Gilgamesh. Beowulf. Luke Skywalker. Katy Perry.
Yes ma’am! The millennial pop star has a penchant for making particularly mythic music videos to accompany her songs, and in this one she portrays an exemplar “Hero’s Journey”; replete with the Call, Threshold Guardians, Underworld Journey, and a glorious Return.
The only major departure from Joseph Campbell’s map happens when, rather than unifying with her divine animus in the form of Prince Charming, she punches him in the face.
I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, Campbell’s map has some major problems one of which stems from its rampant sexism. Furthermore, this moment demonstrates what discerning empowered distrust can look like for women on the receiving end of ill-intentioned courtship, and we absolutely need exposure of myths that demonstrate that.
On the other hand, we also have a great deficit of myths that show discerning trust, particularly between men and women. We have so deeply come to reject Prince Charming and male saviors in our reactivity to patriarchy that we may have thrown out the possibility of true male friends and allies. In the example of this mythic music video, it goes a step further – I notice that Perry encounters many threats but no allies except for the personification of her child self which isn’t actually an ally but is, again, self-reliance!
How would it look to have both in a mythic telling together? Empowered self-reliance, empowered discerning distrust, and empowered discerning trust? For mythic examples of this, I would point to the potent Sumerian Goddess Inanna, who over the course of her journeys steals the secret knowledge of her father and friend Enki and gives it to humans (inadvertently creating civilization…), asks advice and help from that same father (who has borne no grudge), lays out the explicit consequences that will occur if she does not receive the help she needs, maintains a relationship with a gorgeous beloved man to whom she writes sweet love poetry, persecutes and terribly punishes a man who rapes her, and wages war with patriarchy in the defense of the wholeness of the land. Talk about discernment!
Do we want punching in Prince Charming’s face to remain our image of a feminist heroine? Perhaps such an image feels necessary for our times. After all, Inanna did not forgive her rapist, but utterly destroyed his life.
And yet, if this is where we get off the train, I cannot help but ask: What have we left behind?
Julian Michels is a Ph.D. student in East-West Psychology at the California Institute of Integral Studies, where he studies mythology, storytelling, and initiatory traditions.