long as Bruce Wayne is Batman he will never be happy. He will never settle down with a wife, he will never have kids, he will stay angry, repressed, antisocial and guilt ridden over the death of his parents death as long as he is Batman. Batman thrives on guilt and pain, true forgiveness means letting go of being Batman.

Another contrasting perspective is that Gotham and the world needs Batman, and that he has overcome his pain and insecurities and fears. Batman continues his war on crime not out of pain over the death of his parents, but remains Batman as a tribute to them and their community service. Bruce Wayne continues being Batman as a service to Gotham to honor his parents and what they stood for; social justice, reform and standing up for a cause, living your values etc.

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Batman can be many things, and is open to multiple different equally valid interpretations. It is part of the strength of the character that every fan has their own idealized Batman, and no two fan versions of Batman are exactly the same. But there is enough of the character that remains recognisable so when we talk about Batman, we can understand each others unique perspective.

And that is what it comes down to. There is no objective criteria for what Batman is, and what Batman is not. It’s all subjective. But good writers, and smart thinkers, tend to think at least some of the same ideas about the character, and that mass consensus of what we agree upon tends to form the picture of Batman the majority of us have in our minds.

Writing something that sounds plausible is a good way to keep the wheel of misinformation going. However long term Batman fans tend to look below the surface, they tend to go a bit deeper in life for answers than internet fan theories etc.

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All of these contrasting ideas  strangely play into the myth and strengths of Batman – to some he’s a vampire, to some he’s an urban commando, to others he is a ghoul in night, an unkillable wraith, more shadow monster than man. An unstoppable force. Something to be feared and talked about in hushed tones, because if he hears you… “LOOK OUT! Aw gees, the BAT! Run!”

Batman then is an urban boogeyman. So all of those crazy fan ideas you read about online are quite valid, even if you disagree with them. It’s all part of Batman’s mystique, his confusion and distraction while he accomplishes his mission. He wants you to think he’s crazy, he wants you to think he will do anything, that he can’t die. Batman wants to scare the living hell out of you, and he enjoys doing it.

Robin Rosenberg gets the final word on how nutty Batman may or may not be in her succinct book What’s the Matter with Batman:

  • Assuming that by Dissociative disorder, you mean DID, he is nowhere close to having that. He would only have paranoid schizophrenia if everything about him being batman was a delusion.It’s really hard to peg what, if any disorder he would have. The funny part about it is that one of the defining characteristics of having a mental illness is that it has to impair functioning in your life.
  • And one could argue that he successfully leads two lives, so there is no impairment, or his having to lead two lives IS the impairment.In any event, the only thing I could confidently say he suffers from is Depression, for obvious reasons. If I were to extend so far as to say that he had a personality disorder,
  • I’d put my money on Narcissistic Personality Disorder.Personally, I don’t think he has any real mental disorders outside of depression. He is a just a very rational introvert who made a very strange decision that most of society would see as a terrible, and downright crazy idea. – Robin S. Rosenberg

 

Of course if you want to believe Batman is truly crazy delusional, then The Batman Complex fan made video is made just for you…

I KEEP MY EYES WIDE OPEN ALL THE TIME, I WALK THE LINE

Batman may be an avatar of darkness, the physical manifestation of his totem Bat animal, but he is also more than than the sum of his parts. In shadow he is like a wraith or demon from the classical underworld of mythology, and those white slits where his eyes should be are creepy as hell. His costume, physicality and persona evoke something primal and mythic that we can’t help but respond to on an unconscious level. In medieval art, he would undoubtedly be labeled as a demon.

But those white slits also show the light in Batman. The bright white where his eyes are meant to be shows us symbolically that Batman in not in total darkness, but is in fact an avatar of light who masquerades in darkness to both fight the forces of darkness, and transmute his own inner darkness, his own dark knight of the soul into a force for good, for service to humanity. We have Batman co-creator Bill Finger to thank for those white eyes, Bill understood Batman at a deep level few people would appreciate and doesn’t get the credit he deserves often enough.

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The anger and pain Bruce Wayne feels at the death of his parents, that at times threatens to consume him – he channels into fuel for greatness as the Guardian of Gotham City, the cities own Dark Knight. His never ending war on crime gives an outlet to his madness, rage and pain, channeling all his dark intensity and unrelenting passion into a force for good.

