Monday, March 5, 2018

Manic Mondays: American Folk Heroes

*Note: I'm going to try not to break the format of Manic Mondays, but since this is the first one, I figure I should give it a brief explanation. Manic Mondays are going to be stream of consciousness posts every Monday. Whatever I'm thinking on from waking up to finishing that second cup of coffee. Raw thoughts, you've been warned.*

I'm in my local community orchestra (Trombone players for the win) and one of the pieces we're currently working on is Copland's John Henry. It's a pretty well done piece, covering the whole battle between John Henry and the machine.

It got me thinking about the mythology of modern America. We don't have anything like Prometheus or Set or Asgard. But what we do have is a collection of folk heroes and mytho-historical figures. There's fair evidence Paul Bunyan might have been real, but he certainly wasn't many stories tall, and he didn't make the Great Lakes…and Babe the Blue Ox was most likely included when Bunyan became a marketing and tourism figure.

Pecos Bill, Johnny Appleseed, and of course John Henry himself. Maybe they existed, maybe they didn't. Some of them probably didn't at all. All of them were tweaked over time and retellings in the past 200 years or so.

Because my brain does these things, I extrapolated. If I was an alien, what would I see as the mythology of our modern developing American society? The first thing that came to mind was Slenderman, and I stand by that. A figure that stories are told about by a lot of people in a lot of ways. Slenderman is public domain, so anyone can tell stories about him. Extrapolating from there, you can pretty much include all the internet urban legends into "Post Modern American Mythology 101" for Zaknar the Oblivion to spend lots of Martian Dollars on in college.

On top of that: 200 years from now, who will Americans themselves look back on and see as these semi-mythic figures? My first thought was a shaved-headed Latinx bisexual teenager who saved the children of America when no one else would. Maybe a tall, bald black man who wears dresses and wigs and made America love gay people, whether they wanted to or not. Maybe someone who hasn't been born, or we haven't really realized will be important yet.

Any thoughts on our upcoming folk heroes? I'm curious what people from different sorts of lifestyles think about this. Folk heroes start as heroes of one subculture. John Henry did. Paul Bunyan did. High John the Conqueror did. So let me know. Educate me.

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