The Hero’s Journey in the clutches of Market Capitalism: Where has the magic gone?

 

In the past few weeks, I have been mulling over the sheer paucity of mono-myths or the hero’s quest that used to energize people – the old, the young, the men and women around me. It is almost as if the inner realm of magical unfolding has dried up, leaving us, at best, feeling good about what the market has to offer to us – a relentless display of sugar-coated consumable nothings – that are neither sumptuous nor do these linger.

However the emptiness within is prone to get filled with fear, greed, and envy, and very quickly to – and the same array of consumable nothings become objects to express deep rage and aggression. There is a inveigled violence that gets unleashed in this process – a mindless silent attack on the context that leaves us feeling hollow and yet addicted to it.

Let me begin with the concept of mono-myth

One of many Jungian concepts that has impacted narratology and literary theory is the concept of the mono-myth or the heroic quest. As per the mono-myth, each of us has a potential to embark on a journey over many a challenging threshold and that offers us gifts – not necessarily for us but for the world we emerge from.

Popularized by Campbell, and beautifully crafted by George Lucas in his epic – Star Wars, the mono-myth or the heroic quest is a magical journey within. It is a quest that takes the individual beyond the comfort zone of mundane existence and normalcy (should I choose the red pill or the blue pill?), and into discovering a treasure after a series of do or die encounters with the Other – be it an understanding of oneself, or of love or the holy grail or healing or knowledge, and then bringing it back to offer to the world.

quest 2

The quest or the mono-myth has many a thresholds where the protagonist encounters trials and tribulations, receives guidance from old crones and wizards, discovers friends and most importantly learns to face up to his or her deepest fear that is often projected on the other. For instance, Luke Skywalker encounters Darth Vader in a dark cave, while training with his mentor, only to discover that the most terrifying enemy was he himself.

I agree with Campbell and many others including Phil Cousineau (in the 1990s) and Christopher Vogler (this millenium) who have argued that the inner quest lends us a sense of identity, channelizes our energy, and helps us make meanings that go beyond the atomized and deeply alienated self. The quest helps us manage our anxieties, our fears, and lends meanings to struggle and deprivations, wars that we win and battles that we lose, and a sense of continuity. Our myths and mythologies and even fairy tales carry the DNA of several mono-myths – for there is a diversity of the quest that lies within.

 

Impact of market capitalism & relentless consumerism

The hero’s quest or the mono-myth begins with a beckoner – a stranger who points to the world beyond the ‘normalcy’ of life. The stranger is both friendly and dangerous but like a beckoner – points to a possible ‘dream’. It is at this stage, the individual experiences the first double-bind – should I cross the threshold?

With market capitalism and consumerism in its wake – this threshold almost becomes insignificant for the dream / phantasy gets replaced by commoditized fantasies for sale. The market can offer ‘goodies’ for every strand of phantasy – and at several price-ranges. What is not harkened is the heroic resolve to cross the threshold but the individual’s monetary resources to buy the right fashionable goodie.

Let me quote an anecdote here that might explain what I am trying to say…

A relative in my extended family is getting married soon. After having been in a relationship over several years, she has finally committed to the institution of marriage. The threshold of marriage would also mean shifting to and living in a different country thousands of miles away from her home and parents. While this is very romantic for her – it also triggers anxieties and fears – a normal and expected set of emotions. It also, as the mono-myth goes, offers the first threshold of a quest for her and the invitation to build on a shared dream.

But consumerism can be a bitch!

Unlike the witch or the wizard that usually guards this threshold and offer well earned insights, consumerism offers a wide range of ‘goodies’ – from beautiful bridal wear fit for a queen, exquisite jewellery, brilliant wedding planners, exotic venues et al – goodies that embellish this threshold with materialistic vestiges – and at a price! The magical possibilities of consumerism makes my relative angry, disappointed and dejected – for she has to grudgingly acknowledge her financial constraints and turn away.

The accumulation of rage, disappointments, and envy at not being able to consume the best of the best also take her away from the real magic of the threshold. It is this abdication of the quest within that leaves me worried and frustrated. And I fear the objects offered by the market become imbued with her rage, envy, and greed, taking her energies further away from the quest within. As any irate consumer she punishes herself and her primary system for not being good enough to buy the best.

Consumerism with the promise of instant gratification has a way of de-railing each of us from our heroic quest.