Like a classical Greek hero or demigod who journeys into the underworld, Batman takes on the symbolic trappings of darkness to inspire fear in the criminals he hunts, he uses shadow and darkness as his allies, having made them his closest friends.

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To fear the dark is to live in ignorance, while to embrace the dark is to welcome the knowledge it brings. No being can live in only darkness, or only light. Either way leads to being unbalanced. Human beings need both light and dark in them. Batman walks the line and at times risks going all the way into darkness like Darth Vader or Dracula. It’s part of what makes him so damn sexy and uber-cool. He’s a good guy dressed in the cinematic costume of a bad guy or demon.

Batman is married to Gotham city, he may dabble in serial monogamy, but ultimately his mission in life is to be Batman. Batman and Gotham City are forever intertwined. In a warring city of ruthless gangs, psycho killers and cut throats Batman is Gotham’s Warlord, his word is law, his will unbreakable, his enemies and friends alike fear him and his wrath. Nobody wants the Batman’s attention, and if you ever saw him in person – you would really wish you hadn’t.

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WE ALL FALL DOWN

How does Batman avoid the corruption that characters like Dracula succumbed to? How does he use darkness rather than be consumed by it?

History is filled with those who held themselves up as heroes, as bastions of moral virtue and goodness only to succumb to their own repressed dark side, the side they never allow any healthy expression, and that you never see in the public arena that often is expressed through demented perversion in private.

Politicians and Priests provide some of the more obvious cliched and dramatic well publicised examples in our society. It seems the corruption of the few influences how we see the many, the disproportionate media focus on corrupt Priests and Politicians ignores the fact they are the minority, and that the majority are hard working honest people who capably go about their job, and look after the people they are responsible for.

None the less, when an individual is incapable of finding a healthy expression for their Shadow Self, and instead they become corrupted causing harm to themselves or others, then at those times it may be necessary for third party intervention. In cases of abuse of other individuals by that person, then unwelcome media attention can be a good thing, in exposing what lies in the shadow through the light of awareness.

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How does Batman avoid the same psychological traps? It’s not easy, he walks a constant line between who he is and who he might become. Batman doesn’t repress who he is. He lives his darkness at every level of his being, and he uses it as yet another weapon in his war on crime. He avoids falling down to his Shadow qualities by not hiding or repressing his Shadow, but embracing it and knowing it intimately.

Batman is a zealot in a way, and his unholy mission is to fight the forces that would serve to victimize the good citizens of Gotham, at the same time Batman is a hero we can relate to for his flaws, for we see the darkness and flaws in him as in ourselves.

Batman’s flaws are what make him human rather than super-human. Even if Batman took a super-pill and did gain super-powers, he would still be the same angry repressed guy. Batman remains a fantasy figure who lives an impossible life, but remains appealing due to his grounding halfway between realism and pure fantasy. Alex Wainer defines Batman’s adventures as falling between realism and fantasy as “Romance” using Northrop Frye’s scale of literary classification.

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 REALISM <<———-BATMAN———-> > FANTASY

“The romance is contrived to allow for a pleasing form that displaces aspects of myth, while at the same time borrowing a semblance of realism, to ensure a level of plausibility. Abstracting from the concrete, i.e., the realistic, toward the mythic, the romance mixes elements of the two poles to become a story form broad and flexible enough to include an enormous range of narratives.” – Alex Wainer: Soul of the Dark Knight

“…Set on a perpetual quest for justice and vengeance, Batman is more than an outraged vigilante, but less than a divine nemesis of evil. Partaking of qualities derived from earlier mythological sources and patterns, he symbolically fights against the chaos that frightens and angers us by adopting the fearsome visage of a night creature. Though apparently mortal, he transcends human limits in his keen ratiocination and athletic grace and power. Thus, as a mythic figure expressed in the comics medium, on the Literary Design Scale, he belongs at the upper levels of romance as an idealized, extraordinary heroic figure in a still-recognizable urban setting.” – Alex M Wainer, Soul of the Dark Knight: Batman as Mythic Figure in Comics and Film

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I AM VENGEANCE! I AM THE NIGHT! I AM BATMAN!

As an avatar of darkness and night time Batman fulfills a sort of elemental role. The Bat -his chosen symbol and totem animal – Batman is a creature of the night, a figment of our unconscious mind, a lord of the underworld, the bastard child of Erebus and Nyx – the illegitimate brother of Hypnos (Sleep) and Thanatos (Death).

