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Moyer and Campbell's "Power of Myth" documentary now online for free
March 16, 2013 4:51 PM   Subscribe

Joseph Campbell was well-known for his exploration of the monomyth, or the hero's journey, which posits that worldwide myths that have survived for thousands of years all share a fundamental structure. Campbell's work inspired George Lucas to create the first Star Wars trilogy. In the mid-1980s, Bill Moyers spent many hours interviewing Campbell at Skywalker Ranch. The result was a now famous documentary called "The Power of Myth." The series has been available on DVD since 2001, but Moyers has just made the full series available for streaming and download on his site.
posted by ajr (29 comments total) 95 users marked this as a favorite

 
I refuse this call to adventure.
posted by mediated self at 4:54 PM on March 16, 2013 [8 favorites]


You did not spend spring break with Bill Moyers.
posted by rabbitbookworm at 5:06 PM on March 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


Is it only the audio portion of the series or is there a downloadable video link somewhere that I can't find?
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 5:44 PM on March 16, 2013


I'm so happy to see this. Campbell helped me remember how to read again after grad school beat all the love out of me.
posted by madred at 6:02 PM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Campbell's work, while well-intentioned, never takes into consideration the role of the taxation of trade routes in setting into motion the hero's journey.

His work is thus half-baked at best
posted by Senor Cardgage at 6:09 PM on March 16, 2013 [12 favorites]


Is it only the audio portion of the series or is there a downloadable video link somewhere that I can't find?

It is audio only.

Here are the first three hours of the series on Vimeo, but I haven't had any luck finding the final three episodes.
posted by hippybear at 6:14 PM on March 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


When I watched this, I kept feeling like Bill Moyers just wasn't getting it.
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:15 PM on March 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


I could do without Moyer pronouncing it "heeee-ro" over and over again. Very distracting.
posted by tim_in_oz at 6:30 PM on March 16, 2013


Campbell's work, while well-intentioned, never takes into consideration the role of the taxation of trade routes in setting into motion the hero's journey.
Han and Chewie would've never been available to smuggle Ben and Luke if it weren't for the fact that they made their livelihoods avoiding taxation of trade routes.
posted by Flunkie at 6:34 PM on March 16, 2013 [8 favorites]


I'm already waiting for the next series on Campbell, which will be incredibly poorly acted and mostly in front of chromakey screens.
posted by nevercalm at 6:43 PM on March 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


I can never spare the time to watch this on video, but I think I just sewed up my commute time audio programming for the next couple of weeks. Thanks for finally giving me a way into this material!
posted by wenestvedt at 6:46 PM on March 16, 2013


The Secret History of Star Wars points out that some of the links between SW and Campbell were retroactive and over-stated, if I recall correctly.
posted by Mezentian at 6:50 PM on March 16, 2013 [6 favorites]


Thanks, hippybear!
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 6:53 PM on March 16, 2013


Senor Cardgage: In defense of the prequel trilogy, surely a story that lacks a protagonist can be forgiven for not adhering to the Hero's Journey.

some of the links between SW and Campbell were retroactive and over-stated, if I recall correctly.

See also: George Lucas: Heroes, Myths & Magic (hour long episode of PBS American Masters series)
posted by mediated self at 7:01 PM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


FILM CRITIC HULK EXPLAINS WHY WE SHOULD STOP IT WITH THE HERO'S JOURNEY SHIT.

I'm inclined to agree. It's a nice bit of analysis but has turned into a predictable screenwriting tool.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 7:16 PM on March 16, 2013 [6 favorites]


Campbell's work, while well-intentioned, never takes into consideration the role of the taxation of trade routes in setting into motion the hero's journey.

You can read about it in Campbell's follow-up, "Chinese Fish-Faced People Ruin Intergalactic Money Stuff, and Also Here's a Flying Jew."
posted by middleclasstool at 7:16 PM on March 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


This doesn't take into account the bit in the modern HERO'S Journey where the hero spends 50 hours doing errands for strangers and killing the same monster hundreds of times to earn more powerful boons
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 7:27 PM on March 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


Awesome, thanks!
posted by Bwithh at 8:00 PM on March 16, 2013


The Hero with a Thousand Faces, to my mind, is the incorrect and incomplete analysis of his true treasure trove, his Mythology series. In those tomes you come to understand that Orpheus exists in Ancient Greece and Feudal Japan. That Jesus exists in Medieval Europe, and Ancient Egypt. Campbell makes the mistake of assuming there's an overarching story that can account for it all, a modern academician's folly of demanding there be one root cause for anything.

