I only recently saw the movie ‘The Master’ by Paul Anderson (2012) and was again struck by both my recognition and distancing of the desolate, mad, desperate predicament of these men, and men in other U.S.A. movies, were entangled in. From my ‘practical mythology’ gaze U.S. Americans are excellent in glorifying what is, for me as a European male, ugly and frightening.
Frightening while we, The Dutch, have our own equivalent in the mythical image of The Flying Dutchman which we managed to remake into an airliner (KLM) with which we conquered the world and earn lots of money. But who takes mythological themes seriously, reading Walter Scott’s Rokey: a Poem (1812) or watching Richard Wagner’s opera Die Fliegende Höllander (1843), meets haunting stories too of ‘pirating, luting and kiling’ males. For what purpose?
This theme is no running gag in The Netherlands of this moment. It is deeply hidden somewhere. We have our own suppressed Winti’s (forgotten spirits) from the past.
From Rebel without a Cause (James Dean 1955), to Deer Hunter (De Niro 1978), through Falling Down (Michael Douglas 1993), into Solitary Man (Michael Douglas 2009) resonates the same haunting story.
Are movies, novels, plays, songs, art objects practical mythology in which unsolved cultural, collective, traumas return until the unbearable predicament is healed/resolved?
If this is the case … how is the USA male crisis a daunting, but learning, example for us Europeans?
We, the Dutch by our history and trading interests, are loyal vassals of the United States of America. But still we, a small finger-pointing, too racist and down-to-earth people, have some distance and a mind of our own in observing the ever present and dominant U.S.A. culture in our lives.
We Europeans are not U.S. of A. Americans.
Born just after WWII I am for nearly seven decades deeply influenced by the luring American Dreams of our liberators from North-America. My scientific career in (clinical) anthropology, pragmatism, and
Your arts, films, and pop-music are part of my cultural make-up but the tables have turned dramatically.
My thesis is that the USA is slowly sliding into her Waterloo created by herself. One of the deeply ugly sides is you have, for more than two-third of her existence, been in war with yourself or with almost everybody else in the world.
We Europeans, having some dark wars in our past too, are still in a favourable position compared to USA people. Their endemic ‘systemic errors’ has turned into moral (and economic) crises as bit deeper and bigger than ours.
Hence, fitting U.S.A.’s strength, they have solutions for problems which we in Europe have not yet to cope with and can still prevent.
The racist forms of symbolic/physical violence against red, yellow and black people are getting epidemic propositions. The school shootings, terrorist attacks and weapon related public violence damages basic rights of safety of citizens in numerous contexts.
All these issues can be gazed upon differently, in a paradigm shift, as presented visually in the images and narratives in The Master movie.
What we, both U.S.A.ers and Europeans, need is an anthropological gaze as proposed by a British ‘cybernetic social scientist’ who found a ‘free thinking second home’ in North America during and after WWII until his death in July 1980: visionary ‘bicolour’ Gregory Bateson.
Practical mythology in anthropological terms is that any intergenerational reproducing family, community, culture, people, nation, empire is inclined to store, remember and repeat endured and self-created traumas in their mythological memories and memorials until it has reconciliated these and may enter an age with a cleaner moral and less troubled slate. And we all may at last go home safely.
If we watch Paul Thomas Anderson’s mythological epos as deep longing of the USA male soul to come clean with her haunting past it will become possible not enter/create new collective traumas.
But there are big issues at stake both different and similar in Europe and U.S.A.
It is e.g. about generations of deep troubled masculinities, of both our own males and the males we colonized, ridiculed and kill in bizarre distant wars, running amok and everybody suffers.
It is about generations emancipated women, who want husbands and fathers for their (unborn) children but cannot see that they are able to play a decisive role in stopping these generations of masculinities in deep shit.
Anthropology in 120 years of thousands of ethnographic studies revealed that female worlds are, in the end, leading how to preserve and foster our future generations in harmonious ways. But without males, revered and valued for their indispensable faculties as biological/emotional/cultural fertilizers/impregnators and genuine protectors of our children/families/communities. And not fighting and dying in some, other peoples, war leading nowhere.
Gregory Bateson, British citizen, worked, part of WW II, in the ‘distorting communications war’ department ‘against’ the Japanese. After the war he married the later iconic anthropologist Margaret Mead and both dependent and autonomous performed their fieldwork research. Their daughter Mary Catherine Bateson became an anthropologist too and co-published posthumously with he father a book dedicated to solved these unbearable vicious circles in which marriages, families, communities and nation-states can run into and tend to annihilate themselves: Angels Fear: Towards and Epistemology of the Sacred (1987).
This family of anthropologists embody(ied) and live(d) hope giving examples of stepping out of vicious circles of our man-made disasters inherited from this and former generations.
The example from which we can learn how to prevent haunting mythological themes and ghosts are indigenous peoples who, in their rituals visit their Ancestors, listening in what they as Living Humans tend to forget.
My arti-fact ‘Aisa & Kaku‘ tries to grasp this reality and wisdom. in order not to forget and attempting to restore.