in my writing i often tackle the carnival-esque-ness of contemporary culture, but i do so ironically. much of the media we consume is self-consciously mythic, which doesn’t necessarily mean it has swords and wizards and shit, although obviously some of it does. it means it fills the role of myth.
back before culture was lifted out of space-time, before wrist watches and a money economy, myth-making was integral to the social order and so was restricted to a few, and the myths themselves were highly conserved. new stories about the buddha or king arthur would appear, but there were always strong pressures toward preserving the tradition.
once myth-making became a commodity, something distanciated (but not wholly removed) from the cultural power-narrative, it is appreciated as something superficial. we think we think game of thrones is just a tv series.
but the cognitive necessity of myth-making means we still appropriate it deeply, even if we don’t think we do. it just doesn’t have a very long half-life. the new myths aren’t so much abandoned as they simply fade away like a decaying atom: brilliant in their time but unnoticed in death.
this is why we experience that flash, that epiphany, whenever someone mentions something we haven’t heard in a long time. “ah! i remember that! man, i haven’t heard that in forever.”
of course, occasionally some myths well and truly die. a rare few seem to be immortal. but most simply stop bobbing above the surface and slip unnoticed into the depths of the collective unconscious where they wait to be stirred.
this is what makes contemporary culture a carnival. every tent is the most exciting for five minutes, but when it’s all over, little of it persists.
what’s fascinating, then, is how the cohesive function of myth seems to have escaped to the meta level. it is no longer our collective experience of the same carnival, over and over, that binds us together, as it did in pre-modern societies. rather, it is our shared experience of the experience of many carnivals, the “what-it’s-like-ness” of being a carnival-goer, that anchors us. whatever myths we experience, we share the experience of experiencing myths. hence the imperative to create internet memes that compare, contrast, and intentionally conflate competing myths.
i don’t wonder if that’s why so many people these days are writers and filmmakers. yes, i’m sure it helps that the costs of production are so low, but i suspect people are attempting to fill a lost connection — something they would have gotten through shared experience of the bible, or the antics of krishna — by fleeing to that meta-level where our last human connections remain. if someone shares one of our myths, great. if not, we geek out about geeking out.
if true, that suggests a sort of feed-forward mechanism where, as more and more myths are made, our experience of them is shared by fewer and fewer people, and we retreat further into the aether, which would further explain why so many people are compulsively self-expressive and yet what they express is loneliness and despair.
we each sit alone outside our own carnival, waiting for passers-by.