A recent book that insightfully discusses the defining mythos of America is The Myth of the American Superhero [John Shelton Lawrence and Robert Jewett, Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2002] The authors discuss manifold expressions of that myth, from The Virginian, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and the Lone Ranger, to Spiderman, Jaws, Batman, Star Trek, and Star Wars. Numerous details about these stories are examined and thoughtfully compared with one another. The book runs into trouble, however, when they try to evaluate the results of their discussion in terms of an arche, or some basic standard. So I guess it would be more accurate to describe the book as both insightful and clueless.
What they call the American monomyth goes something like this: “A community in a harmonious paradise is threatened by evil; normal institutions fail to contend with this threat; a selfless superhero emerges to renounce temptations and carry out the redemptive task; aided by fate, his decisive victory restores the community to its paradisiacal condition; the superhero then recedes into obscurity” [p. 6].
The authors demonstrate this thesis of theirs, exhibited in American stories, over and over again. A remarkable consensus attends virtually all forms of American story-telling. In that sense this book is a real-eye opener.
One point where the authors collapse is their apparent inability to see that a good portion of the monomyth, as they describe it, runs closely to the biblical story of salvation. Eden is threatened, Adam doesn’t protect it, the world falls into rebellion, a selfless Savior renounces temptation, accomplishes salvation and ascends into heaven.
The other is that their core values appear to be “democratic consensus,” and the right of females to be sexually provocative without getting themselves eaten by a shark. The authors object to the Deuteronomic code that apparently governs most contemporary entertainment (“do bad things, bad things happen”), and they call for entertainment that is more nuanced than that. Well, as the angel of the Lord might have said to Sodom, “Nuance this.”