As the wondrously long Friday at PCA continued, I got to attend a very exciting panel: Mythology in Contemporary Culture: Mythology and Technology. This panel featured three of my collegiate peers! They all did wonderful work.
Jody Bower discussed “Mythological Elements in Avatar : The Problem of Area and Technology.” She reminded us why the critics ripped the film apart: it supposedly demonstrated technology as bad and presented a white male as the rescuing figure of a minority race. Jody pointed out, however, that the film does show how technology has to be properly used; furthermore, by highlighting that Jake gets his life saved FIVE times by females, she showed us that he is definitely not the save-all hero of the film! Her mythological analysis proved that Cameron has been working out the Ares archetype since Terminator. Ares was controlled by Zeus, but Zeus has been displaced by rationality (Apollo). In Terminator, Cameron shows us what can happen, but in Avatar, he shows us another way. We ultimately learn to be wise about technology.
Rebecca Diggs whisked us away with “Stolen: Under the Electronic Cloak of Hermes.” She caught our attention by discussing a common night time ritual: going to sleep with our tv timers set. She said this is “our electronic usher to sleep and dream, an incantation to Hermes . . . a versatile god friendly to humans.” Rebecca examined a key power in quality television: the volume of time given to the development of multiple characters. As Hermes once used the turtle to create the lyre, he now steals and broadcasts dreams.
Finally, Lauren Howard discussed the disturbing reality of “The Mythological Impact of Reality Television on Contemporary Society” by looking specifically at The Real Housewives franchise. She opened our eyes by sharing that while the series targets the 18-49 year-old demographic, its largest audience consists of teenagers and children! The “sensationalization of reality” draws them in, especially since “basic reality no longer entertains kids.” This “hyper-reality” provides them with a type of wish fulfillment. I find it terribly unfortunate that this is the case, and am really surprised that so many parents are permitting this!
In the next panel I attended, Fairy Tales Re-imagined : Modern Fairy Tales Examined, there were a couple great presentations that brought us back to the wonderful worlds of Whedon.
In “Joss Whedon’s ‘Hush’ and Katy Towell’s Ida’s Luck: Female Voices as Power in the Modern Fairy Tale,” Kiani Pierce explored the image of the voiceless princess or damsel. She argued that “Hush” and Ida’s Luck establish the need for expression. At the time of the presentation, I was unfamiliar with dear little Ida or the brilliant Katy Towell. I have since seen the animated short and fallen in love! You can meet Ida in Part 1 and Part 2 of Ida’s Luck. Though I assume my readers are all familiar with Whedon’s work, I don’t want to say too much about the presentation because I don’t want to spoil Ida’s Luck if you haven’t had the pleasure of seeing it yet. I will say it is a wonderful complementary piece to Whedon’s “Hush.” And, here is a spoiler-free excerpt from Kiani’s synopsis on the PCA website:
“In these stories the female voice is used as a metaphor for power over evil, ignorance, and fear. When women are silenced they are unable to effect change and help society at large survive and thrive. The overtly feminist implications within both of these works demonstrate the evolution of the helpless fairy tale princess that needed masculine assistance to reach her full potential to the modern feminine model of independent heroine who is able to save both herself and her community.”
Next, Robin Nicks discussed “Sleeping Beauties, Slayers & Actives : What Joss Whedon Teaches us about Fairy Tales and Gender Roles.” Robin looked primarily at Buffy‘s “Halloween” and Dollhouse‘s “Briar Rose.” She discussed both the ideas of having the ability to save self and world as well as the importance of friends, which Buffy particularly so often comes back to. In “Halloween,” we get the Damsel Buffy who is confused by the modern world and the Army Xander who is hyper-masculine. Robin posits that these are examples of extremes that fairytales promote don’t work in the real world. We are presented, then, with a new ideal when Buffy’s 21st century personality is restored in she gets to kick ass in her old-fashioned costume dress. In “Briar Rose,” we are looking at the innocent active, Echo. She tells the story of Briar Rose and indicates that the prince is a dream, a dream that Briar Rose dreams to ultimately save herself. In this episode, Ballard acts as Echo’s prince, sneaking to her rescue. By the end of the series, however, the different men that have “tried to rescue or craft Echo” are no longer there. We are left with two powerful females: a greatly transformed De Witt and a self-actualized Echo, who has, like Briar Rose, rescued herself. Robin argues that Echo’s awakening functions as a metaphor for women’s empowerment.
In thinking about these different images and instances that Whedon presents us with, I started thinking about Buffy be presented as Little Red Riding Hood in both “Fear Itself” and “Helpless.” I think it is significant here that she is very specifically separated from the Scoobies and must perform her own self rescue. There’s a lot of fun ideas here to play with! I believe Robin said she’s working on this paper for publication; I can’t wait to see the final piece!