"the more elusive aspects of human experience"
February 25, 2021 2:20 PM   Subscribe

Satanic Panics and the Death of Mythos by Aisling McCrea is an essay exploring how, in contemporary society, people want explanations that are "materially and logically and scientifically true", and ignore "non-literal or non-rational parts of our understanding of what is true: rituals, customs, superstition, storytelling, art, and transcendent experiences". She especially focuses on people's relationship with art, quoting Dan Olson's video essay Annihilation and Decoding Metaphor to explain how you can miss the deeper meaning of a piece of art, if you seek to explain everything logically.
posted by Kattullus (35 comments total) 48 users marked this as a favorite
 
Incidentally, I met the author referenced at the beginning of the essay, Joseph P. Laycock, many years ago. He's stuck in my memory for having given the best answer to the question "why did you want to go into academia" that I've heard, though it's applicable pretty much only to him.

I met him when he had just started grad school and was meeting up with mutual friends of ours. One of them asked him why he'd chosen to study the humanities. He said that he was a big fan of British science fiction and fantasy writer Michael Moorcock and wanted to write a book about him one day. He was asked why he couldn't just do that anyway, why did he need years of schooling to do that.

You see, he replied, at first I want to become a respected and notable academic, so that once my book comes out it can simply be titled:

Laycock on Moorcock
posted by Kattullus at 2:26 PM on February 25 [39 favorites]


Those are two really great links, and between them nail many of the issues that I have with lore, world-building and fandom.

People expect logos over mythos, as McCrea would put it - but trying to equally understand every part on a literal level leaves no room for why some parts are special, even magical.

And as a result, in Olson’s words, everything is treated as diagetic, everything important is assumed to be self-contained in-universe. The music we’re hearing is there because the characters are, I dunno, playing it on a radio or something, not because the director wants us to hear that particular music while watching these particular scenes.

There’s huge commercial demand for rational, plot-first media, and it’s cheap to make! Anyone can invent a world and populate it and explain how things work there. It’s much harder - and therefore more costly - to fill it with menace and beauty and humour and sorrow.

And I say that as someone who likes the simple pleasures of a propulsive narrative. But a story is as much what it leaves out as what it leaves in. If a sculptor looks at a block of marble and sees all the bits of marble she would need to cut away to leave the sculpture, what does it mean if an army of fans and execs insist on making endless sequels to fill in all the missing marble? You’re left with a featureless block again.

There’s a line from a Silver Jews song where Dave Berman sings “the meaning of the world lies outside the world” and it really sticks with me. I think it’s useful to think that way about art, too.
posted by chappell, ambrose at 3:21 PM on February 25 [11 favorites]


I think we can also blame western education for some of this. There was a world of difference between the way I studied literature in middle and high school, and the way I studied it in college. (I have a BA in English. Feel free to cue up Avenue Q.) In middle and high school, the way we were taught how to understand literature was very didactic: "this is the meaning of the text, and this is the only meaning of the text. Write 500 words about why this is the meaning of the text."

Meanwhile, in my college literature courses, there was more freedom to explore the multiple, potential meanings of the text—especially one you got out of the introductory survey courses. We could debate, identify multiple meanings of a text, cite arguments for and against. Multiple readings were absolutely acceptable and understood to be the point of the process of literary analysis, as we all brought our own experience, understanding, and backgrounds. It was fun (at least, when we were reading fun stuff).

But, of course, not many people study literature in college, if they even go to college. Increasingly, college is seen more as job training, and if you're studying a STEM field, or Business, or anything outside of the liberal arts, any exposure to literary analysis and criticism you get is going to be minimal at best, and you're stuck with the middle and high school model of "this is the meaning of the text and this is the only meaning of the text" way of thinking about literature and other forms of art. For people whose entire education and experience with consuming art and culture is based on "this is the meaning of the text, and this is the only meaning of the text," it's not surprising that they're going to want there to be a single, concrete meaning to everything in the art and culture they consume.
posted by SansPoint at 3:34 PM on February 25 [8 favorites]


But, of course, not many people study literature in college, if they even go to college. Increasingly, college is seen more as job training...

