Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Inherited Imagery

I've been reading alot of Joseph Campbell recently. He's best known for his studies on mythology and was made widely known to recent generations by his published conversations with George Lucas. In his book Primitive Mythology he discusses an idea brought about by a study conducted on newborn birds. As I read it, I couldn't help but connect his idea to the image of Colin being entranced by the strength and feats of Captain Blasto, or my own infatuation with Superman.

A wooden hawk would be flown over a baby chick by a string. The chick would instantly hide in fear. A wooden duck would be flown over the same chick and it would remain calm. Several different shapes of varying bird species were tried, but only the hawk would illicit the fearful behavior. The chick has NEVER seen a hawk, but still it is equipped with the instincts to take flight from it. The question posed by Campbell is this: if all hawks ceased to exist, would the chick still fear it's image?

Another question was also raised: what images may lie buried within animals and(or) man which they are equipped to fear, but have since vanished? Should those images suddenly reappear in some form, even art, would it illicit some seemingly irrational behavior? Does a child fear the image of a witch because they read fairy tales as a child? Or was there some creature long ago that are instincts tell us should be avoided?

The reverse of this idea, images that we are drawn to, could also be true. Take the imagery of super-heroes for example. Am I life long Superman fan because he was "given" to me in toys and movies as a child? Or were some great and terrible figures once present among humanity which we as children are inheritantly equipped to be in awe of? The idea of a super-hero is by no means new. It's traced down through characters like Hercules and Beowulf. Have we always been drawn to these characters, as the popular notion suggests, because they represent what we wish we were or could be? Or do generations keep rendering these ideas into our art because deep down it's written into each of us, although all traces of them once existing are now gone?

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