Celebrities, Social Media, and (not) the Moon

I started thinking about this today while I was discussing ancient myths with my seventh grade students. When you hear a mythical story, are you knowing the celebrities of yore? Totally.

Humans weren’t all of struck by a sudden fascination with larger than life characters when cameras and film are invented- no way!

People followed the lives of nobility and monarchs. They spun elaborate yarns about heroes and gods. Basically, we need these archetypes, these relationships to unreal beings. Most celebrities and politicians will always be imaginary to regular folks. Only a tiny percentage of people personally know Brad Pitt, Taylor Swift or the Pope. Folks just know about them second-hand, the way you know a fictional character in a book or a movie or something. So we are still in this myth-making place where humans will probably stay.

The mythical imagination grows our lives. We call it inspiration, viewing something more sublime and perfect than reality so that we can move toward it. In an interview about her marriage, professional volleyball player Gabby Reese “There is life, and then there’s the theater of life. We need more of the real stuff.”

Nowadays, everyone has a web-presence, a virtual identity through Facebook or Instagram or Twitter (or a blog!). We all exhibit our doings to the world in a way that used to be unique to public figures: photographs and videos, opinions, statistics. How should we relate to that mythical representation of ourselves?

I think some folks literally worship it, you know, distilling every experience into code. We all know that woman who only sees a beautiful sunset on her phone screen as she takes a selfie, that guy who never works out without taking a mirror shot.

Others are more detached and use social media mainly for communicating with friends and family. It is fascinating to watch all of this develop, and I think it adds a whole new dimension to the questions of human self-concept and mythological imagination.

“If a tree falls in the forest but no one hears it…” If I hike up a mountain but do not take any pictures, did it really happen? We could get depressed about how into their mythological online lives some people are, but I think the really important thing is that we call it what it is: an imaginary world. An unreality- and relate to it as such. Like it or not, social media now has an important role in supporting communities. It efficiently orchestrates things that happen in the physical world, everything from elections to concerts to medical decisions.

We have to mentally adjust, the way that people did to television and radio, even the printing press (Ah, Gutenberg, you have made manuscripts too cheap and now people are reading their lives away instead of spending quality time with their hogs)!

Even language itself created symbolic worlds and mythological identities for the speakers. As the Surangama Sutra explains, a word is like a finger pointing at the moon, it is not the moon itself. A word is not the thing it describes, so it takes imagination to even use language. We step away from reality when we but hear a sentence.

I guess what I am getting to is this: Keep your social media accounts, but remember that life is still so much bigger than anything we can say (or tweet) about it.

Ah, the irony of this post…

Click here to read more of the Surangama Sutra.

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