Have you noticed the plethora of fairy tale remakes or reinterpretations lately? Everywhere you turn around in popular media you see an evil queen, a virgin heroine, an unsuspecting hero, or a wised mentor helping to overcome the forces of darkness. Is it coincidence, or an allegory for the times in which we live? Well, it is no coincidence.
There won’t be many who disagree that as we become more “social,” we also become more distracted. As we engage in more multitasking behavior, we train ourselves to spend less and less time on each activity. What is interesting is the reciprocal reaction we have to this behavior.
Call it a craving; just like we sometimes crave a certain food as our body tells us we are lacking something, our brains crave a release from the disconnected onslaught of social media behaviors. We crave familiarity, we crave connection . . . we crave myths, fairy tales, and fantasy.
To know why we need Snow White or “Once Upon a Time,” we should quickly understand what social media does to us, explore what myths provide us, and what to do (next) about it.
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Social Distracts Us:
We probably don’t need a wealth of proof-points here – we see it and feel it in our daily lives. Highly-rated social blogger and speaker Jeff Bullas had some great statistics on how fragmented we are in our daily lives as a direct impact from social behavior. Similarly, a review of this great infographic shows our attentions spans waning from (on average)12 minutes down to 5 minutes.
If you can find the time to think about it, it is fairly obvious. Whereas we used to occupy brain space on everything from “to do lists” to birthday reminders to important phone numbers and all of our daily tasks, we now have Evernote, Facebook, smart phones, and a wealth of apps to manage that for us. Which means we can spend more time on absorbing every instantaneous happening around us. We now know a little about everything, but nothing about anything.
There is nothing inherently wrong with our new reality. It has both positives and negatives. However, we are not natively wired this way, so our brain is telling us we need something – we have a craving.
Fairy Tales Connects Us:
Professor and Mythologist Joseph Campbell understood the power of the myth. First witting on the topic in 1949, he gained wider popularity in universities in the 1960s for his ideas around monomyths or what is more typically called “The Hero’s Journey.” Campbell studied myths and stories from most regions and civilizations in history. He quickly discovered that the components for these myths were all exactly the same.
Put another way, no matter where you were in the world, or in what time, the stories told ALL followed the same framework. While the journey has 17 stages, it can be broken down like this:
An unlikely hero is unwillingly thrust into a land of supernatural wonder and confronted with some new evil which they are unable to battle alone. Retreating they find the help of some wised mentor who shows them how they have the power to defeat evil. Imbued with this new use of power, the hero goes on to defeat evil and bestow the bounties of this journey on their fellow man.
George Lucas and Arthur C. Clarke directly attribute “Star Wars” and “2001: A Space Odyssey” to their study of Campbell. We have also just described the collective works of every Pixar movie, “Indiana Jones,” “E.T.,” “Rocky,” “Tom Sawyer,” “The Hobbit,” “The Lion King” and just about every other Disney animated film. The genre accounts for $1.1 Trillion in box office over the last 3 years, and now has two top rated shows on TV.
As we become more disconnected from social, we crave familiarity. We crave stories to which we can relate. We crave connection.
Storytelling is Essential:
Social media and our behaviors are not going away. We will adapt to it as new technology and new demands evolve. Not surprisingly, fairy tales are not going away either. With big budget movies like “The Wizard of Oz,” “The Hobbit,” and Maleficent in the works, and the recent successes of book series like “The Hunger Games”, we will see more and more of this connective storytelling. We require something to ground us. These common stories – myths, fairy tales, fantasy – all have those connective elements and bring us together in a very human way.
Now that you have read this, you will see monomyths everywhere in popular media. You can’t escape seeing it. It is like having your eyes opened from “The Matrix.” Hey, wait a minute . . . that’s another great example.