Modernity as Mythology: What Saga Tells Us About Ourselves
People cannot stop talking about Saga by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples.
What are Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples doing that works so well? I think that perhaps its because Vaughn and Staples are making the familiar extraordinary. Vaughn has taken on a Herculean task. He is presenting modern attitudes and social practices as our modern mythology. Saga is the story of all of us, not the story of the exception to the rule. It takes the most human parts of our experience and forces us to consider them outside of the scope of our everyday existence. What choice do we have? We have to love it.
Vaughn has presented us with things that we as consumers of stories of expected to see, or somehow longed for, to a world we could never expect. In doing so, he has made these elements new and exciting. By using a structure that feels familiar the extraordinary worlds feel like home, and by being at home in these worlds, we become extraordinary.
This series introduces us to our lives as myth. Our mundane and completely typical existence is allowed to transcend the bounds of “normal” and be the basis driving a whirlwind cross-galaxy adventure. In the first issue of the series, we meet our narrator, Hazel, and her parents Marko and Alana. We enter this world at the same moment that Hazel does, and it is a scene we have seen a thousand times on movie screens, maybe once or twice in person: Mother pushing, father smiling, baby screaming. This is birth.
This part of the universal experience that binds us together as humans. We are all born, we come from somewhere; we inherit our genes and our histories before we are ever aware of our own existence. Hazel may say it better in Saga #6.
No matter what the story of our lives eventually entails, we were once the product of a mother and a father. This story is the story of life, in a general sense. Early on, we are invited to share in the moments that make this family unique, and reflect on the similar events in our own lives that make them the same.
LOVE AND RELATIONSHIPS:
There is perhaps no modern story that matters as much to us as the story of falling in love. Our relationships define who we are. This is a relatively new concept. Until the 19th century, marriage was an economic contract. The reasons for entering into this contract had to do with childbearing and financial security. While the idea of romantic love existed, but the idea of it being a reason to marry, or enough to sustain a marriage was not established. So now that we have changed that expectation, we are left with the consequences of our choices. We select our mates, and the overwhelming uncertainty about our fitness to be trusted with such a decision results in the same tensions being explored in media again and again. Even with this seemingly perfect couple, doubt is part of the story.
This goes about as well for Marko as you would expect. Alana is angry, indignant, and outraged. Our need to believe in the sanctity of romantic relationships is part of the ever-present doubts that we may have given our hearts and lives in error.
This episode brings to light another universal concern, can you ever really know anyone? We don’t want to be wrong (about anything, especially not our choice of partner) but we know the possibility is always there. We might have misjudged someone who is now linked to us in deep and lasting ways. In a world where fewer and fewer people partner with the boy or girl next door, and more and more of us find mates through tenuous social connections or even through sites like match.com or eharmony-truly knowing your significant other is becoming harder than ever… it seems to work out okay for Marko and Alana.
In Saga, these distractions take the shape of bounty hunters, civil war, and governmentally endorsed manhunts. For most of us, things are not quite so extreme. Common distractions can include anything from marital problems, to single-parenting, to economic hardship.
Now that it is more and more common for both parents to work outside the home in the rare intact nuclear family-it is harder to focus all of our energy on child-rearing. Our attention is divided, even under the best circumstances. Its becoming more and more difficult to parent like our parents (or grandparents) parented.
Oftentimes, we seek to give our children opportunities to somehow make up for the fact that we have careers and interest that extend beyond the domestic sphere. Piano lessons at three years old, $26,000 per year for preschool, “My Baby Can Read” DVDs… these are just a few things that I have actually heard of my peers doing in the past two years. Achievement driven curricula may be on its way to replacing quality time.
Another feature of parenting that seems to be becoming even more prevalent in our culture is the, ‘Better than I had it,’ paradigm. For generations we have sought to create better ways of life for our children, but with the emergence of pop-psychology and this generation’s willingness to blame all our idiosyncratic flaws on our parents we seek not only to provide our kids with better opportunities and more stable living situations, but to correct the ‘damage’ our parents did to us.
There are few things we fear like being wrong. When we are, we cannot expect it to be easy. The break up may be the equivalent to the modern interpretation of the ritual death in the hero’s journey. Since we are terrified of the end of a relationship, it would make sense that the scope of such an act in Saga is as large as life and death themselves.
We expect it to hurt like hell, we expect it to feel like the end of the world.
Our life’s progress hinges on the choices and agreements we make with the people we love, and whom we allow to love us. Is there anything so awful as having that taken away?
It is the end of the world. The end of that world, and the life we would have created. Of course, people do crazy things at the end of the world.
There’s a phrase you might have heard that gets thrown at this generation a lot: extended adolescence. What this phrase describes is the ample amount of time we have claimed in order to find ourselves. We hang out for longer than ever, somewhere between puberty and financial independence; which makes the pursuit of autonomy an endeavor for the young thirty-something, as well as the seventeen-year-old.
This extended search for independence is the result of the prevalence of careers that demand a college education, economic strife for those exiting college, and a variety of other factors.
Even under the best circumstances, the rebelliousness that became a staple of teenage culture in the 1950s and 1960s adds a strain to adult relationships with our parents. We may feel an ever-increasing need to tell our parents that our choices are valid; we may go the opposite direction in constructing our lives; we may look at there choices as outdated and misguided, all of this results in a dynamic ripe for conflict.
This generation wants respect as well as a safety-net from their parents. We expect to have time to grow up, but expect them to realize when we are finished, and to get out of our way. Lessons they taught us, that should have been the core of our identity may pass away into history. Moral taboo can crumble in a single generation’s time. The times they are a changin’. Each new group of freshly-minted adults will rebel; it seems the most recent one has rebelled by expressing tolerance where there parents were slower to do so.
Controversial issues, like whom we choose to marry are at the forefront of these generational arguments. In Saga, Marko’s parents disapprove heartily of his choice of mate. They see her as the face of their enemy, while Marko and Alana seem capable only of seeing one another. The couple stands up for themselves, and asserts their right to make these choices, and the justness of their actions. They are unwilling to back down
Eventually Alana is able to win Barr over, by demonstrating her love for Marko. In a world where our relationships are based on choice, and parents want only the best for their children, this seems a convincing argument for the pair being together.
So there ya go folks… modern understandings of life, love, parenthood, and independence all sewn up in one neat little volume-WITH PICTURES! Could you ask for anything more? Give it a chance, find the first trade here:
And stay tuned as we solve world hunger, pandemic illness, and global warming in issue #11 next month.
Saga is published by Image Comics, written by Brian K. Vaughn, art by Fiona Staples, Letters & Design by Fonografiks Edited by Eric Stephenson
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