This weekend’s box office results showed that Americans need a hero — preferably, a hero with a large hammer and a bizarre haircut. Thor cleaned up in theaters across the country, clocking in with a whopping $65.7 million. The Norse god’s movie debut follows The Green Hornet and precedes both Captain America and The Green Lantern. It also marks the latest in a decades-long American love affair with superhero movies.
Over the last ten years, superhero movies have exploded in number and popularity. The 2000s opened with the X-Men series (another X-Men is due out this year); then moved on to the Spiderman series (the next installment is in production); the re-launched Batman series (which spawned The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, soon to enter theaters); the Hellboy series; the Iron Man series; and the egregious Fantastic Four series. Then there were the one-offs like Hulk, Catwoman, Daredevil, Watchmen, Kick-Ass, and The Incredibles.
During the 1980s, superhero movies took off, with the rise of the Superman series, and the beginnings of the original Batman series. During the 1990s, the number and quality of superhero movies seemed to trail off – it’s a long way down from Tim Burton to Joel Schumacher (though Christopher Nolan beats both by a long shot). Nonetheless, the American superhero has been a constant in pop culture for more than a century, from the dime novels of fast-draw cowboys to the comic books of the incomparable Flash.
Why do we need superheroes in the first place? Why, in this age of cynicism, do we look to escape to the world of Thor?
The answer lies in our dual needs for clarity and hope.
First, clarity. The human mind desires clarity above all – that’s why we create mythologies in the first place. The concept of mythology, in its original sense, meant a narrative attempting to explain mankind’s origins in a rational manner. Mythology was an attempt to superimpose a reasonable story on a mysterious universe. Religion is the highest form of mythology (which isn’t to say that it isn’t true, of course). Certain sorts of mythology are vital to a healthy mind, telling us why things are the way they are, and why certain people are evil and certain people good.
Mythology, however, has been damaged by the “enlightened” Western mind, which supposed that attempted explanations of creation and human nature had to be destroyed. Darwinism pictured the world as a random place full of odd coincidences springing from nothingness. It debunked mythology. Nietzsche dedicated his life to fighting mythology, stating in forceful terms that only when just-so stories were cast aside could man be free.
A world without mythology is disturbing enough. It is nihilistic in nature – without any explanation of who we are or how we got here, how can we define what to do next?
The left copes with this problem by creating a mythology of its own – a mythology of ends rather than of means which seeks to paint a politically-driven picture of mankind. “We must have a new mythology,” Hegel wrote, “but this mythology must be in the service of the Ideas, must be a mythology of reason.”
This “mythology of reason” justifies every leftist agenda. Thus environmentalists create a mythology of environmentalist reason in which the Earth is a precariously fragile planet requiring human sacrifice (population control), self-flagellation (cap-and-trade), and ritual (recycling). Communists create a mythology of communist reason in which Rousseau-ian man lived in peace and harmony with nature, only to be torn from Gaea and shackled to the bonds of capitalism. Nazis create a racial origins mythology in which certain areas dominated other areas, and in which certain races were destined to dominate others. The mythology of reason is highly dangerous.
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