If Icarus flew too close to the sun, Bruce Wayne went too far into the Underworld, punched something dark and ancient in the face and stole its power to aid his war on crime. Touching the face of pure evil, he dares to wear its colours and mocks the unseen forces he fights against every night of his life as the Guardian of Gotham, its Dark Knight. He’s untouchable, he fears nothing, he will not stop, and he wants you to know it and be very afraid.

There is a purpose for every thing under the sun, and even the things that live in darkness have their own purpose and way of being. Batman who lives in darkness is still human and still feels connected to his humanity despite outward appearances.

To be in darkness is to know and embrace a part of our Being we often deny or don’t acknowledge. It’s something we don’t talk about in polite company or hear much about. To never explore that part of ourselves, to never metaphorically explore the underworld of our own minds is to live in fear of that darkness, of that unknown and all it entails. It is the place of creation, of sex, death , life, hunger, and all primal urges.

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We give power to our unconscious forces and primal drives by refusing to explore them. Most of us are afraid of that which is beyond words, space and time. The primordial unmanifest force that rests in the hearts and minds of all people, but is ignored due to the discomfort and pain of true self-knowledge – in favor of an inauthentic life of comfort and luxury.

The Hero’s Journey is not just a mythical “story” framework to be adapted from antiquity onto the cinema screen, but a metaphor for the necessary and essential psychological process of Waking Up and Growing Up in life that philosopher Ken Wilber discusses in many volumes of his Integral Theory. The Hero – or Heroine’s journey is our birthright. The refusal of the call, is the refusal of life, the refusal to grow and change and evolve. All things that live must grow, and that which does not heed this principle embraces death.

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To explore and stay in darkness is to give in to our own darkest impulses. However to never willingly journey into darkness is – like Luke going into the cave during his training with Yoda to cut off his own head – to never look beneath the cowl it to live in fear of our own primal forces. Take a look at Darth Vader. Nobody want’s to end up like that poor bastard. He’s a monster, and the ultimate bad-ass – YET – we still feel sorry for him. Instead of Vader passing through his own dark night of the soul, he began the process, staid there and swore allegiance to his corrupted master Darth Sidious.

The danger Batman forever faces is not that he may kill, but what happens afterward – that he may lose his humanity if he gives himself completely to darkness. Exploring our own Shadow means acknowledging all our bad habits and self-destructive choices, those we know, and those we are not aware of (and need others to point out to us) and our own repressed higher potentials. What is in shadow if often a corrupted version of what is good in us, as well as what is harmful.

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Batman is an avatar of darkness, but also a symbol of how to accept and transmute all of our own nature – light and dark – and use  it for the higher good not by denial or repression, but by acceptance and integration of all aspects of ourselves – John Sorensen

In stages of human growth, we may pass through a Spider-Man stage (child/teenager)  a Batman stage (adult /power) a Superman stage (god/transcendent) etc. As great as any of these characters are, we must not stay in those stages, but learn from them and move on. There are lessons to be learned in life wherever we turn, even in the humble pages of cheap pulp inspired comic book stories printed on flimsy paper. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, find inspiration and power wherever you please.

I think we can find inspiration is just about any good comic book or movie character. Good or evil, they all have some qualities and values that resonate with us, or we would not be so powerfully attracted to them in the first place.

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Batman is the coolest fictional character on the planet if you ask me.

Batman is cool, sexy and a bad boy. He’s rock and roll. We love him for it. Batman wears the outfit of a villain, but he’s dedicated to righting wrongs. If we look deep enough, we may learn a little about ourselves from the Boy who became a Bat. Who embraced rather than repressed his Shadow Self.

He understands pain, fear and doubt, Batman feels it all and doesn’t identify himself with it, he feels ALL of it, but doesn’t mistake pain and doubt and fear for who he is, or let it stop him from accomplishing his mission. He transcends his circumstances, he transcends body, environment and time by focusing his mind on his chosen task, he’s honed his skills through years of physical and mental training. He’s not ordinary. But even taking all that into consideration, Batman is still flawed and deeply human. His flaws are what make Batman more human and relatable. He’s human and he feels every pain and every hurt, but he looks past it and keeps moving forward.

