Hero with a Thousand and One Faces -or- Hollywood's Superheros

Cultural Rites of Passage -or- Screenwriting of the Hollywood Dream Factory 

In "The Hero with a Thousand Faces" Joseph Campbell follows "a multitude of heroic figures" who heeded the call to adventure. The hero's archetypal journey is psychologically structured by a culture's rites of passage. Many of the dreams sent to the International Institute for Dream Research (IIDR), and many of the dream interpretations posted at the IIDR website speak of the cultural ceremonies of birth, initiation, coming of age, marriage and death. 

From a Hollywood dream factory screenwriting perspective "The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure For Writers" by Christopher Vogler outlines the cinematic mythological allegory of the hero's journey. For Vogler, the adventure is archetypally structured by the thoughts, behaviours and stories also found in the movies and their "stock characters". What the IIDR is making visible for you the reader are the Hollywood dream factory, the mass media's and the culture industry's effects on your dreams. 

Here then is one such dream; 

Andrew, 27 

So I transformed into a superhero. As I was transforming I felt the transformation all the way down to a cellular level. Normally when I have Superhero dreams, I do the power thing, but don't feel it. This time I did. I felt a large painful jolt of electricity run through my body. 

Mr Hagen's Reply: The Golden Ass -or- The Inferiority Complex and the Will to Power 

In "Children's Dreams" (1984), Patricia Garfield devotes a whole chapter to the children's theme of "Superkid and Other Joyful Dreams". Garfield sees the "need to achieve" and "drive for success" as cultural motivations that fuel a child's superhero dreams. Many of the children's dreams Garfield discusses are characters found in the media such as film, TV and music. The list of heros found in these children's dreams include; Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Little Mermaid, big league baseball player (with bionic arms, an allusion to the "Six Million Dollar Man"), and Captain of the Enterprise (Star Trek). 

These TV shows are still for the most part still playing somewhere for those living in the "global village's" multi-channel TV universe. They also continue to influence dreaming. The dream interpretation "Amerika and Planet Hollywood" attest to the pervasive influence of media and the Hollywood dream factory. From a popular music perspective Bonny Tyler's "I Need a Hero" (watch music video) fits the sentiment.

Garfield's critique of the media's characterizations of the hero is stated in her own words; "The superhero figures tend to overemphasize physical power, even violence, in accomplishing their feats of heroism...". Her recommendation; "As parents, we can augment our children's supply of heros and heroines by sharing stories, legends and films that portray a variety of outstanding people, fictional and real, with a range of skills beyond superhuman strength." Garfield cautions; "If children's obsession with superheros endures into adolescence, however, and fictional heros and heroines are not gradually replaced by living men and women who have managed a contribution of value, the youngster is left adrift in a sea of fantasy." 

Now to your dream; your superhero transformation dreams seem to be much like in the "comics" an ongoing tale. The archetypal idea of "transformation" is an ancient recurring "mise en scene" found in dreams throughout history. Apuleius "The Golden Ass" and Ovid's "Metamorphosis" are ancient literary expressions of the transformative psychological process. In modern times, Franz Kafka "Metamorphosis", uses and re-works this idea of psychological transformation. The novella opens with the main character waking from a dream and finding himself transformed into a bug. Anne Sexton's "Transformations" subverts the social order found in Grimm's fairy tales. Many of the dream interpretations posted at the IIDR website speak about the problems of the "Kafkaesque".

The concern that your dream seems to voice, is the idea that in this dream there appears to be a power "transformation all the way down to a cellular level." Such biological "metamorphosis"  does exist in nature. What your dream does bring to mind are the experiments with drugs found in the film "Altered States" where a scientist begins to biologically de-evolve. It also calls to mind the story of "Frankenstein" where the machinery of electricity holds the secret to life. 

From a psychological perspective your dream as you yourself say, is about "the power thing". Alfred Adler's enduring ideas about dreams is that Adler believed that individuals are born "egocentric"  and that they must learn to move beyond their egocentrism, egotism and self-absorption, towards empathy and altruism. Adler coined the psychological concept of the "inferiority complex" in which he believed individuals strived for power to compensate for their feelings of inadequacy. We do live in a world of war and power politics, where our attention through out history has turned to a variety of geopolitical theatres. Seen from Adler's perspective, dreams are a psychological index of the feelings of inferiority and the defenses against such feelings by striving for power, superiority  and mastery. Often such thoughts, feelings and behaviours are a repetitious agonistic vicious circle, a "Catch 22" that influences the individuals "lifestyle" and recurring dreams. Said differently, almost every superhero ever created has an "Achilles Heel" or character flaw. Nobody's perfect.



All material Copyright 2006 International Institute for Dream Research. All rights reserved.