Maybe that has something to do with the average cost of tuition being $25k/year.
posted by thelonius at 3:54 PM on February 25 [5 favorites]


Great links. They touch on a lot of things that have frustrated me for a while about fan culture, popular "theories" about movies, etc. I really appreciate that way the article connects the issue of interpretation to the fundamentalist mindset. I've long thought that there's a very deep connection between this sort of hyper-realist expectation about art and the rise of conspiracy theories. Both insist upon making a text "logical" -- which really means, forcing it to fit into a preexisting framework that eliminates ambiguity and erases or mutates anything that doesn't fit with the "answer."
posted by Saxon Kane at 3:59 PM on February 25 [4 favorites]


Great essay and it introduced me to Petscop which I look forward to becoming obsessed with over the course of the next few evenings.
posted by Atom Eyes at 4:00 PM on February 25 [3 favorites]


I'm reminded of the person who wrote a long treatise explaining why "the real story" of Lord of the Rings was that Gandalf is some sort of medieval Walter White/Heisenberg with massive "Hobbit Weed" empire spanning Middle Earth, and the War of the Rings was just a cover so he could eliminate his rivals from Mordor. The author was moved to "uncover" the "truth" when they realized that "the economics of Middle Earth don't make sense." Which is just... I mean, I don't even know how to respond to that... Sure, Tolkein wrote a whole lot of backstory and created a whole language, but now we expect that fictional worlds have fully functioning, completely thought out economic systems? What the literary fuck?

Once again, though, The Simpsons said it best:
"In episode 2F09, when Itchy plays Scratchy's skeleton like a xylophone, he strikes that same rib twice in succession yet he produces two clearly different tones. I mean, what are we, to believe that this is some sort of a, a magic xylophone or something? Boy, I really hope somebody got fired for that blunder."
posted by Saxon Kane at 4:08 PM on February 25 [8 favorites]


This is a great essay, I like the Karen Armstrong references.

But they underplayed the tragedy of the American 1980s Satanic Ritual Abuse moral panic; a few deluded individuals made insane false accusations which utterly ruined the lives of many innocent people, and then skulked back into the background after the dust settled...
posted by ovvl at 4:56 PM on February 25 [4 favorites]


In fact, the denial of mythos is everywhere in our culture, and it can partially explain why so much of our approach to everything artistic, challenging, or mysterious seems reductive, dull, and unimaginative.

There is a part in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance that I found persuasive where the author notes that there seems to be a dichotomy between people who find beauty in detail, in taking apart something to see how it works and who gain more of an appreciation for it once it's in pieces, and those who seem to resent that exercise and find beauty in mystery. The author does not quite understand the motivation; to me, 'finding beauty in mystery' always seemed reductive. I think this might be the first time I've seen that other side, if it is truly a side and not merely a lens, expressed in a way I can appreciate.
posted by Merus at 5:37 PM on February 25 [7 favorites]


That Satanic Ritual Abuse thing seems pretty close to QANON.
posted by eagles123 at 5:48 PM on February 25 [6 favorites]


I've long thought that there's a very deep connection between this sort of hyper-realist expectation about art and the rise of conspiracy theories. Both insist upon making a text "logical" -- which really means, forcing it to fit into a preexisting framework that eliminates ambiguity and erases or mutates anything that doesn't fit with the "answer."
Saxon Kane

I think you have it exactly backwards: conspiratorial thinking is almost purely born out of "mythos", to use the article's terminology. It arises from exactly what the article's discussion of the creation of ritual meaning (building on a quote from Mary Douglas) describes:
We need these kinds of rituals and segmentations so we can understand our own life as more than just a jumble of events...It is not the near-infinite facts of our lives which grant us meaning, but the larger patterns, the ideas, the rituals, the feelings. Without wider ideas, patterns, and symbols beyond the individual items we see in front of us, we have no way to understand what is important and why; we cannot fully think, and we are lost.
It's exactly this imposition of meaning on the random jumble of information that births conspiratorial thinking. If you observe any person, organization, etc. long enough, patterns and tendencies will inevitably emerge. You can then assign meaning to those patterns, and build up your edifice from there. That's how you end up believing that the Democratic Party establishment is using secret arcane signals and symbols to operate a child sex slavery ring out of a pizza shop. All those little things you noticed can't just be unrelated events and actions, there has to be a deeper meaning that connects them all!