Batman has experienced deeply personal pain and loss like many people in the real world, and that has inspired his life’s mission, to help victims of crime and poverty through the Wayne Foundation and personally preventing as many violent crimes as he can. As effective as Batman is in his world, he’s even more powerful in our world as a symbol of standing up for ourselves and others, and of true self knowledge that embraces all that we are, strengths flaws and all with an unflinching gaze of wisdom that does not misidentify what we experience and feel, for who we are.

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Fear disowned is a destructive choice, both emotionally and spiritually. It leads to all-too-happy spiritualities with beings who seek only the light. Fear starts to drive their being unconsciously. We end up seeking only goodness and pleasantness in order to avoid pain and fear.  But this is not the way. The truth is:

“To conquer fear, you must become fear”

Fear owned and embodied is a form of awakening. Batman is therefore a Realizer of Awakening through the form of Fear – Chris Dierkes / Beams and Struts

 

 

 

 

The Forces that Shape our Stories – Why We Crave Superheroes/Modern Mythology like Oxygen

What is true is that we humans cannot shrink the Universe or its God down to something we can see and understand.  We, to understand, must expand our ways of understanding to infinite and eternal expanses. -Bob Laughlin, Denver, USA

In the modern world our mythologies and legends have been deconstructed.

Our cultural stories have been torn apart, dismantled, analysed to death and seen through the eyes of post-modernism and a rational scientific mind.

Our religions, spiritual and wisdom traditions have been endlessly studied, analysed and pulled apart.

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A mythological dragon can  represent out own personal demons to battle, to triumph over.  The dragon can also represent the unintegrated aspects of ourselves that we have disowned or refuse to acknowledge.  A dragon may also represent the ‘other’ in physical terms, the ‘other’ may be perceived as threatening or benevolent.  Art by El Grimlock / DeviantArt

At the end of it all we have culturally dismissed most, if not all of it as irrelevant or at least the childish beliefs of primitive societies. While the inherent corruption and power of cult like societies that steal people’s money while keeping them stupid has diminished, we have also lost some important benefits along the way.

Few people in the modern world consider mysticism a genuine spiritual path, yet most if not all  religious founders had some sort of mystical experience of love and unity, the watering down of that experience then becomes all sorts of  nonsense beliefs and practices by people who don’t understand what was attempting to be communicated by the founder who had the direct experience of a higher reality. This is generalising of course, as religions, belief systems and political messages are added to, redacted and promoted or neglected according to who is in power, and what cultural story is being massaged into an easily digestible group of beliefs.

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Werewolves are fun, they serve as warnings of predators and are symbolic of animal instincts and sexual energy

We have thrown out our myths and fables, which served as communal ways of transmitting not only important life lessons, but basic survival skills while warning us of genuine dangers such as predatory animals and the danger of wandering into the wilderness away from our tribe or group where death was a constant threat.  Our cultural stories are infinitely adaptable to any belief system and we tell stories to small children, and it becomes part of their ongoing education.

As adults stories entertain us but also can be used to convey important life lessons.  At no point do we cease individually or collectively growing and learning.  Life is growth.  Of course we can choose to remain stupid and not learn, nobody is forcing us. We may have moved on from the fundamentalist mythic-literal interpretation of events in world religions, we may dismiss myths and fables as silly stories from a primitive world view.  However, if we deconstruct our cultural stories, this in no way fulfills our genuine need that was at least partly satisfied by those stories.

Our need for cultural values passed on through oral traditions, our need for wisdom, a sense of belonging, our place in the world, our unique personal story, and the mass story of our tribe, town, city, nation or world story.  This article then is about stories and myths, our need of them, how they fail to meet our needs and how we live in constantly changing times where our mass cultural stories and fictional stories are all up for grabs.  Our mass and local culture is being rewritten, re-interpreted, re-invented.  As deconstructionism and reductionism have served their purposes, the inevitable move then is back to Holism, to arrive at the place where we have always been. quote-we-shall-not-cease-from-exploration-and-the-end-of-all-our-exploring-will-be-to-arrive-where-we-t-s-eliot-57010 Disassembled Car Let us say for example you take a modern car / automobile and you pull it apart.  You take every piece of it and completely dismantle it, label every piece carefully, you look carefully at all the parts, see the functions they have and can accurately tell someone everything you have learned from taking the car apart, you have learned all you possibly can from this process. Now, suppose you have to be on the other side of town within the next hour. What use is the car to you in this disassembled state?

