And so this heavily-armed guy claiming to be the comic book character The Punisher strolled into Phoenix Comicon last Thursday to assassinate the Green Power Ranger.
This is the world we live in, folks, a world where our popular culture and our reality is getting increasingly “confused”; where a person can wake up one morning and decide they are the “avatar” for the Punisher and get into a situation where he is doing cosmic battle with a Power Ranger. Personal mythology, pop-culture mythology, and an unsuspecting world fuse together to create a new, strange landscape.
When I wrote The Year Of The Mask, which was an exploration of how pop-culture—especially comic book culture—started creating this “new landscape” right around the time of the Aurora “Dark Knight” shootings, I conceived this period of time as being “finite.” Hence: giving it the duration of a year. But now I’m not so sure about that.
Let’s face it: these comic book/cartoon/sci-fi memes have infiltrated our everyday world, our politics, our philosophy, our science, and even possibly our very sex lives continuously since 2013; perhaps starting very much before 2013 or 2012 or 1981 or whenever.
Philip K. Dick had a way of referring to it: about finding “treasures in the trash” (not an exact quote, but the basic sentiment). The “trash”=the pop-culture, the pulp fiction, the dime novels, the four-color comic book adventures, the pop song lyrics. The “treasures”=the profound insights, the religious-type impulses, the god/dess archetypes, the possible meaning of the universe. The treasures are hidden in the trash because it seems to be the only way to “smuggle” it all in. You find it all where one would least expect, when one is distracted & the subconscious is ripe and wide open.
And some people, like the 31-year-old gentleman who walked into Phoenix Comicon with guns, bullets, and ninja throwing stars, stare into that Rorschach-spattered pool of pop-culture soup and form their own conclusions.
However, haven’t people been already doing this from beyond 1981, 1966, 1954, and so on? This is what, at the heart of it, religion and mythology used to do. Only back in ancient times there were only a series of monomyths that everyone in the village subscribed to.
But now, increasingly—we are all having our own religion, our own monomyth. Perhaps this is the ultimate evolution of “God” or man. For the guy at Phoenix (and there’s a loaded name full of meaning) Comicon, he had built an elaborate mythology (and he really did, if you read accounts of what he told police) where he was actually the Punisher and the cops were bad guys and somehow Green Ranger had to be taken out. And for the guy or girl walking into the convention center right before him or right after him or at the same time, that person had a completely different personal mythology that might have involved a video game or a TV show or anime or whatever.
But for me, “The Year Of The Mask” never really ended. Humans have been creatures of the Mask since prehistoric times. We’ve only gotten far more advanced at it. We’ve really learned to “run” with it. It is a strange and powerful tool, this myth-building, this ability to suss out the treasures from the trash. But like with all tools, it has the potential for good or ill, I suppose. Maybe part of the reason religion was created (other than outright control over other humans) was to “steer” this incredible power into socially-acceptable “lanes.” But there can only be attempts to steer it at this point. The cat’s out of the bag, so to speak.
Humans graduated from tool-making to agriculture to the Industrial Revolution to creating iPhones—but the conscious creation and manipulation of the memes was the most powerful achievement. And the masks and the memes may take over the Earth, might live on in a sort of technicolor brilliance in some sort of digital wonderland long after we as the human race become the stuff of myths and legends ourselves.