Being able to say, "Wait, that doesn't make any sense" is a very, very powerful tool and shield against that kind of thinking. I think there's a reason "mythos" has fallen out of favor, and that's because it has for so long been the cloak worn by con men, false prophets, charlatans, etc. Being able to tell people that they don't need to understand or that they're mistaken in trying is a pretty great way to avoid having to explain anything. You think what the Leader is saying doesn't make sense? Oh, how I pity your little mind locked in your cage of logos. Art, too, is full of people of little talent or having very little substance in their work using obscurantism and mystery to veil that emptiness.

And anyway, this "logos"/"mythos" distinction seems like a rehashing of the tedious old "Two Cultures" nonsense, though ironically the lament now comes from the other side. The idea of a neat break between Logos Rational Robots who can't comprehend why you might have a special t-shirt and Mythos Deep Truth Feelers is just silly. This is not how people think or act, and there's not even a formal reason to believe these things are distinct.
posted by star gentle uterus at 6:01 PM on February 25 [13 favorites]


I wonder if at least some of the blame for logos over mythos can be placed with games. My wheelhouse is tabletop RPGs, but I can imagine that a lot of videogames have the same issues. In a game, you have to have rules, and it ought to be fair and comprehensible. If your game also includes a narrative, that has to be secondary to the rules. If your game includes themes and symbolism, those are going to be tertiary.

People who are consuming a large portion of their narratives through games are going to be trained to expect fair and comprehensible rules to be part of the package. Come to think of it, genre fiction has a lot of the same features. The fantastic is grounded by having an internally consistent set of rules (for tech, magic, superpowers, etc.) and readers tend to feel cheated when they are not followed or are poorly designed or explained.

Magical realism, symbolism, and metaphor need not be so internally consistent. Poetry works fine without comprehensible rules. Good authors can be unfair to their characters in all kinds of ways. There can still be a line between literature and pulp novels (not that there can't be interchange between them).
posted by rikschell at 6:10 PM on February 25 [4 favorites]


star gentle uterus:

I think, in fact, that you have got it exactly backwards. QANON and other conspiratorial thinking works the same way the Satanic Panic thinking did:

... fundamentalist forms of religion ... collapsed [mythos & logos] into one ... because the Bible is the Word of God and every word of it is true, and true means materially and logically and scientifically true. ...Every piece of proof that [contradicts the Bible] had to be “debunked” in the world of logos, or at least an imitation of it

The author perhaps makes things a little confusing by suggesting that fundamentalists are logos operators only. It's the collapse of one into the other, the mistaking of mythos for logos and the application of logic to prove the illogical, so to speak.

As you say: this imposition of meaning on the random jumble of information that births conspiratorial thinking. If you observe any person, organization, etc. long enough, patterns and tendencies will inevitably emerge. You can then assign meaning to those patterns, and build up your edifice from there.

That is logos in action: empirical observation leading to the formation of a theory. That is pretty much exactly what the author describes as the operation of an impoverished logos that imagines itself to be a direct, accurate representation of reality, not recognizing the mythic structures upon which it is founded.
posted by Saxon Kane at 7:43 PM on February 25 [6 favorites]


I know the shows the author said were too focused on minutiae, but I'm not sure what works of art they would hold up as good examples.
posted by rebent at 8:05 PM on February 25 [1 favorite]


A good read but I got derailed early with the emphasis of logos over mythos in American evangelism. It's a good and interesting suggestion that fundamentalists had Satanic panic over Dungeons and Dragons because of their failure to take the play with demons and gods as anything but literal. And the author does emphasize the dual nature, that fundamentalism is simultaneously logos and mythos. But in morbid fascination over QAnon, I've been mulling over just how mytho-poetic American Evangelism is.

That there's a lot of submerged subconscious myths some attach to religion, associations with white supremacy, or nationalism. Or just the way that the elevated and archaic language of the King James Version gives a certain feeling that the text didn't always convey. Calling clothes "raiment" makes them seem special and significant and dramatic. The way that American Christianity connotes normalcy, continuity with authorities of nation and family, in a way Roman Christianity pre Constantine did not. While Biblical parables were obviously MEANT to be interpreted allegorically, at the same time fundamentalists / evangelists are making conceptual leaps that Cyrus the Great was to ancient Persia as Trump is to America.