We still have need of a vehicle to take us to our intended destination.

We have dismantled our cultural myths, we have dismantled our religions (although some still choose to be part of them). We have dismantled and studied the ways of life of hundreds of generations who proceeded our time on this earth.  We feel that we are above all of that primitive stuff, we feel that we are above – rather than a part of – Nature.  That somehow the religion of Science will fix everything, that there are experts somewhere who have it all figured out. We still have the same needs as human beings that led to those myths, religions, spiritual and wisdom traditions and cultural stories being formed in the first place.

We may currently be living in the techno-inspired future of Tron, The Matrix and The Terminator, but we are still running around in hunter gather bodies primed for action and reaction to immediate physical threats.  Our intellect has grown in leaps in bounds while we have lost touch with our “primitive” bodies, the modern workspace and educational arenas see us ill-equipped to handle adrenaline and nor-adrenaline dumps into our blood stream to in response to threats both imaginary and real.  Modern man then is cut off his at the head, disconnected from his body.  We stand on the verge of reintegrating our lost stories and values, our lost ways of being.  But where we are at present is a place of fear and uncertainty that can lead to inaction where action is required.

We are then the hunter gatherers who have evolved to greater intelligence and sophisticated culture and domination of the natural world, but have yet to evolve our world views.  Like a caterpillar mid transformation, the promise of the butterfly is yet to appear, and some traditionalists want to remain caterpillars, while progressives argue that we are already butterflies. From my perspective I would say we are collectively like Neo in The Matrix, some of us have taken the “reality” pill, while others are as yet undecided, but the future of humanity demands that we both grow up and wake up to ourselves and our world.  To remain ignorant is a luxury none of us can afford if we want to survive as species.Terminator Matrix Tron Neo Arnold What we have not done in the modern world is create a new world myth, world religion or world spirituality to replace what we have pulled apart.  We are a culture and world obsessed with technology, but we have yet to reconcile our hunter gatherer roots with our techno space age ambitions. No true synthesis of belief system that incorporates our previous ways, meets out genuine needs and integrates with our modern and post-modern technological world view has yet appeared. What we are left with is endless yearning for something undefinable, something just out of reach.

We don’t quite know what that something IS but we know we have the capacity to fulfill any wish or desire we may entertain.  The cycle of satisfaction and completion escapes us when we are lost in frivolous pursuits and neglect the essentials of life. We lack a communal world story to match out current living at a world-centric level.  Our problems are no longer just local, but global.  But our religions and spiritual traditions have remained in the cultural dark ages while our every day reality has blasted off to the the moon and back.

Old time religions where never intended to handle world-centric concerns.  It’s like asking a Ford Model T to outperform a V8 Supercar, Formula 1 or Nascar in a race, that old Ford vehicle was NEVER intended for such a task, and is completely incapable of fulfilling that purpose.  Our technological progress have outpaced out spiritual progress as a species and few today are capable of even defining what Spirituality even means, instead being lost in petty arguments about whose version of the Truth is more “true”.

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Australian Aboriginal culture may be earths oldest at an estimated 75,000 years of unbroken genetic lineage

Some have tried to synthesize a new world view based on the old world views, but so far attempts at world religions, world spirituality and/or belief systems have failed.  And some people would say good, we don’t need it, we are no longer primitives running around with stone and wooden idols making human sacrifices to some god in the hopes that our crops will grow and that we will be successful in slaughtering our enemies/neighbors/friends whose hearts we have literally ripped out while atop our glorious citadels. We have taken the old ways, pulled them apart, claim we understand them and they are redundant in our new scientific world view (Science being the default world religion of today).

There is a clear and present danger in assuming we know everything there is to be known.

That kind of arrogant erroneous thinking led to limited beliefs like the world being flat and that the earth was the center of the known Universe. When some new information comes along that proves how clueless we are as a species, we tend to try and categorise and apply it within old world paradigms.  But that is like trying to play a DVD or Blu-Ray disc on a record player, not only does it not work, the technologies are fundamentally incompatible.  Retrofitting new world experiences into old world paradigms is a recipe for disaster, if not mass voluntary suicide through ignorance.

