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What Is Modern Mythology?

By G. Wiesen
Updated May 23, 2024
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Modern mythology refers to characters and images that remain popular and in use in modern writing, entertainment, and popular thought which have gained a mythological stature or nature due to such works. This term is often used to refer to various works in popular culture, such as comic books, as the characters within them often seem to emulate many of the models of heroism and stories found in ancient mythological systems and stories. Modern mythology can also contain people who have lived in recent memory, who may be lifted to a status that seems to fit the heroes or legends of ancient myths and can include folk heroes as well.

One of the main distinctions between modern mythology and ancient mythology is that the events or figures in more modern works remain in circulation or exist today. These characters and stories have typically been created or written about in the last few hundred years, rather than the thousands of years that often separate the present from ancient myths. The characters or events that popularize such myths often emulate modern values or ideas, but do so in a way that still resembles the characters and stories used in ancient myths and legends.

Comic book characters, for example, are often considered a part of modern mythology. The various superheroes and similar characters found in comic books are often compared to mythological heroes such as Hercules or Perseus, with strengths and weaknesses that are frequently depicted as legendary and are emblematic of mythological heroes. Pop culture figures, including celebrities from the past few decades or century, can also be considered figures in modern mythology. Many of these people have lived lives that are somewhat unbelievable, and stories about these people are often exaggerated and expanded upon until they become legendary and turn such people into “larger than life” figures.

There are also a number of folk heroes and characters that are often considered a part of modern mythology, many of which are tied to particular cultural or national tales. In the US, for example, figures such as John Henry, Johnny Appleseed, and even Davey Crocket have become legendary characters whose real deeds and fictional stories become nearly inseparable. Modern mythology is not typically used to refer to religious tales or figures, however, even though ancient myths studied today largely stem from religious movements in the past. The term “myth” indicates that a story is inherently fictional or false and can be extremely offensive when applied to someone’s religious beliefs.

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Discussion Comments

By titans62 — On Jul 27, 2012

I really have to wonder when a person becomes a myth. Does it only occur once they have reached the level of popularity that causes themselves to be put up on a pedestal?

I really wonder though if people, like let's say professional wrestlers, can be considered myths simply because of the way they are promoted and how they seem to be larger than life, mostly due to heavy advertising, even though they do not necessarily fit the classic example of a myth.

Because of this thought, I just really have to wonder if the concept of a myth has changed over time and modern myths are much different than classic myths of the past and if there are more myths today than there have been in the past?

By Izzy78 — On Jul 26, 2012

@JimmyT - I really think that anything involving a character, whether real or fictional, has the ability to become a myth, because their accomplishments and stories of their actions are what defines them and myths are created out of those that tell stories of these characters.

A real life myth could be someone, like a professional athlete, that accomplishes incredible feats on the playing field and appear to be larger than life.

These actions can enthrall people that watch them and allow them to put the athlete on a pedestal and glorify them in a way that they become mythical and their accomplishments become better, through story, than what they may have actually done.

By JimmyT — On Jul 26, 2012

@cardsfan27 - I have to agree. I guess super heroes can be considered myths because of the feats that they accomplish as well as the fact that their stories are constantly evolving and being told.

However, there seems to be a bit of confusion with modern mythology as some people that label things as myths tend to think that basically any re-occurring character can become a myth based on their stories in print, but the problem with that logic is that these stories never change.

To me a myth needs to have no right story, but always include the same elements that people know as the story evolves over time.

A super hero is a good example of a modern myth simply because time lines, characters, and settings constantly change but the basic elements of the story stay the same, defining the character.

By cardsfan27 — On Jul 25, 2012

@ZsaZsa56 - According to the article, I do believe that Batman would be classified as a myth, but I have a problem with how this article classifies what is a myth.

If modern larger than life figures count as myths, that pretty much means that any fictional character can be considered a myth simply due to the fact that they are doing things heroically or larger than life in their fictional world.

I really think that there needs to be clarification on what a myth actually is, as I see it an exaggeration of one's feats, and a fictional story is just that, a story and different than a myth.

By ZsaZsa56 — On Jul 25, 2012

Would you consider Batman to be a modern myth? He is a fictional hero that is known to just about everyone. And we keep coming back to his story over and over again. How many Batman movies have been made in the last 20 years?

By gravois — On Jul 24, 2012

I think that a lot of modern mythology has risen up around the 60s. Between Vietnam, Woodstock, Kennedy and King and all the popular images of hippies vs guys with stiff crew cuts we have seen a lot of powerful, memorable images. But this is of course all reductive, and the way that those of us who did not live in the 60s think it felt and sounded and smelled is probably miles from the truth.

People everywhere want to make it out as a pivotal moment in history. I think it was probably just loud. Things happened, but did more happen than in any other decade, honestly? The way we think of the 60s is as a myth, something larger and more powerful than it really was.

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