The cartoon accompanying the main link includes David Lynch, and I've been following Twin Peaks fandom, and have been continuously annoyed by how many fans try to uncover that one trick that decodes the series. When it's obvious that the whole thing was meant to be evocative, that Lynch threw in fragments of dreams or transcendental meditation sessions or just whatever occurred to him on the set.

Though the youtube algorithm has been sending me towards less logos-centric deconstructions of pop culture. There appears to be a cottage industry not just of nitpicking plot points in the Dark Knight trilogy, but of delving into the psychology of Heath Ledger's Joker.
posted by Schmucko at 9:23 PM on February 25 [2 favorites]


"I think you have it exactly backwards: conspiratorial thinking is almost purely born out of "mythos", to use the article's terminology"

I think the article might highlight a mythos-then-logos vs. a logos-then-mythos way of being.

If you start with a mythos -- say, Genesis being "true" but not literally true -- you can say, Here are some important things about the world: God repeats six times that it is "good." God creates the world. God considers mankind a partner in creation. And if your study of the "logos" of the world proceeds from there, you can end up a very comfortable super-Christian biologist who studies and teaches evolution, because God said all this shit was good and that mankind is a partner in it, so mankind should study it and find out WTF is going on.

But if you start with a logos (here is the world as it is, and it requires explaining VIA GOD) and you must CREATE a mythos, things get messy fast. "SATAN PUT DINOSAURS HERE TO LIE TO US BECAUSE GOD ALWAYS TELLS THE TRUTH BUT SATAN IS MORE POWERFUL THAN GOD IN LIMITED BUT IMPORTANT AND FUCKED-UP WAYS!"

Mythos-then-logos says "These are the things that are good, let's find out what is true." Logos-then-mythos says, "These are the things that are true, let's tell people what is good."

As I read this article, it seems over and over to say, if you take this "mythos" as "logos," you end up in insane places where you're insisting pi = 3 (yo Indiana!). But if you take this mythos as mythos, and then separately seek the logos and ask how the two relate, you end up in interesting theological places. (Or spiritual or mystical or literature-ish places, as you prefer.)

I deeply feel this article, because my master's thesis was on recognizing pregnancy in liturgy in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. (Spoiler: THEY ALL DO A VERY SHIT JOB OF IT, YAY PATRIARCHY!) I interviewed a ton of pregnant people, in a variety of religious traditions -- and in no traditions -- and talked to them about their religious/spiritual experience of pregnancy. EVERY person I talked to had a religious or spiritual experience of pregnancy. BASICALLY NONE of them felt that experience was recognized in a cultural ritual within their belief system.

Perhaps I am reading into the article, but a mythos-then-logos person would say, "technology should serve the human person" and a logos-then-mythos person would say, "but I'm Elon Musk and I want to go to Mars?" (I kid, I kid.) But a mythos-first person says "These things are good and right," whether they got those things from religion or from philosophy or from thinking a lot about how people are in the world, and they seek to understand the logos, so that understanding can serve that ethical idea they received from the mythos. A logos-first person says "HERE ARE THE THINGS THAT ARE" and insist (in insane ways!) that the mythos must obey the logos, and if the mythos does not obey the logos, they must twist the logos until the mythos fits it. Like saying that dinosaurs are lies. The ethical commitments of logos-then-mythos will always be insane, because it will always insist upon an ethical story that doesn't arise from interrogating the world, but from saying "yo, the world makes no sense, here's a nutty story about the world, maybe this is ethics?" and the mythos-then-logos will say, "God said the world is good, so let's try to figure out in what ways exactly the world is good now that we know about bacteria, FUN GAME!"
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:54 PM on February 25 [15 favorites]


This is why Twin Peaks: The Return is my favorite television; it is impossible to reconcile to logic, but (for me at least) it is luminous.
posted by argybarg at 10:39 PM on February 25 [4 favorites]


I blame Tolkien for a lot. And Sherlock Holmes. Those appendices to LOTR, the languages, the thoroughly worked history and world... they provided a model for many imitators in fiction. And the obsessive Holmesians for their fans.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:05 AM on February 26 [2 favorites]


> The cartoon accompanying the main link includes David Lynch, and I've been following Twin Peaks fandom, and have been continuously annoyed by how many fans try to uncover that one trick that decodes the series. When it's obvious that the whole thing was meant to be evocative, that Lynch threw in fragments of dreams or transcendental meditation sessions or just whatever occurred to him on the set.