Progress through the Sciences is generally met with resistance, ridicule and denial, often one grave at a time.  As the old guard dies off, new ideas and theories gain the opportunity to flourish or flounder among younger generations who eventually grow up and replace the old guard completely.  When new ideas are suggested, we often view them through the filter of our old world beliefs.  But we just metaphorically threw out most of our old ideas, or rejected them as irrelevant back in the beginning of this article – so where does that leave us?

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Labelling something does not mean we truly understand something, we may miss vital information that does not fit the label

We live in a cultural, religious, scientific and spiritual ghetto.

Where does that leave us?  It leaves us with the story of “no story”.  It leaves us thinking hey, we are pretty smart, we don’t need all that old cultural junk from pre-modern times, it just held us back, we’re marching boldly forward into the future baby! But what if some of those old ideas and traditions actually held something quite valuable, that we did not recognise.  What if amongst the noise of wars, persecution, assassinations, executions and genocide of the old world in the name of the most holy, or whatever King or dictator was flavor of the month – we lost something of our unique cultural story and perspective?

What if we overlooked some very fundamental needs that were addressed through life lessons and fables by those old world stories? What if there were deeper meanings to those stories we learned as children that we would neither understand nor comprehend understand until we were adults and seriously inquire into our inner and outer universe? Another perspective at being at a place of “no story”, is that we are in metaphorical terms at a point of “zero” or infinity.  At the point of zero, everything is possible.

Eventually we will have a new cultural mass story, but first our old ways have died like the Dinosaurs, the hazard of moving to zero point is that we lose our traditions and gradual incremental growth oriented changes. Good cultural stories, be they scientific, religious or purely poetic or mythic are like a Trojan Horse.  Outwardly they appear as one benign and perhaps beautiful form, while inside they contain something potentially more powerful that may help or harm us. Good stories may act as catalysts, as information that interacts with out unique consciousness to unleash our innate potentials by reminding us of who we are and the life we intended to live before we got distracted by the ‘noise’ of the world. the unwritten22 Good stories exist on multiple levels that can speak to different ages and generations.  Good stories can have every day simplistic meanings in union with deeper symbolic meanings, every element then becomes essential and we should consciously aim to understand the literal AND symbolic meanings of good stories, we should aim to understand both the simple and the complex in life, valuing both interpretations equally. unwritten arm55 How we learn and evolve is partly through increasing our simultaneous parallel perspectives on life.  The more contrasting and complementary points of view we are able to hold within our own minds at one time the greater our mental model of reality and life becomes. The unwritten Book The cyclic journey of our lives appears to be a circle, but from a different perspective the unique story arcs of our individual lives is more akin to a spiral that seemingly overlaps with a return to the resonant themes and motivation of our lives, this spiral then is a growth of our selves in time as we overlap previous versions of ourselves. Sometimes when we seem to be at the end of something in life, we are truly starting from zero with new perspectives. Regression seems to be a step backwards, but our inner and outer journey in life is a series of spirals that bring us full circle through our path of learning with ever deepening meaning and an expanding perspective. Spiral A big part of that learning in today’s world is learning not only our own cultural history and traditions, but the history, traditions and ways of life of other cultures.  We are only capable of thinking within the dominant paradigms we grew up with in our own culture and passively absorbed as children.  While we learn from our mass and individual history, a key point is not to be enslaved to any idea that does not serve our needs for the sake of “tradition”.

Tradition is fundamentally the passing on of daily habit through ritualised repeated behaviors for people who have no access to written records, or are under the rule of an oppressive leader.  Tradition and ritual preserve cultural wisdom across all fields, as well as the deeper subtle fields of the inner universe (your own mind), soliciting both beneficial inner states and outward physical action. If we want to expand our personal realities and intelligence then there is a need to learn the ways of people from cultures different than the culture we grew up in, not just their outer actions but how they elicit their inner subjective states, their fundamental relationship to how they perceive the world – while remaining committed to your own learning, expansion of love and not being a slave to any ideas or limited philosophies that oppress humanity along the way.