Campbell's legacy is that there are stories we both do and don't understand, because of our culture and because of our hard-wiring as biological humans. That we can come to understand each other, because our myths stem from the same place, and because we both do and don't understand them.

And now we argue about Jung.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:51 PM on March 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


i have the book version of this discussion and it's fabulous. i like it whenever moyers "just isn't getting it" because it gives me a chance to catch up too. and campbell's explanations always seem to bring more new ideas into the mix.
posted by ecourbanist at 9:14 PM on March 16, 2013


a modern academician's folly of demanding there be one root cause for anything

Actually, that's a rather older academician's model (at least in the humanities); the "key to all mythologies" notion was old fashioned back when George Eliot was parodying it with her dryasdust Casaubon in Middlemarch. Academics in the various fields that look at mythology and folklore these days tend to regard Campbell as not even wrong.
posted by yoink at 9:52 PM on March 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm so happy to see this. Campbell helped me remember how to read again after grad school beat all the love out of me.
posted by madred
Exactly what I came here to say, minus the grad school part. The Power of Myth got me back into reading, after many years away from books.
posted by Lukenlogs at 10:50 PM on March 16, 2013


I liked the Mythos series. I don't remember the Power of Myth as well, I'll have to check it out again. Campbell is fun but does not seem very scientific, and I never got the feeling his ideas were very well founded. Jungian archetypes and collective unconscious seem like interesting ideas. Maybe there is a little truth to them.

wikipedia:
Strictly speaking, archetypal figures such as the hero, the goddess and the wise man are not archetypes, but archetypal images which have crystallized out of the archetypes-as-such: as Jung put it, "definite mythological images of motifs ... are nothing more than conscious representations; it would be absurd to assume that such variable representations could be inherited", as opposed to their deeper, instinctual sources - "the 'archaic remnants', which I call 'archetypes' or 'primordial images'"
posted by Golden Eternity at 11:39 PM on March 16, 2013


Oh, Joseph Campbell. He had such a strong influence on so many writers and stories I love. And he's one of the few such influences whose work I've tried to avoid as much as I can. Because I was around fourteen years old, nerding out in the mythology section of the library, when I picked up The Hero's Journey and browsed through until I got to this bit:
Q: Do you feel that women need to begin to feel better about themselves again or that society needs to change and re-evaluate some of its values?

Campbell: No. All they have to do is stop looking at the boys and wondering whether they are in competition with them. Just realize what effect they are having on the boys. It came to me at Sarah Lawrence [College]. I was teaching three courses on mythology and at the end of my last year there this woman comes in and sits down and says, "Well Mr. Campbell, you've been talking about the hero. But what about the woman?"

I said, "The woman's the mother of the hero; she's the goal of the hero's achieving; she's the protectress of the hero; she is this, she is that. What more do you want?"

She said, "I want to be the hero!"

So I was glad that I was retiring that year and was not going to teach any more [laughter].
That's when I put the book back, because I felt so flattened and sick.

And while I know, intellectually, that there can be value even in scholarship that's flawed or that I don't entirely agree with—even so. Works by Joseph Campbell keep getting pushed further and further down the list of "books I have time to read before I die."
posted by nicebookrack at 1:02 AM on March 17, 2013 [6 favorites]


Joseph Campbell: Because at some point we all got tired of saying "Jungian".

Seriously though he did a really good job of synthesis and making it all relevant to the current day. Definitely worth checking out.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 1:04 AM on March 17, 2013


The Jungians,
Darling, we're the Jungians,
And Jungians shouldn't be afraid.

To live, love
There's a song to be sung,
for we may not be the Jungians very long.


Sorry.

What Campbell did was give the essentially unimaginative commissioning class at movie studios a checklist of things that every script must contain. This is ultimately the reason that so many movies made over the last few years make no sense whatsoever.

Campbell turned scriptwriting into filling in a multiple choice quiz.
posted by Grangousier at 2:29 AM on March 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


Campbell- that ethnocentric, sexist bastard was the worst thing to happen to fiction. And it's all because he was trying to understand James Joyce.
posted by happyroach at 2:57 AM on March 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


@happyroach are you being sarcastic? Your comment has derailed the thread discussion.
posted by ajr at 12:32 PM on March 17, 2013


It's certain lead to much more formulaic film making. I love the idea of universal archetypes and symbols (and I love Joyce) but I don't like structuring them the way Campbell did. Or rather, I don't like scriptwriters taking something that was descriptive and making it proscriptive.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 8:20 PM on March 17, 2013


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