> This is why
Twin Peaks: The Return is my favorite television; it is impossible to reconcile to logic, but (for me at least) it is luminous.

I was also going to mention Lynch, and Twin Peaks, in my original comment, but it was already way too long and incoherent anyway.

So here's the thing: I think that reading a convincing explanation of the "plot" of Mulholland Drive (I think linked from here a long time ago) after having already watched it several times has kind of spoilt the movie for me, in ways that are much more important than an actual plot spoiler. I used to slide off the meanings behind it and the hints at a greater meaning, and now I'm like "oh, it was just a frustrated actress's dream" or something. A lot of the mystery has been stolen by collapsing it into mere logos.

And thinking of it, spoiler alerts are themselves a symptom of the pathology of plot over everything? You never see a spoiler alert for some brooding Swedish arthouse film that goes "SPOILER: all life is fickle and contingent and the ultimate fate of everyone and everything you love is the void", and it kind of wouldn't spoil it that much even if you did read that, right?

(That said, in the right hands it can be fun and even a little transgressive when fiction bleeds off the page and into the real world, or is engaged with more seriously than was intended. Is Holmes a real detective? Are the Rosicrucians meeting up in a museum in Paris? What is the Club Dumas? Etc. It's someone taking the tiring and obsessive world building of Tolkien and turning it on its head, a la The Last Ringbearer. I feel like that kind of stuff has been done to death recently, and it's a trick that only works when it's fresh and surprising, but when someone pulls it off it's kind of fun.)
posted by chappell, ambrose at 3:14 AM on February 26 [7 favorites]


"Don't substitute feeling for knowing, and don't substitute knowing for feeling"?
posted by Nutri-Matic Drinks Synthesizer at 5:26 AM on February 26 [5 favorites]


I freely confess I will have to read the article later but just skimming the thread I wanted to say a couple of things:

But they underplayed the tragedy of the American 1980s Satanic Ritual Abuse moral panic; a few deluded individuals made insane false accusations which utterly ruined the lives of many innocent people, and then skulked back into the background after the dust settled...

As much as I adore the You're Wrong About-style looking back at the SRA moral panic (which I think doesn't completely fall into the trap I'm about to outline but I'm waiting for Marshall's book), it continually appalls me that people are recasting that time as some kind of random moral fuss that resulted in good people being accused of things.

Because yes, that's certainly true, but it entirely ignores what came before that which was that women, in particular, started talking about actual abuse that they had experienced - remembering that first Freud identified childhood sexual abuse trauma, but then couldn't believe (!!) how many women were reporting it so decided that it was hysteria.

The SRA thing was in response to the very real and scary shift from where abusers could rely on secrecy, and it was a way of overtaking the true narrative (boring, ordinary men using children for sexual pleasure, beating them, etc.) and then shutting a lot of the discourse down.

For example, much easier for ministers to be casting Satan out of eccentric parishioners than examining the abuse actually going on within church power structures.

That Satanic Ritual Abuse thing seems pretty close to QANON.

I think it is and I think it's actually very similar in that the Occupy movement, etc., started to point out the ordinary abuses of capitalism and late-stage capitalism and structural inequalities and the way politicians have removed themselves from the concept of service to citizens and now see themselves in service of capital. So now that dawning realization has been been taken over and skewed to become the Deep State, tying it to SRA through pedophilia and developing all kinds of wild theories, while the very ordinary oppression continues.

Anyways I do look forward to reading the piece and re-engaging later.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:28 AM on February 26 [11 favorites]


warriorqueen: I think it is and I think it's actually very similar in that the Occupy movement, etc., started to point out the ordinary abuses of capitalism and late-stage capitalism and structural inequalities and the way politicians have removed themselves from the concept of service to citizens and now see themselves in service of capital. So now that dawning realization has been been taken over and skewed to become the Deep State, tying it to SRA through pedophilia and developing all kinds of wild theories, while the very ordinary oppression continues.

