I’ve recently read a number of books by Joseph Campbell, as well as Douglas Rushkoff. They’re very different writers, but both comment on society. Campbell explores the common symbols of Western religions, and reinterprets them in the context of world mythology. He is a historian, and focuses on comparative religions. One of the things he stresses is that modern humanity needs new myths. The old ones served as guiding stories, to give a sense of what is right, and to provide a map as men go through their rites of passage. What is missing today are these rites, the opportunity to become a man in our modern culture. The common religious rites have been watered down to become meaningless rituals that show obedience, but they do not offer a test. So the stories that were in many ways a guide have no relevance any longer. Campbell argues we need new myths, new stories in a global time. The minute we landed on the moon and could see the whole earth was the time when it became clear the old stories were no longer relevant.
On the other hand, Rushkoff points out that we live in a post-narrative society. There are almost no stories anymore, and the way we consume media is untethered from traditional story arcs. Reality TV or video games, snippets on Vimeo and endless-scrolling FB Timelines have removed stories from our regular lives. When we watch a show and the plot becomes too threatening or boring or emotionally complex viewers switch to another program or device. Our politics is made for people who won’t want to follow the whole thread, they want the soundbite and then move on.
Both writers have affected the way my newest project is unfolding. When I began the Sacred & the Profane a year ago, it was very much about exploring the literal interpretations of Judeo-Christian stories, but Campbell summarized my discontent. Rushkoff makes me realize how meaningless yet another photographic image has become in a time of Tumblr and Pinterest in terms of telling a story. The project has taken a turn to the more abstract, but also to a larger scale. It will include a lot of images, and the physical presentation of the most important images will go beyond a simple edition print.