James Gandolfini died suddenly at 51. Tony Soprano will live forever.
This is the way national myths are. They are forever. Too often mistaken for lies, national myths are usually quintessential collective beliefs which people embrace for important reasons. To be enthralled ….inspired… united….motivated… in general to help them understand the best there is to understand about their country and themselves.
The American scholar Joseph Campbell was expert at identifying and explicating national myths. He found them in every culture in every age. From the first tribes to the earliest Persian, Egyptian, and Greek civilizations, to our own times. Gods, goddesses, creatures from the seas, creatures from the heavens, along with the illustrious from out of our own ranks. But most of all he found humanity’s myths in the embellished lives of our celebrated ancestors.
Tony Soprano was a myth of historic proportions, because he represented the modern edition of our traditional love/hate feeling for the outsider, the lawbreaker, the one whose fist is made of iron but whose heart beats with compassion. The Brits have Robin Hood, the Spaniards El Cid, we have everyone from Davie Crockett to Kit Carson, Jesse James to Al Capone, Stanley Kowalski to Tony Soprano.
Some myths are manufactured, like the “master race” taught by Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels. Others are portrayed like “the only good Indian is a dead Indian” or “Blacks are inferior to Whites” in old Hollywood movies. Such myths fit the purpose of their times and the agenda of their masters. Most, however, simply happen:
* many are born from out of deeply felt needs so that their advocates can identify with what is important in our all too brief existence [for instance the wondrous Biblical tales of Bethlehem, the Puritans in New England, Washington at Valley Forge, Lincoln emancipating the slaves, FDR grappling with the Great Depression, Patton crushing the Nazis, Kennedy bringing us Camelot; none are lies for each is powerfully larger and more essential than a mere lie]
* many are born from out of deeply felt fears so that their advocates can reassure themselves they are not losers [a fear that can be cheaply quenched by deciding those around you are inferior; by their race, religion, economic status or whatever else your fears can find]
* others are born out of historical facts which beg for an exciting back story in which we can wrap our own dull lives [consider what we have done with the stories of Columbus, Pocahontas, Jefferson, Jackson, John Brown, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Charles Lindbergh, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, Bill Gates, and Ronald Reagan]
Myths exist everywhere, including in our very own after-dinner stories about “the guy I almost married,” “the big game I almost scored,” and “the career I almost had.” However, national myths reach far beyond the dinner table, for they can send armies into wars, men into space, or you and I into specially marked futures….
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