Carnival of Loss

Much of the media we consume is self-consciously mythic, which doesn’t necessarily mean it has swords and wizards, although obviously some of it does. It means it fills the role of myth.

Back before culture was lifted out of space-time, before wrist watches abstracted and idealized time and a money economy abstracted and idealized value, myth-making was so integral to the social order that it was restricted to a special few and the myths themselves were highly conserved. New stories about the Buddha or King Arthur did appear, but often with decades- or centuries-long gaps between, and not without a deep understanding of the canon.

Once myth-making became a commodity, something distanced from the “hegemonic cultural narrative” — the way people in a culture collectively see the world (as linear versus circular, for example) — it is appreciated as superficial. We think we think Game of Thrones is just a book-turned-TV series.

But the cognitive necessity of myth-making means we still appropriate it deeply, even if we don’t think we do. It just doesn’t have a very long half-life. The new myths aren’t so much abandoned as simply fade away like a decaying atom: brief and brilliant life followed by a long and unnoticed senescence. By definition, we aren’t aware of the myths we’ve forgotten, only those near-to, which is why we experience that flash, that epiphany, whenever someone mentions something we haven’t heard in forever. “Ah! I remember that!”

Of course, some myths well and truly die. A rarer few seem to be immortal — or at least incredibly long-lived. Most simply linger. They stop bobbing above the surface and slip unnoticed into the depths of the collective unconscious, where they wait to be stirred.

This is what makes contemporary culture a carnival. Every tent is the most exciting thing — for five minutes. When it’s all over, little of it persists. But it doesn’t entirely disappear.

It is no longer our collective experience of the same carnival, over and over every year, that binds us, as it did in pre-modern societies. Rather, it is our shared experience of many carnivals, the “what-it’s-like-ness” of being a carnival-goer. We’re all fans of something, even if we’re not fans of the same thing.

I don’t wonder if that’s why so many people these days are writers and filmmakers. Yes, I’m sure it helps that the barriers to entry are almost zero, but I suspect people are also attempting to replace something they would have gotten through the antics of Krishna without having to treat a deliberate fantasy as if it were an organic truth. We want others to experience our myths.

If true, it suggests a sort of feed-forward mechanism where, as more and more myths are made, experience of them will be shared by fewer and fewer people, and we will retreat still further into the aether, into narrower and narrower self-made myths, which would further explain why so many people are compulsively self-expressive and yet what they express is loneliness and despair.

So we each sit alone outside our own carnival, waiting for passers-by.

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