We’re in the middle of something happening in the world today. Not sure exactly what it is. But for want of a better term, you might call it a modern day Twilight of the Gods. The gods and heroes of our generation are fading. We hardly have any real-life heroes in this day and age. The heroes we revere today exist mostly in comic books and movies. And that’s okay. Because you can learn a lot about a culture, you can tell what a civilization was like by examining its art, and the things that it considers art.
An entire generation world-wide grew up with Marvel Comics. The adventures of Bruce Banner, Peter Parker, Tony Stark and many others were followed avidly by kids all through high school and college. They were later treated to high tech film adaptations of these indomitable heroes on into adulthood. Marvel has produced 11 big budget blockbusters based on them, finally culminating in its latest, “The Avengers: Endgame.” But a funny thing happened, when it got to the endgame. It has brought a temporary end to the entire cycle, at least, the cycle as we know it.
Movie fans were shocked at the ending of “Endgame,” which had no pat happy ending for a story that was about the destruction of the world. It’s not giving anything away to say the world gets saved– but at a cost, a cost that may be more than we can afford to pay. I won’t reveal any details, although by now most have seen the film or heard how it ends. Characters who had god-like powers were brought down to earth. They’ve been pulled down from the Marvel Pantheon, and it’s uncertain if anything like the Avengers will be able to continue or not. Survivors were all left in tears. Heroes cried. For some of the gods, there is no return. For the others, it’s unclear what the future holds for them. But if they come back they will never be the same.
But this collapse of Marvel’s hallowed world of icons is not something happening in isolation. Another generational set of gods and goddesses is falling as well. The trailer for the latest Star Wars film, “The Rise of Skywalker” bears the words: “This Christmas The Saga Comes to and End.” If any film can claim to belong to a particular generation it must be “Star Wars” and the series of film, both sequel and prequel, that followed it. The Zen-like concept of the force, and Jedi Knights who learned to master it, the reluctant hero, Luke Skywalker, who goes from farm boy to knight, taught by a Zen-master named Obi Wan Kenobi, the rebel princess trying to free her people from the tyranny of a half-human, half-robot villain in service to an even more evil emperor– all this was part of the matrix of the life we lived, the background of the unconscious mind. It is part of what we all are. And all that is ending.
And similarly, HBO’s series “Game of Thrones,” became part of everyone’s life, starting eight seasons ago. Millions of fans have shared the saga of the rise of a dragon queen, seeking to balance the scales of justice in a world nearly gone as mad as ours. Characters capable of unspeakable evil abound in GoT, and heroes good and true have perished trying to defeat them. But now the battle comes to a head, and millions will be watching over the next two weeks as the series concludes. And in “Got” there is no guarantee that good will win over evil. The only guarantee is that anyone can be killed at any time.
Three mass pop culture phenomena are all going the same way. The characters and their stories, their struggles, their victories and defeats are all ending. Why is that? Is it just that the actors’ contracts all have expired? Are they all getting too old to play their parts? Are the writers mentally fatigued and just unable to go on any longer? I suppose it’s a lot of things. But maybe it’s a reflection of the times we live in. There seems to be a general malaise, a weariness out there. Have people simply stopped believing in heroes? Are the gods dying because they no longer have anyone to keep faith in them?
It’s hard to explain, but it’s clear that a certain attitude toward life, a belief in the individual hero who can overcome oppressive power is strained to the breaking point. With the fading of the old heroes, we can only wonder who or what will take their place. What comes after the Twilight of the Gods?