To transcend and include, but not be held back by anyone or anything. Our devaluation of wisdom traditions and ways of the old world has lead us to feel collectively lost and alone in an existential void, and we try so hard to fill that void with drugs, bad relationships, food, sex, entertainment, or anything else, but it is never enough and does not truly satisfy us.  Anything to offer a brief reprieve from that emptiness that we so desperately need to be satisfied, and which can easily be satisfied once we identify that which is essential in life, that which is real and timeless. red skull hitler stalin thanos dr doom dictator bad guy We collectively lost sight of our traditions as they became more and more perverted through the willful destruction of libraries, perversions of sacred teachings by rulers who seek to control the masses, genocides, wars, gaps in the passing down of traditions, or that good old standby – mad power mongers and super-villain like rulers with iron fists who tear down culture and tradition in the name of their own inflated ego or anti-life philosophy. Think Dr. Doom, Thanos, Darkseid, Stalin, Hitler etc. To destroy the will and heart of a people, you take away their culture, you take away, destroy or pervert their personal story.  You break the will and the Spirit of people be denying them their basic freedoms and sowing seeds of doubt and mistrust in their own minds about who they fundamentally are in their heart of hearts.

Dr Doom Superman
Dr Doom meets the Kryptonian Knuckle Sandwich

I don’t have the answers, just an inquiring mind that never rests – and I do not suggest you look for the answer to life’s biggest questions in a Hollywood movie. But, in the existential wasteland we live in contributed to by deconstructionism and a post-modern rational scientific world view there now exists a vacuum, and nature abhors a vacuum.  Something will come along to fill it, it may be good or bad, but what that something is we do not know.

The future arrives one day at a time, and it is not all hover boards, DeLorean’s and sports almanacs. Part of what has stepped into that existential void we currently live in is modern superhero cinema.  It is only one contender, one idea in the ring, and it is not the only idea out there.  Superhero cinema in no way replaces or meets our actual needs in life, and I do not mean to suggest it does.  Superhero cinema does not replace genuine Spirituality or man’s search for for or relationship with God in any way.

I believe that Superhero cinema can be inspiring, uplifting, but also remind us of own potential for greatness, and inspire us to live out not only our grandest dreams, but to co-operate with others, to be considerate and be of service however we can in life.

When I watch the old Star Trek shows, I see a human race that bickers and fights amongst itself, but I see a human race that is ultimately united in their mission and purpose.  Good science fiction, fantasy and superhero stories can help to remind us that we are one human race, one big family, and the sooner we learn that lesson, the more can co-operate and work together creatively instead of inventing new ways to slaughter each other.  I love when fiction reminds us of that possibility.  For to manifest out hearts desire we must first see that desire as possible, we must imagine a future grander than any Star Trek like utopia where humanity functions as a healthy whole organism, as symbiotic organisms that live with the earth and its many species rather than as parasites or viruses who attack their host. Star Trek Unity and Viruses The hero archetype and myth is as old as time itself, the particular superhero evolution of the hero archetype is just another spin on a timeless tale. Whether the hero/heroine and superhero/superheroine archetype is one that ultimately serves us or holds us back as a species, as a culture is really up to us.  Where we place our values, what we invest our time and efforts in ultimately determines the direction of our lives.

The Hero’s Journey of Joseph Campbell is a fascinating, deep, insightful and meaningful work. However that work comments on the past, on what is and has been.  As valuable as it is, it only a beginning.  It can only tell us where we have been, and not where we are going. The Hero’s journey is one of common tropes across different cultures in different times identified within a patriarchal paradigm that displaces female power by necessity.  Whether we continue to define the Heroine and Superheroine in male terms, as reactions to male power, rather than finding the authentic voice of feminine power and strength within women and men as we live today, and incorporate that into our stories and new mythologies is up to us. Super hero The re-emergence of the suppressed divine Goddess within all of us is long overdue.  Living as we currently do is psychologically unbalanced for both sexes, how and when we address that issue is up to us as individuals and as communities. Men need to be able to express their emotions and follow their intuition, Women need to be able to stand up as self-confident empowered individuals and equals, and not as merely reactions to perceived male power.

Each of us must do the hard inner work of acknowledging and allowing healthy expression of the male and female aspects of the psyche within each of us.  Collectively we must work to embody our deepest values in the outer world as free thinking and feeling men and women. Perhaps it is time on this planet for the artificial battle of the sexes to come to an end, and instead be replaced by a genuine equality and co-operation that we have never known in modern times.  It is up to us to create, model and live that way of being, and to refuse to back away from the challenge.

We should not remain prisoners of the past, or outmoded ways of living, merely because what is new and different may at first be frightening and strange to us.  Life is change and motion, evolution and growth whether we want it to be or not.  We can resist the flow of life, or move along with the beat of the evolutionary impulse within our hearts.

