*A leading fast-food chain recently introduced a meatless burger that, according to enthusiastic, man-on-the-street types eating it in TV commercials, “tastes just like” the chain’s meat burger.
And once again, a big-time perennial myth is fortified.
The myth? Not that the meatless burger really does tastes like meat; maybe it does. No, the myth here is that a fast-food brand actually uses one hundred percent meat to begin with.
Imagine the irony: the fast-food industry, in which the mere idea of authenticity is high concept, comparing the flavor of purposely fake meat to its “real” fake meat.
But that’s how a myth—a widely held but false belief or idea—works: something patently untrue gets told over and again until it’s embraced as reality.
As a society, we embrace all sorts of myths. If it’s true that love makes the world go ‘round (or is that a myth?), then myths certainly make the rotation intriguing. Indeed, humankind has spent its existence under the engrossing spell of myths.
I’m not about to get into the particulars of such time-honored doo-doo as Christopher Columbus “discovering” America (how do you discover a place already inhabited?) or the taller than Shaquille tale about George Washington not telling a lie and the cherry tree thing. I’ll just deal with some modern myths I personally find annoying.
Like the fantastic notion that the Rolling Stones’Mick Jagger has “moves.”
I dig the Stones as much as the next baby-boomer weened on top forty AM radio; absolutely love such soul-from-concentrate as “(I can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” “Paint It Black,” “The Last Time,” “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” “Honk Tonk Women,” and “Brown Sugar.”
But Jagger as a serious mover? C’mon now. He struts and squats and jumps and marches around onstage, which I suppose, especially at his current age of 76, is something.
However, certified soul-shaker he is not. Never was. That Maroon 5 song, “Moves Like Jagger,” attempts to ferment the myth in the 21st century, but…no.
Speaking of dancing myths, please stop all the talk about John Travolta being this great dancer. Nothing against the man, but “Saturday Night Fever” was just a role, people.
Yes, almost 42 years is a long time to maintain a hard-on for an exaggeration so petty, but ever since “SNF”’s 1977 release, I’ve never gotten past the risible fabrication that Travolta is some skilled, captivating hoofer.
In the film, he possessed the intuitive grace of a life-size cardboard standup. And that pointing-toward-the-ceiling thing he did during the big disco dance scene, a gesture that instantly became a fixture of pop culture, was and remains embarrassingly hokey.
Today, whenever I see Travolta casually dancing on TV or in a film, I can almost hear him counting to himself, “1-2-3….”
By the way, the story for “Saturday Night Fever” was based on a 1976 nonfiction New York magazine article, “Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night,” purportedly a revealing look inside the city’s rollicking disco scene, written by journalist Nik Cohn.
Turns out, it was all a hustle, and not the dance: in 1996 Cohn admitted that instead of visiting discos and writing about the real people who made up the scene, he simply made it all up. Myth.
I reserve my most serious disdain for myths related to race. Like: If you’re dating, married or friends with a person of another race, you can’t possibly be racist.
Of course, you can. The racist with a romantic partner or who has a close friend of another persuasion often rationalizes that they simply found one of “the good ones:”“He’s a cool white boy”…“For someone who is Mexican, she sure works hard”…“He’s Black, but he’s not a whiner like the rest of ’em….”
I’ve known parents who positively love their biracial kids and grandkids, and yet they are as racist as the day is long. Old fears and prejudices die hard, especially when you don’t care to educate yourself.
Another one I hear all the time: Black Americans cannot be racist. The idea is that, because Blacks have never wielded the kind of institutional power in this nation held by whites, we can’t possibly be racist.
As Black Americans, we have every right to be angry about what happened and continues to happen to people of color in this country.
But anger is not racism.
One dictionary defines a racist as “a person who shows or feels discrimination or prejudice against people of other races, or who believes that a particular race is superior to another.” Know any Black people who feel this way? I do.
That whole Blacks-can’t-be-racist myth personifies the very nature of any myth: stories that would seem to have every reason to be true, aren’t true at all. As in, All judges are impartial thinkers. Or the idea that Money and/or having children will save a bad marriage. Neither of those things are entirely the gospel, yet, we hold tight to myths because they validate our hopes, dreams, fears. Our shit.
Like a tadpole surviving the odds to become a frog, a myth is a lie with the stamina to hang around long enough to fancily be referred to as a myth. In other words, a myth is just a lie wearing a tuxedo–unless you’re the enduring myth that Elvis Presley was the “King of Rock and Roll.” Then, you’re a myth in a white jumpsuit.
Stevie Wonder said it best. During his hit, “Superstition,” a song about myth’s first cousin, he valiantly sings: “When you believe in things that you don’t understand, then you suffer; superstition ain’t the way (ayayayay).”
Likewise, we don’t have to believe in myths. We can question, examine, research. Find the truth and have the guts and dignity to embrace it.
Fact is, all myths aren’t relics of our antiquated past. Here’s a new story going around, desperately vying to be truth: If Democrats pursue the impeachment of President Trump, they’ll lose the presidential election in 2020.
Nice try, but that cheap tux just doesn’t fit, tadpole.
Steven Ivory, veteran journalist, essayist and author, writes about popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio, TV and the Internet. Respond to him via [email protected]