Saturday, July 19, 2008

Walter Wink's Structure of the myth

"In a typical segment, Bluto abducts a screaming and kicking Olive Oyl, Popeye's girlfriend. When Popeye attempts to rescue her, the massive Bluto beats his diminutive opponent to a pulp, while Olive Oyl helplessly wrings her hands. At the last moment, as our hero oozes to the floor, and Bluto in trying, in effect, to rape Olive Oyl, a can of spinach pops from Popeye's pocket and spills into his mouth. Transformed by this gracious infusion of power, he easily demolishes the villain and rescues his beloved. The format never varies. Neither party gains any insight or learns from these encounters. Violence does not teach Bluto to honor Olive Oyl's humanity, and repeated pummelings do not teach Popeye to swallow his spinach before the fight.

"The structure of the combat myth is thus faithfully repeated on television week after week: a superior force representing chaos attacks aggressively; the champion fights back, defensively, only to be humiliated in apparent defeat; the evil power satisfies its lusts while the hero is incapacitated; the hero escape, defeats the evil power decisively, and reaffirms order over chaos.

"The psychodynamics of the television cartoon or comic book are marvelously simple: children identify with the good guy so they can think of themselves as good. This enables them to project onto the bad guy their own repressed anger, violence, rebelliousness, or lust, and then vicariously to enjoy their own evil by watching the bad guy initially prevail. (This segment of the show actually consumes all but the closing minutes, and thus allows ample time for indulging the dark side of the self.) When the good guy finally wins, viewers are then able to reassert control over their own inner tendencies, repress them, and reestablish a sense of goodness. Salvation is guaranteed through identification with the hero.

"This structure cannot be altered. Bluto does not simply lose more often - he must always lose. Otherwise the entire view of reality would collapse. The good guys must always in. In order to suppress the fear of erupting chaos the same mythic pattern must be endlessly repeated in a myraid of variation that never in any way ulter the basic structure."

(From Walter Wink's Engaging the Powers. Fortress Press. Minneapolis, MN. 1992. p. 18-19)


Tom 1st said...

Do you think its a bad idea to let children watch such things? I'm beginning to wonder - b/c it seems to ingrain in them, at too early an age, the myth of redemptive violence.

dan said...


I have a friend who is letting his kid fight at like 3...and what's he teaching him about life? i