Every once in a while I see a bit of evidence of our society’s limitless appreciation for and love of our storytelling … our bardic tradition. It’s an organic, almost unconscious process, that results in very vivid and comprehensive incorporation of story elements and characters into our culture, our common references, our every day lives. The example I saw just a few minutes ago was in a newspaper article that included a reference to the S.S. Minnow, in the journalist’s secure assumption that the vast majority of readers will immediately know what that reference means, and will momentarily flash to the happy feelings associated with the story and characters of “Gilligan’s Island” – a TV program that was originally broadcasted from 1964 to 1967, and has been syndicated from then through now. Another program and resultant cultural incorporation that is even more spectacularly familiar, and which coincidentally originally appeared at the same time, is of course the quintessentially iconic “Star Trek” – one of my personal favorites. In fact, recognition and appreciation of the impact of that “story” in our culture is so thorough that the effect in and of itself is an actual icon of its own – that always fascinates me, and may well be grist for a future posting. Anyway, the point of today’s ruminations is actually the awareness and appreciation of the multitude of less spectacular stories and their elements. I mean, almost everyone knows “Star Trek” and “Star Wars” and “Batman” and “The Sound of Music” and “Mary Poppins” – greatly thanks to the fact that they were movie spectaculars with an prodigious amount of publication, an enormous following, and worldwide success. However, almost as many people know who Gilligan and the Skipper are, who Ironside is, who the Lone Ranger and Tonto are, what “I Love Lucy” is, what a Red-Ryder BB Gun is and the boy who wanted one so badly, who the Six Million Dollar Man is, who Madam Butterfly is, who MacBeth is, what Hello Kitty is, and Pokemon, Peanuts, Dungeons & Dragons, and World of Warcraft. I actually saw the earliest Pikachu Pokemon merchandise come in to my local Japanese gift store, before the average American had ever even heard of it – and I watched as the character and story emerged in the dynamic of our story appreciation and our society.
This phenomenon of appreciation for the “story” and the “character” is not limited to conventional entertainment and leisure industries. Historical figures and situations are also integral in our common appreciation, also through the mechanism of story-telling and our bardic tradition – in other words, none of us were there when Washington crossed the Delaware or when John Wilkes Booth killed Abraham Lincoln, but the stories and characters are as rich to us as those of any fully fictional creation. In my experience many in our society place only a superficial value on education (i.e. they feel it is only something to be endured as part of seeking a future goal – another possible topic for a future posting), so I am exceptionally appreciative that historical or other educational elements can be captured by the dynamic of appreciation via our bardic tradition.
Here’s a most amazing discovery I made recently – many of our small cultural references and colloquial phrases actually came originally from the King James Bible. I’ve been reading it, and was fascinated to find that “by the skin of his teeth” and “apple of your eye” and so many more phrases and references appear in that book, which was for so many years and so many families the only book owned and read. Now there’s a bardic tradition – hundreds of years later we continue to incorporate references in stories that were first printed in the 1600’s in another country – even when we have forgotten how these references first came to our notice. Of course, again either willingly or by force, more educated folks were exposed to a multitude of other “bardic” references, such as Shakespeare, who is of course actually known as “The Bard” in literary realms. Then there was a period of more general readership, far before any forays into the movie and other visual and electronic arenas, where the reading public appreciated “Little Women” and “Sherlock Holmes” and written works of amazing authors far and wide. Now our resources grow ever more limitless, as we capture and bring into our awareness and culture the characters, ideas, and stories available to us from entertainment, visual, and literary artists throughout our society and the world. So many topics to illuminate and discuss … so many postings to anticipate … America’s rich bardic tradition lives and grows!