Imagine Luke Skywalker opting to buy a virtual game that allows him to navigate space, pilot space-ships, and fight virtual wars with his virtual sword – a game that he would possibly buy by selling R2D2 in the market world.

quest 7

 

What is worse is the nature of messaging today… creative market researchers, advertisers, and behavioral economists seem to have mapped a large part of our minds today, and offer a product experience for each of the quest. You need a mountain dew to jump into deep water, a marlboro to venture into your own journey, a johnny walker to take strides within, and a raymond suit to substantiate yourself even if you offer water to a village in a desert.

Some of the mono-myths that have been sabotaged and illegitimized by market consumerism include:

Type of Mono-myth Impact of market capitalism & consumerism
The Quest for Identity (Who am I?) Don’t even bother to undertake such foolish quests –

Rule 1: “You are what you consume”

Rule 2: “You are a winner or a loser”

Rule 3: “You are what you own”

Rule 4: The world has to delight you …

 

The Search for Love & Intimacy You are better off with Lust and Greed and there is enough out there;

Rule 1: “You are not capable of being loved unless you look capable of being loved”

Rule 2: “Love or better still indulge thyself first, second, third … infinity”

The Search for Knowledge Are you willing to pay for it? Why not take a loan? Did you google for it? Is there potential for an IPR?
The Tragic Quest – Penance or Self denial You are scary!

See a shrink – better still try retail therapy!

The Battle of Good versus Evil Rule 1 – Don’t look at the enemy within; make the other the enemy – use variables such as color, gender, ethnicity, money etc.

Rule 2 – Don’t fight your own fears and anxieties for markets love to exploit these. Didn’t you know that fears make us greedy consumers.

Rule 3 – There is no such thing as Good – we are all selfish and evil; except that we don’t talk about it

Look at how ISIS has seduced many bored citizens from the westen world. In the act of consumption, do your real values and beliefs matter?

The Unhealable Wound – the search for Healing Can we productize the salve?

Can we trigger the wound in the first place? And then fill up the demand with product or service versions?

It is a strange irony that to preserve our inner quests – that fill us up with hope and excitement, passion and courage, we need to insulate these from how the market perceives it – almost hide it from the prying eyes and treasure the inward journey.

A few of us can do it perhaps – giving a language and symbology to the inner quest that remains pristine and untouched by consumerism babble.

But for many of us, the barrage of artificial and surrogate pleasures thrust in front of us, can take our attention from the internal world. Consumerism wins at the cost of exiling the Hero within…

 

Conclusion

quest 4

The only weapon that works in this losing battle is ‘Hope’ – it cannot be sullied easily – and it is hope that makes me believe that people around me would look within and cross the mono-myth’s thresholds to discover a treasure within.

One such pattern of mono-myths that I see around myself is – “Save the Earth”. There are narratives of people discovering many treasures within and coming back with resources for others that leave me in hope and in believing that this theme will bind us together as ice-caps melt, and summers rage, and fires burn, and water gets contaminated, and cancer grows, and so does mindless violence.

I would love to hear which mono-myths catch your attention and leave you with hope as well… the magic gets accessed with more such narratives – as we strive forward to create new mythologies for humanity.

 

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One thought on “The Hero’s Journey in the clutches of Market Capitalism: Where has the magic gone?

  1. Fears do make us greedy consumers. It is scary what marketing has done to the world around us. And won’t even begin to talk about the mono-myth of ‘healing’. 😉
    However, the journey within hasn’t ended. And magical realism does live on. I won’t let them die! That is why writers like Gabriel Garcia Marquez are still read. And that is also why the character of ‘Bogart’ features in Harry Potter’s world. A Bogart (probably derived from Humphrey Bogart) is also your worst fear and learning to fight it a part of your magical training. While you may discount the money-making enterprise Harry Potter’s world has become, the lesson remains.
    Personally, the worst such experience for me was watching these fauji-kid. Miss Indias becoming movie actors and then one of them singing- Das Rupaye me le gayi tera dil to a soap commerical for earning ‘a livelihood’- these women are actually embodiments of the myth of ‘who am I’ to so many young girls. The lyrics make make my skin squirm- it is such an insult to women and men and their choices alike. These myths then beget other myths and we live in these troubled times.
    Cheers to our weapons of Hope and Magic. 🙂

    Like

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