There's definitely something to this, but I think you're getting the cause and effect backwards. At least in the case of QAnon, a message board troll invented the conspiracy. The conspiracy was amplified by other trolls until it reached public consciousness, at which point it blew up among (in *chan board parlance) "normies." Your theory definitely seems compelling as to why QAnon caught on among a certain cohort, but it didn't occur because of any sort of attempt to point out the hypocrisy and remove of our elected officials. QAnon occurred because a group of trolls deliberately manipulated the media to make it happen.
posted by SansPoint at 7:15 AM on February 26 [2 favorites]


QAnon occurred because a group of trolls deliberately manipulated the media to make it happen.

That's a really good point - although I would say that those kinds of forces exist all the time (maybe not with the same capacity) and how/why they catch on to the level of my father in law spewing them may be more complex.
posted by warriorqueen at 7:29 AM on February 26 [2 favorites]


I blame Tolkien for a lot. And Sherlock Holmes. Those appendices to LOTR, the languages, the thoroughly worked history and world...

True, Tolkien's world was thoroughly worked out but, to his credit, he threw a Bombadil in there and blew up perfect coherence.
posted by paper chromatographologist at 9:04 AM on February 26 [2 favorites]


I really liked this. 100% correct on so much internet discourse and fan dynamics these days.

Also like the point about the old New Atheism fad. As an atheist, but one who grew up in a fairly liberal tradition, it always bothered me how half of the Dawkins or PZ Myers approach back in the day seemed to be insisting that the fundamentalist approach to religion was the correct one, and think people who approach it from the mythos perspective were being disingenuous.

Unrelated: I remember a stage in my teens where I tried to find "depth" in artistic works I didn't really understand by reading for clues as to the true plot. As if that was the only level there was. (God, that's embarrassing and I'd completely forgotten about it. I should hate this article for making me remember that!)

I think a relate can happen with nonfiction too. The sort of pieces that revel in meandering through various aspects of a subject don't do well if you think everything is a sort of five paragraph essay, only longer. But I've seen people react by imagining a one sentence thesis, then reading the rest and shaking their head about how weak the supporting evidence is. It's really hard to talk people out of this--"Well, what's the point then?" Sometimes the point is that things are too complex to have a single point of view about, I guess.
posted by mark k at 9:19 AM on February 26 [6 favorites]


it always bothered me how half of the Dawkins or PZ Myers approach back in the day seemed to be insisting that the fundamentalist approach to religion was the correct one, and think people who approach it from the mythos perspective were being disingenuous.

Exactly! The New Atheists and the fundamentalists are two sides of the same coin, and neither of them are all that good at reading texts.
posted by Saxon Kane at 9:43 AM on February 26 [4 favorites]


MetaFilter: threw a Bombadil in there
posted by elkevelvet at 9:49 AM on February 26 [2 favorites]


Exactly! The New Atheists and the fundamentalists are two sides of the same coin, and neither of them are all that good at reading texts.

Armstrong talks about this quite a bit in 'The Case for God', she lumps them both together for forcing figurative concepts into literal contexts. They try to force everything to be literal, even metaphors (which seems like a symptom of psychological imbalance). The other thing that new atheists and religious fundamentalists have in common is feeling personally offended by the thought of anyone else thinking differently from their personal doctrine.

Of course the top essay is about the same ideas but approached from a different angle.
posted by ovvl at 10:11 AM on February 26 [2 favorites]


We need these kinds of rituals and segmentations so we can understand our own life as more than just a jumble of events.

This reminded me so much of Terry Pratchett's Death talking about why people need stories (or legends/myth/religion). I've seen the television adaptation more recently tha and I've read the book, but in the Hogfather where he talks about the difference between the sun coming up, versus a MERE BALL OF FLAMING GAS WOULD HAVE ILLUMINATED THE WORLD.
posted by Fence at 10:35 AM on February 26 [1 favorite]


Okay I have finally read the piece and I really liked it - it dovetails with my own beliefs around humans' need for narrative and meaning very well. I'm writing a fantasy trilogy now so am 100% biased.

