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The Caucasian Satanists, Harry Potter and the Michigan Avenue Bridge

February 16, 2012

Four things (at least) I did, saw, read, heard yesterday inspired this entry.

Exhibit 1: I checked into Foursquare on the Michigan Avenue Bridge yesterday morning. The check-in linked to the Wikipedia article that demonstrates the significance of the structure:

Exhibit 2: From The Orientalist: Solving the Mystery of a Strange and Dangerous Life by Tom Reiss:

Exhibit 3:

Exhibit 4: While I was reading The Orientalist, in the seats behind me a woman read to her 4- or 5-year old son from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone about Harry’s Christmas at Hogwarts, the gift of the invisibility cloak and the Mirror of Erised/Desire.

What links these 4 in my affections? Mythology.

I like mythology which I define as

  • Origin tales of places and peoples
  • Stories that explain why things are
  •  Shared knowledge that links people into cultures or communities.

Melek Taus, chief deity of the Yahzidi

The story of the Golden Peacock is straight on mythology. It gives the metaphysical reason for Jezid, or Yazidi, to exist. It explains their religion and answers the question “why are we here?” To keep Hell from re-igniting. It’s a generous public service they perform for all mankind. Yazidi still live in the Caucasus, Turkey and Syria.

The Michigan Avenue Bridge is a special place because…choose your reason.

  • The southern approach is on the site of Fort Dearborn—the birth place of the big shouldered metropolis
  • The sculptures that honor the heroes and perpetually retell the story of Chicago
  • Scenes from The Blue Brothers and Transformers were shot here. And it is seen in countless other films and TV episodes
  • It is the first double-decker draw bridge and progenitor of a number of engineering innovations

In short, the bridge is a touchstone for civic memory and modern culture. It’s a myth made of stone and steel.

The bridge as transformed in Transformers 3

What is the story Christian Bale and Gerard Butler re-enact for the children in the first reel of Reign of Fire? It’s Star Wars, the great epic —the Aeneid and Mahabharata— of our time. It tells a huge tale, explains why things are, gives biographies of larger-than-life characters and offers a mode of living (The Way of the Jedi).  Seeing the films is an experience shared by hundreds of millions of people. Knowledge of the plots, characters and memorable lines unites citizens of every country and speakers of every language into a common culture. One thing we all know: SW1 Phantom Menace is still a bloody awful movie. 3-D won’t save it. (The entire Anakin trilogy should be remade by Peter Jackson, Steven Spielberg and Steven Daldry from scripts by Dustin Lance Black, Larry McMurtry and Alan Moore).

There is another connection between Exhibits 1 and 3: After southbound passage on the bridge, the second building on your left is named Old Republic.

The Galactic Senate met here on Michigan Avenue before Palpatine destroyed the Jedi.

Fans grow and embellish Potter mythology with their own contributions such as NicoPony’s “Mirror of Erised”.

The seven Harry Potter novels by JK Rowling continue to be a powerful cultural influence on younglings worldwide. Not all of the mythology is in the books (or films) some existed only orally such as Snape’s relationship to Lily Potter and Dumbledore’s sexuality, although the former was codified in book 7. More importantly, millions of people are united by their knowledge of Harry-lore. Hogwarts and the wizarding world have a life outside the control of Rowlings as fans use it to express or define themselves. The characters are role models as potent as Achilles, Arjuna, Roland and other (often forgotten) heroes of old.

Part of what I heard yesterday was Dumbledore and Harry discussing the enchanted cheval glass. The boy asks his mentor what he sees in the mirror and intuits that the old wizard isn’t telling the truth. However, through the “oral tradition” we can now fill in the blank: Dumbledore sees himself living with Tom Hardy in a rose covered Cotswald cottage.

Mythology is all around us and influencing us every day. Its in catch phrases we repeat to each other and the archetype status of contemporary social icons:

  • Martha Stewart = fastidious bitch
  • Donald Trump = ridiculous hair = pompous buffoon
  • Lindsay Lohan = hot mess

It’s in reality shows that turn nobodies (and vicariously ourselves) into gods. And in politics, of course.

It is even in science. The Big Bang Theory—something out of nothing via violent cataclysm—explains our Zeitgeist better than it explains the universe. American Idol, David and Goliath, Karate Kid and the birth of these United States of America are variations of the same “Zero to Hero” tale.

Mythology will be the next big thing in marketing. More on that another time.

Cosmological model or myth, The Big Bang explains everything from bending time to The Karate Kid.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 22, 2014 9:19 pm

    LOL. Bullcrap!

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