The Georgia Bulldogs and the Power of Myth–What Joseph Campbell Might Say About The 2013 Season So Far
Jennifer Rohner stops by to set us all straight. Again.
What an outrageous ride the 2013 campaign has been already. No emotion has been left behind, neither for players, coaches, or fans, as it seems already we’ve experienced an entire decade’s worth of trial and vexation. Overall, we have managed to end up on the winning end of it all (at least in the big picture), but it hasn’t been cheap. It hasn’t been easy. And Lord knows it hasn’t been without its share of drama.
And although we (scarcely) emerged winners in last week’s cavalcade, it clearly wasn’t without great loss. Dear cost. We all know that.
Nothing tells a story about life like football. This season so far has been an epic journey with test after harshly demanding test, all of which we’ve been able to pass. So far.
Both breakdowns and breakthroughs alike have emerged that nobody could’ve foreseen. Who would’ve predicted six months ago that after the Tennessee game (which was supposed to be a cakewalk), we would barely be victorious while “Gurshall” (forgive me for saying it, gentlemen, just this once) would both be sidelined by rather haphazardly acquired injuries? Or that a freshman early enrollee would’ve emerged as a leading rusher in a monstrous away game? Or for that matter, that our usually “statuesque” QB would have in him a 57-yard run that nobody saw coming–at any point in any game? And not only that but also prove himself (finally) a “big game” QB, saving the day nearly every weekend? (Perhaps that one might’ve been the only one that could’ve popped up in anyone’s crystal ball, but still…)
The question remains…..with so many fallen warriors, as our own DYC fearless leader pointed out on Monday, it is easy for optimism to be replaced with fear, second-guessing, and doubt. Is it necessary to be concerned? Or are all of these debacles just a normal part of the life of a football season?
Well, I can’t say I remember the tests being as big as the stakes, not in any season in recent memory.
But I have to wonder….is Georgia being tested? Are they approaching a stretch of road that could challenge them not just externally but also to the deepest of their inner being? And is it all just another stop in the road to Greatness?
Or to put it another way, is this season simply a Hero’s Journey?
In epic tales of all kinds, there are moments where all seems lost, or at the very least fiercely uncertain. Take, for example, “The Empire Strikes Back”, in which Luke Skywalker faces the psychological challenges of overcoming his fear during Jedi training, loses his hand in battle, and finds out that the most evil dude in the galaxy far, far away is actually his father (and the one responsible for the loss of said hand!). Meanwhile his BFF Han Solo is lost to carbon-freezing, and the entire future of the Rebellion is called into question, even at movie’s end. Or how about “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”, during which nobody believed Harry that the Dark Lord returned, murdered his friend, and almost murdered him too. He was mocked by his fellow students, smeared in the media, and thus began to doubt his own sanity while lashing out at his best friends….not to mention losing his Godfather.
Sure, I am exposing myself as a true science fiction cinema dork at this moment, (and granted things haven’t quite gotten that dire for the team) but these examples represent parts of the story structures that repeat themselves throughout books, film, and even real-life history. And I am beginning to wonder if this season’s path might be reflected in these and many other often-told allegories.
In this moment, I am looking to none other than Joseph Campbell for insight.
In the end, football is but a story. And very few literary analysts could break down stories and find their common threads quite like Joseph Campbell. His famous work “The Hero With a Thousand Faces” detailed in a comparative fashion the common themes in fictional works and how they all pretty well told the same tale. He called the repeating pattern “Monomyth”, (or, “one story”) and the concept has been rehashed and approximated by many other writers after him. However its general gist remains the same. A summary of the “Monomyth With A Thousand Variations” could be succinctly represented thus:
–The Hero’s Call to Adventure
–The Beginning of Transformation into the Unknown
–Challenges and Temptations
–Transformation and Atonement
–The Return (most often victorious)
Thinking about where Georgia has already been this season, are you seeing any parallels? I don’t know about you, but like no other season in my memory, this saga seems to be following the old familiar avenue of the quest for Greatness. We’ve certainly been called to action. No doubt after the Clemson game we were thrust into the valley of the unknown. While we had a convincing performance and relatively little setback during the South Carolina game, I don’t think anybody could’ve foreseen what was to happen next at LSU and Tennessee, so that takes care of the challenges part. Of course, at either of those junctures, our hopes for the season could’ve come completely unhinged, but somehow we’ve keep on rolling.
The question is: are we already at the Abyss? Are the scariest surprises behind us, or are there more slings and arrows headed our way? (And remember what the Abyss was for us last year? If you don’t, let this refresh your memory…)
And most importantly, can we handle it either way?
I say that is an absolute and heartfelt “yes”.
The truth: We don’t know what will happen next. We just don’t. (Just ask Phillip Fulmer.) All we can do is prepare the best way we know how and do the best we can in any given moment. Hackneyed, overstated, and said to oblivion, I know.
But, folks, it is the only way.
Of course, the tale unfolding before us isn’t written exclusively by man (as I am sure Coach Richt would agree) but in defining the possible outcomes, Mr. Campbell may be able to give us some ideas as to how it might turn out.
The team is demonstrating true grit these days. Quite frankly, there is a resolve and a drive I haven’t ever seen on a Georgia football team before, one that is elusive but to me is palpable. I have every bit of faith that no matter what happens these boys will never stop fighting.
Of course, all of the positive vibes, heartfelt affirmations, and magical mantras in the world don’t guarantee anything, either…..
Makes for high drama and intrigue, doesn’t it? Isn’t that why we love this game?
If that’s what we watch football for, we’ve certainly got it this year.
Call me a crazy football Pollyanna, but I couldn’t be prouder of what we’ve accomplished. And couldn’t be more intrigued to see what the story brings next.
I go to the opening monologue from my favorite football film, “The Blind Side” (yet another great example of a story with the Campbellian-like path), in which Sandra Bullock as Leigh Ann Tuohy professes,
“There’s a moment of orderly silence before a football play begins. Players are in position, linemen are frozen, and anything is possible.”
“Then, like a traffic accident, stuff begins to randomly collide.”
Does the Hero’s Journey always end in victory?
Depends on how you define “victory”. Personally, one way or the other, I expect nothing less from this team.
–Jennifer Rohner, Chief Culture Correspondent