Friday, June 8, 2012

History and pop culture

I recently saw the Avengers movie, and while I enjoy both that movie and Thor, they disturb me just a little bit. I like action movies, it's impossible not to like what's-his-name who plays Thor, and I am proud that one of the old Norse Gods has reached this level of modern day stardom. I still wonder, why do the writers have to distort the mythology so much?

Is it okay to make a God into a cartoon, a superhero, and change history just because it's another people's mythology and history?
Front cover of a 19th century Icelandic version of the Edda

We have runestones, and the "Edda" written in the 13th century, depicting old Scandinavian beliefs. In some parts of Scandinavia, the old Gods lived just fine up until the 19th century. Some of the mythology and original stories has been distorted or lost during the years, of course, but much still remains.

When I was a little girl in Sweden, we studied all world religions in school, and our own historical beliefs was among them. My mom told me lightning came from Tor throwing his hammer Mjölner across the skies. While a part of me is very aware of the scientific explanation, another part also believes in Tor creating thunder, because I heard it so many times growing up.

Back home, things are somewhat different than in America. In my home town, we have a mine that's a thousand years old. We have the oldest corporation in the world; when I was a little girl, they celebrated 700 years and the entire city was there. My best friend back home used to live in a house from the 17th century. Mine was pretty new, it was built in 1903. Every little city has a coat of arms, and history is very much alive.
Popular depiction of Mjölner

We might not actively worship the old Gods today, but they're around. We have jewelry with Mjölner, and it has become a symbol for pride in one's history and national heritage. (A little too much so at times, but that's a story for another day.) We still celebrate many old pagan holidays and traditions. Best case scenario, they've merged with modern religions and modern ways, but they're still there, just under the surface.

I wrote on Twitter the other day, "Just for the record, Loki was never Thor's brother." The response was fascinating; people wrote back, "Of course not, he's adopted." In Stan Lee's version of reality, sure, but traditionally, Loke is part giant, and Oden's friend. He's considered something of a blood brother to Oden, until he betrays Asgård and is exiled. Loke is considered very beautiful, and able to shift his form.

I am ambiguous. Pop culture brings awareness to something that might otherwise be forgotten in large parts of the world. Thor is cool. I mean, both the character and the actor are awesome. Many might say, "So what" in response to my complaint that pop culture distorts tradition and history. Am I'm overreacting to the past being Hollywoodized and Americanized? I'd love to hear what you think.

I didn't even know someone made Thor into a cartoon until I moved to the US. To me, it's very weird.


  1. I feel the same way when my faith is fictionalized and belittled. Perhaps you sense a lack of respect in the art form, taking advantage of the sensational and letting those "pesky facts" fall away. In North America, we can be a little heavy handed, thinking that our way is the only legitimate way of seeing things. Wrong, of course.

  2. Good points, Patty! The last couple of weeks I've seen trailers for a movie called, "Abraham Lincoln, vampire hunter." That makes me feel the same way; I will probably see it and be entertained by it, but at the same time, I think, "Really? Lincoln? Really?" It's just... so irreverent, lol

  3. Fascinating post, Maria. I look at it as fan fiction. They've taken characters who already exist, created by someone else, complete with their own stories/history, and they remake it to how they want it to be. Some fanfic writers are more careful about sticking to the facts than others. There are those who will do their homework and find out the truth and those who will take whatever is fed to them.

    A simplified example is Lord of the Rings. Those who know the story from having read the books know the Ring never went to Gondor. There are the purists who simply hate that this happened in the movie. There are those who believe that's how the story goes because they've never read the books, and there are those who are willing to give PJ his creative license.

    As for Lincoln... it's the current trend. It isn't any different from the commercialization of Christmas. There are places in the world that know all about Santa Claus and nothing about Jesus Christ, the true reason for the season. And yes, I know it was established around a pagan holiday. It doesn't change the fact that it's CHRIST-mas, and there are still those who have no idea of the significance of the name.

    Thanks so much for sharing the history.

  4. Good points Laurel! I guess it is fanfiction in a way, but with the full punch of Hollywood behind it. I can imagine a school where the teacher asks, "Who was Abraham Lincoln," and even though he meant so much for history, kids will raise their hands and say, "He was this really famous vampire hunter." LOL!


A new look for the 250th anniversary

I don't know exactly how old my 18th century cottage is - the local history association says we know it was there in 1772, so it was pro...