“Myth is much more important and true than history. History is just journalism and you know how reliable that is.”
― Joseph Campbell
We don’t sit around the campfire and talk about the day’s hunt anymore. No campfires, for one thing, but even more importantly, we hardly even talk. We have screens now. Television screens, computer screens, phone screens. We love screens.
Today, my family went see Les Miserables on the big screen and I owed my 16 ear old son an explanation. James took one for the team, his Mom, his big sister and I are all wanna be theater geeks and we went to Les Mis with high expectations and excitement. James went with gritted teeth, he was ripped away from his PS3 screen and his surgically attached cell screen and forced to watch a combination opera and history lesson, while enduring a family outing. Merry Christmas big guy!
Les Mis gave all four of us what we were expecting. Three of us loved it. One didn’t. I tried to explain this to James on the way out: our society is the culmination of millions of human stories and Les Miserables has a message for us all. Redemption through love is an appropriate lesson for any period in history, we all need to be saved. Whether he likes musicals or not wasn’t the point; I wanted James, a somewhat sheltered kid, to see that misery is nothing new, that our acts have consequences and that circumstances can overwhelm people. Les Mis is a part of our mythology, delivered in a manner we understand, via a screen. Our method of passing myths on may have changed, but we still need them. We need stories as much as our ancestors around the campfire did.
Sure, I was hoping that James would freak out, like we did, when Ann Hathaway locked up an Oscar singing “I Dreamed a Dream” and I was hoping that he might notice that the theater had a longer line than any movie he’d ever seen, and maybe everyone was on to something. No such luck, he’s sixteen and not about to start playing show tunes on his IPod. I’m rooting for osmosis at this point. Les Mis is a story of ineffectual government, a failing economy, violence, people who cling to law and order to make sense of the world, a Father’s love, and even treachery. All things that should be familiar to him, things that show up on his screens everyday, even if it did come from a 200 year old story.
Story, as Aristotle said, helps us decide what kind of life we want to live and there are some stories that become a part of all of us, even if we haven’t heard them. My kids learned about hope and perseverance from the Lord of the Rings trilogy, they learned about loyalty from Star Wars, and bravery from Harry Potter. Our age is rich in story, there has never been more information at our fingertips, everything that comes at us through a screen, whether it is a mass shooting or a story of hope becomes a part of us.
Show stopping musical numbers aside, Les Miserables is a story for all of us, and I hope, somewhere in the future, that James will drag his sixteen year old son to see a classic story on Christmas Day, no matter how much he has to endure grumbling.
I can dream a dream, can’t I?