Ellen Ripley Wonder Woman Buffy Vampire Slayer Female Goddess Heroine1
Strong empowered female heroines are rare

So within the existing cultural and explicitly sexist paradigm of the Patriarchy we currently live in, I feel several significant films have come along that attempt to address our unmet need for myth, meaning and story in our lives.  I am not saying that they satisfy our genuine needs, or that movies should ever take the place of genuine wisdom – just that one offshoot of the never ending evolution of story telling has appeared in a popular format that speaks to the masses.

Inspiring films are a complement to, rather than a replacement of our other activities in life.  However, while good, these films also fail to integrate feminine energy, to integrate authentic feminine voice and power, despite however seemingly progressive some of them may be. Storytelling, like most other arts has become so commercialized that we barely recognise its roots and origins. The films that we find satisfying not only as pure entertainment and escapism, all have deeper philosophical meanings layered within their narrative structure.

The films I feel that best meet this criteria for putting an emphasis on myth and magic, on Science and Spirit – and this is not a complete list, just well known films that fit the bill that I happen to like a lot – are Star Wars (1977), Superman (1978), Rocky (1976), The Matrix (1999), X-Men (2000) Spider-Man (2002), Batman Begins (2005) The Dark Knight (2008) and The Avengers (2012).  I could have chosen others, but these films were seen by enough people that even those who have never seen them have at least heard of the characters, and all of these films feature archetypal heroic stories. batman begins darth vader wolverine neo matrix rocky spider man movie Part of the appeal of modern hero and superhero cinema is the very primal, fundamental way in which the films attempt to address our need for stories, myths and cultural narrative.  Whether Rocky, Batman or the Avengers, superhero cinema is a celebration of old world traditional values (but not Dogma) wrapped up in a shiny new package. Superhero cinema tells the timeless tale of heroes and heroines rising and triumphing over adversity, growing in wisdom and knowledge to meet life’s challenges, and offering their unique gifts in service to the world – rather than sinking away into depression and feelings of powerlessness. What constitutes the core values of a Hero or Superhero, what makes them a hero in the old world sense is the quest, facing adversity, victory etc.  A hero in our modern context in my view however is not so much about any particular quest. batman-3

The hero I most often think of and admire is Batman.  His quest is ordinary and never ending.  

He can never win, his quest will never finish, he can never win, it is by definition impossible. Yet he fulfills his duty anyway, not because of any external rewards, not for any magical swords or fair maidens or the love of the people.  Batman gives his gifts selflessly, because there is a genuine need for him in Gotham City.  But more than that, Batman is simply who Bruce Wayne is.  Batman is Bruce Wayne’s calling in life, it is his mission, sole purpose and primary focus in life to be Batman, along with everything that represents.

As an avatar of darkness and shadows, Batman makes the unknown known, he makes the unconscious conscious, shedding light on the ugliest parts of humanity that we refuse to see, acknowledge or integrate.

Batman is a metaphor for the alchemy of our mind and soul, of how to integrate and transform our darkest impulses and direct them towards our highest good.

What I love about Batman, or Spider-Man or the Avengers is that they knowingly face certain death and impossible situations, yet they boldly march forward, because being a hero is what is in their DNA, it defines who they are.  Heroes in my mind are selfless individuals who serve the needs of others not just out of a sense of duty or responsibility, but because they genuinely care about the welfare of others.

They are heroes not just because they choose to be, but because they don’t know how NOT to be Heroes, they don’t know how to shut off their humanity or to suppress their feelings, so instead they must be who they are. The heroic movies may focus on spectacle and action, but the heart of a hero is forged in the crucible of testing their values against adversity while not compromising themselves.  A hero then is one who serves others and lives by their core values, their own moral code and not by the laws of the nation, and is not motivated by external forces.  A hero follows what is in their heart, what they know to be true, and a true hero does what they do out of love for humanity, out of love for life. heart diagram-horz This article is a long one and I I have plenty more to say on this topic, so I’ve broken it up into two parts – stay tuned for PART#2, where I will discuss the themes and the cool bits of each of the films I just mentioned in detail.  I’ll be talking about Rocky and Batman, X-Men and other great characters.  Stick around, you’ll be glad you did!