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Changing myths

Different generations see the world through different myths.
By Christopher L. Walton
Winter 2010 11.1.10

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The first television commercial I can vividly recall was the one I saw, at age 7, showing a golden robot on a white spaceship in the midst of a battle. I immediately turned to my mom and insisted that we see this new movie, Star Wars, which would exert a gravitational pull on my imagination unlike anything else in my childhood. Naturally, I wasn’t the only one captivated by Obi-Wan Kenobi, Darth Vader, and C-3PO; for many of my generational peers, Star Wars became part of the defining mythology of our time.

Different generations see the world differently, in part because our rapidly changing culture offers them subtly—or radically—different myths. When I was the youth advisor in a Unitarian Universalist congregation in the 1990s, some parents had developed a Coming of Age program for ninth-graders with The Wizard of Oz at its core. The film had mythic implications for some of the adults, who remembered it from their childhoods (they had seen it on TV, no doubt, sometime after its first TV broadcast in 1956), but it didn’t seem to grab the kids in the same way. Star Wars might not have, either; a few years later, however, the Harry Potter novels would have served beautifully.

Doug Muder’s cover story explores changes in another genre of American popular culture—comic book superheroes—to show how our generational expectations shape our understanding of Unitarian Universalism (see page 26). Muder grew up with superheroes like Superman, Spider-Man, and Batman, who had all been orphaned. He noticed, however, that the orphaned superhero has been replaced in the last few decades by the mentored superhero, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer (and her Watcher, Rupert Giles). UU churches that continue to promote themselves as homes for heretics who have walked away from other religious traditions may speak a familiar language to people who grew up with the same myths Muder’s generation embraced, but, he argues, today’s young adults have grown up with different myths and different expectations. They are looking for mentors and for a meaningful tradition to pass on to their own children.

Is the Letter to the Editor a dying genre? We receive fewer cogent letters in response to each issue—but not, apparently, because our articles aren’t provoking our readers to write. Some respond on their own blogs (see “Blog Roundup,” page 12), but readers can now post comments directly on individual articles on our website, uuworld.org, or join the conversation on our Facebook page, facebook.com/uuworld. We still love letters, of course, and hope you’ll let us know what you think. But do check out the online conversation, too.

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