Unfortunately, if we are
Fri Dec 09, 2022 10:37

going to be precise and accurate in the way we use the language, to sufficiently answer your questions requires opening the pandora's box (which is itself a myth) of definitions. What, for instance, are the technical distinctions to be drawn between a myth, a legend, a folk tale, a fairytale, a story, a narrative and so on? I hesitate to go there not only because things quickly turn academic, but because such definitions each drag their own historical baggage along with them; their meanings, however subtly, have changed over time. Indeed, they are changing still. This often leads to confusion

Traditionally, myths needn't have been based on or steeped in factual inaccuracies, but they were associated with some level of the supernatural (which requires its own definition). We can argue about whether that which is supernatural is by default factually inaccurate, but the more important aspect is one of belief, because belief, what one or a collective (like a country--or online forum) believes--right/wrong, true/false, natural/supernatural, secular/religious, etc.--clearly has practical, real world implications.

At some point, it doesn't matter anymore whether a myth is mythic. If enough people believe widely and deeply enough in it, and if what stems from their believing impacts their thoughts and values and behaviors, the myth has in effect taken on a life of its own. It has become, if not strictly factual, quite real.

There is an etymological caveat here. The word myth derives from the Greek mythos, the meaning of which is "true narrative," or "tale rooted in truth." (This runs precisely counter to the OED's definition of myth which is, "a purely fictitious narrative...embodying some popular idea concerning natural or historical phenomena.")

Over time, the definition of myth has evolved to include "secular" myths, so that now we needn't associate the word with the supernatural (or even the purely fictitious). The current word is "symbolic" (which yet again requires its own definition; see how things quickly become bogged down?). A myth, then, is defined as a symbolic narrative that relates to actual events. That is, for a myth to be considered mythic, it must be possessed of a dimension of meaning larger than itself, it must have the status and stature to stand as a symbol of and for wider or deeper belief(s).

(That's pretty abstract, but to confuse things even further, it comes fairly close, linguistically, to the concept of "synecdoche," which is when a word or figure of speech for a part of something is used to represent or symbolize the whole. A common example is to refer to a car as "wheels." Synecdoche is another word that comes from the Greek.)

So, to cut a long story longer, now that we have a definition (sort of) of what a myth is and is not, none of which answers your question, the answer to that question begs yet more questions, "What is the PROCESS by which a myth becomes a myth? What accounts for a symbolic narrative acquiring the quality of symbolism? To use your word, how do myths develop?" And the only honest answer to such questions, it seems to me, is that that process, that development, varies in its details from myth to myth. But, big but, the myth needn't, not necessarily, arise from factual inaccuracies, although it can.

As I've said before, the Tombstone Story taken as whole is mythic, the gunfight and vendetta ride are mythic, Wyatt Earp is mythic. Over time they have acquired--why? how?-- that legendary status and stature, that quality of symbolism, they've somehow seeped into the national consciousness, they have currency as cultural icons.

Ike Clanton, on the other hand, has not. Ike is not mythic. Ike is saddled with a popular IMAGE, he plays a contributing (minor? middlin'? major?) role within the larger mythic story, but that is all. That image, buffoon, scapegoat or otherwise, as you contend, may be inaccurate, but in terms of myth, the inaccuracy doesn't really matter. It certainly matters, or should, to historians and to "those few" interested in historical accuracy, but the larger myth is immune to such considerations. It has taken on a (bullet-proof?) life of its own. It is clothed in Kevlar.

Perhaps for you the question should be less how factual inaccuracies develop into myths, than how such inaccuracies developed in the first place? How and why did Ike's image become what is has become? Who or what is responsible for that? What is the source or sources from which the image stems? What are the reasons that Ike is IKE in the popular imagination? Is his image made up out of wholecloth? Or is there some kernel of truth to it? Are the man and his image one and the same? If not, why not, and in what ways are they not? If a plethora of professional historians and researchers have concluded that Ike was a "loud-mouthed drunk" or something similar, how and why have they reached those conclusions? Are they, as you suggest, "simply assumptions," or does something else and other account?

Finally, yes, where misunderstanding exists, it should, to the extent possible, be corrected. As you know, it is not always possible. Which does not preclude asking pertinent questions or pursuing alternative lines of reasoning, an endeavor you scarcely need my encouragement to persist in.

Forge ahead, soldier on. No harm, no foul.

  • Olds/ mulling continuously...Joyce A. Aros, Fri Dec 09 2022 6:11
    ...You said something that I think made some sense to me. The difference between factual inaccuracies and myths. If I understand correctly, this is a comparison I need to grasp. But I think one blends... more
    • Unfortunately, if we are — olds, Fri Dec 09 2022 10:37
      • Smoke & Mirrors!....Joyce A. Aros, Fri Dec 09 2022 12:00
        ...As you probably knew it would, I got bogged down heavily until I got to "Perhaps..." And that is where I am. Trying to establish how and why these inaccuracies developed in the first place!... more
        • There is a whole otherolds, Fri Dec 09 2022 12:46
          if no less abstract discussion to be had about the difference between Fact and Truth, but I will spare us both the "boggy" agony of going there.
          • the "boggy" agony of going there...Dan Brown, Tue Dec 13 2022 16:18
            I have to admit you have a way with words. A good way, actually.
            • He certainly doesButch Badon, Thu Jan 05 11:54
              And I hang onto every word of his writings. Butch
            • Half the time, Dan,olds, Wed Dec 14 2022 5:41
              I suspect that it's the words that are having their way with me, but I learned long ago not to fight their flow when they're flowing. Swimming against their tide gets you nowhere fast. It's a dance. They... more
              • Remember what they saidDan Brown, Mon Dec 19 2022 22:35
                About Ginger Rogers: she did everything Fred did and she did it backwards. You're all right on those tricky parts. Just keep the toes tapping.