In his exhaustive study of different approaches to myth in fields as diverse as anthropology, theology, literary studies and cultural studies Doty warns that “myth is a term with no singular historical usage; rather it has carried and does carry a wide range of defining features” (2000:30). He argues for a “complex field definition” or a “definitional matrix” that “recognizes mythic multidimensionality in both origination and application” (2000:33).
The ten points below emerge out of my reading of the literature as outlined above. They are not meant to be exhaustive but they provide a general “definitional matrix” for my study of myth in journalism and popular culture.
1. Myths are meaning seeking narratives that grow in narrative power through repetition, evolution and adaptation.
2. Myths bring into dialogue past, present and emerging paradigms; they deploy interactive sets of symbolic codes; although traditionally associated with religious or sacred stories and symbols, contemporary myths draw on a range of psychological, socio-political and scientific images and frameworks.
3. Individual myths are best understood as a node at the centre of a complex network of inter-related stories; as broad, intertextual narratives, myths can act as literary organising devices, which bring different, sometimes contradictory, textual elements into dialogue with one another.
4. Myths are social stories, which emerge out of commonly understood cultural frameworks; they narrate themes of fundamental importance to cultural groups; they can serve to confirm or challenge broadly held cultural beliefs.
5. Myths also provide narrative frameworks that are used by individuals to help organise experience; they influence personal identity formation; they can provide both restrictive and transformative models of subjectivity.
6. Myth is a pervasive narrative form: myths and mythic references can be identified in common speech, literary works, religious texts, journalism and other popular cultural forms.
7. Narratives that are not themselves myths can draw on mythic themes and serve mythic functions through strategies of allusion and explicit invocation.
8. Different myths and mythic references function with different degrees of emotional and effective power; they can be used as a simple type of narrative shorthand (‘Steve Waugh is an Australian hero’) or as a powerful life-changing story (‘I’ve been saved by Jesus’).
9. Sets of interlocking mythic stories can act together to form a cohesive mythology, which can work as a powerful ideological framework that underwrites either progressive or regressive directions for personal and cultural change.
10. Attempts to mobilise particular mythic forms can be either intentional or unintentional, however their ultimate interpretation and use is cultural, resulting from unpredictable text audience interactions; any particular interpretation therefore is never completely foreclosed and must be recognised as a possible reading.