I agree with the lumping of evangelical thinking (I would have said fundamentalist) into logos. I had a weird experience when I was thinking of converting to Catholicism (spoiler: I did not) where the priest in charge of my course spent a fair amount of time trying to explain how the Red Sea literally parted due to planetary movement and I was so sad; it was like faith had been sucked out of the room.

Thank you for sharing it!
posted by warriorqueen at 10:39 AM on February 26 [3 favorites]


I loved this article. It gets at one of many aspects of what I find so infuriating about fandom and makes me think in particular of the reddit fandom around one of my favorite podcasts ever, Tanis. Once it was clear there were no "this is how it all makes sense" answers for the mysteries, the fandom turned rabid and the subreddit devolved in such vicious and utterly pedantic and totally-missing-the-point hate listening that the creators stopped participating in it all together -- which was a huge bummer, because it was really cool to know that they were following the discussions.

I also think this article should be required reading for anyone who participates in, ahem, a Mefi Fanfare discussion.
posted by treepour at 10:42 AM on February 26 [1 favorite]


I think much of this comes down to setting audience expectations: if you frame your story like a whodunnit murder novel and then at the end you pull out "the murderer was SYMBOLISM" then your audience is going to be understandably frustrated. Mystery can hint at the sublime, the ineffable, but often authors (especially authors of serial fiction) retreat into mystery and obscurantism as a way to cover for a story they cannot figure out how to conclude in a satisfying manner.
posted by Pyry at 1:28 PM on February 26 [6 favorites]


I don't think I agree with this essay, to the extent that I understand it.

It's fun to think about things that could not possibly exist. It's also fun to poke at the details of the internal worlds represented in media that seem like they might exist. Not because (I hope) I'm too dumb to understand the difference between real things and imagined things. But, because it's fun to imagine that some of the imagined things are real things and then explore the consequences. It adds to, rather than takes away from, the experience. I understand why Star Trek has gravity everywhere. I don't understand why Star Trek has so little momentum. Talking about it is often a lot more interesting than the plots.

Pointing out the clearly intentional and symbolic unreality is media is a lot less fun, for me. But, it doesn't hurt me when other people do it.
posted by eotvos at 1:33 PM on February 26 [2 favorites]


if you frame your story like a whodunnit murder novel and then at the end you pull out "the murderer was SYMBOLISM" then your audience is going to be understandably frustrated...

That's exactly like Llosa's 'The Real Life of Alejandro Mayta', which is an interesting book with a frustrating ending.
posted by ovvl at 2:35 PM on February 26 [2 favorites]


Although I highly recommend reading Karen Armstrong, the Logos-Mythos split is a product of our post-modern era and merely identifies if one believes they are reading an historical text or a literary one. It doesn't work in a general context. One might ask where mental illness falls in this rubric and then watch the wheels come off. The study of history, which frames this theory, could use as many preserved words as it can find to gain understanding, where translating texts requires "logos" to even begin to reveal any mythos. Armstrong also engages in special pleading to align fundamentalists as "thoroughly modern" (and therefore not interested in going back to the past). The point is they don't want to go anywhere. Fundamentalists simply halt in place to stake their claim, and every such community exalts the dress and grooming fashions they froze in time as their identity. Intellectual "logos" commentary doesn't survive their purges, and authority is maintained from any confusion and ignorance. The fundamentalist point is about control. It began in clannish enclaves in the hinterlands that featured strict parenting for survival. Their offspring hates tolerance and they have the upper hand with their willingness to commit civic violence. The rule of law and its "logos" is the enemy of these dictators. Finally, ritual is a misunderstood phenomenon because the adherent is devotedly using it as a state of the art tool, hailing from mysterious origins, not from trial and error. It is modernly romanticized as magic from luxury or diversion, while our sense of aesthetics still enjoys art for its own sake rather than its ritual. For example, the secretive and oldest mystery cults of burial, rebirth and ritualized sacrament, identified with Dionysus/Osiris and still widely practiced today in Christianity, were also performed by the numbers, but originally as an imported agricultural method, obviously to beat the random odds of bad luck they couldn't figure or control. Naturally it occurred to them that true belief or loyalty was part of the formula.
posted by Brian B. at 12:45 PM on February 28 [1 favorite]


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