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Packaging Pop Mythology


Intellectual Fraud

Intelligent Design

Mega Fix

Ron Brown

Popes & Bankers

TWA Flight 800






Copyright © 1976 by John R. Cashill.

Ohlgren, Thos.H, and Berk, Lynn M.(eds), The New Languages: A Rhetorical Approach to the Mass Media and Popluar Culture. 1977. Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, (pp. 79-88)

     In all societies mythology makes the cosmos somehow more comprehensible. Myths narrate sacred history, explain sacred origins, elucidate the relationship of human beings to the whole of their reality. They are, in short, a series of beliefs that have a very real force in the life of a people. In contemporary America, however, most everything has been explained away by science, communications, social engineering, and the like. Within limits, though, there is imagination. We are not automatons quite yet. There still exists a mass of beliefs, values, fears, and dreams which may not decipher Americans' relationship to the universe, but which do shape the gritty clay of their everyday existence. We cannot exist without myths, and Americans are no exception. Theirs may be less profound and more profane than those of their ancient ancestors, but they are no less real.

     Regardless of the origin of the myth, be it indigenous or borrowed, American mass media have been willing to turn the energy of the myth to work, to make it pay its own way. The temptation, in fact, is to say that the mass media exploit American beliefs. American mythology, some media detractors claim, is pasteurized, processed, packaged in cellophane, and pushed off on the American public like so much Velveeta. There is, of course, truth to this claim. After all, some of America's most revered culture heroes, from Davy Crockett to Ronald McDonald, have been used to sell such items as T-shirts, wallpaper, soft drinks, movies, hamburgers,beach towels, vitamins, wastepaper baskets, and underwear.

     But we are what we eat. Either the American public consumes its own mythology, or it consumes an alien, artificial, and perhaps dangerous mythology of someone's devising. Of course, America's mythocultural diet might be more palatable were it not so bland, were it not all served with the same supposedly "special" sauce, but such are the drawbacks of democracy.

     Things are, though, the way things are. Thus, this essay will not attempt to prescribe or editorialize, but rather to probe an almost indefinable area: the relationship between myth and media.

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