Bring on the Hero

About ten years ago I was first introduced to the Hero’s Journey. Since then I have found myself regularly relying on it when explaining story structure. Today I wanted to write an article about why I believe the Hero’s Journey is such a popular model for screenwriters and story teachers. Then I stumbled on the following:
“Australia and Germany are two cultures that seem slightly herophobic.”
Christopher Vogler

The National Screenwriters Conference is over and I didn’t attend. But thanks to ScreenHub I know I missed an interesting discussion between AFC script guru Karin Altmann and Clubland scribe Keith Thompson.

I recommend reading the whole article, (as a matter of fact I recommend getting a subscription to ScreenHub and reading the full coverage from the conference) but here is the quote that set me off on my journey today:

Keith is wary of scripting how-to books, believing that they hold the potential for all movies to end up looking the same. Similarly, an overt focus on structure may be to the detriment of the script overall. He prefers to discuss scripts using more generic terms such as beginning, middle and end. The hero’s journey (a la Campbell and Vogler) should be approached warily.

Keep this in mind and let’s go back to that quote above this post.

Australia and Germany are two cultures that seem slightly herophobic.

Vogler must have good reasons for such a statement. In the case of Germany I accept the statement without further ado. Didn’t their last hero get them in a bit of a pickle?

But on what basis would he put Australians and Germans in the same context?

The Australians distrust appeals to heroic virtue because such concepts have been used to lure generations of young Australian males into fighting Britain’s battles. Australians have their heroes, of course, but they tend to be unassuming and self-effacing, and will remain reluctant for much longer than heroes in other cultures.[…]

That doesn’t mean we don’t have heroes at all:

The most admirable hero is one who denies his heroic role as long as possible and who, like Mad Max, avoids accepting responsibility for anyone but himself.

Now that last definition sounds like familiar Hollywood territory to me and it can be applied just as much to Maximus in Gladiator and John McClane in Die Hard as to Spider-Man, who needs to be constantly reminded of his responsibility as super-hero.

We all know that the movies Australians like are not very different from the rest of the world, as prove the numbers.

Obviously the situation is very different when we look at the type of films we are making. Suddenly Chris Vogler’s words are getting a different meaning.

Have a look here: Australian Films at the Box Office

What does this teach us? If anybody is herophobic, it is the Australian screenwriter, not the cinema goer.

Ironic how I was going to make a very different point about the Hero’s Journey but via a little detour I have come to the same conclusion:

If Australian filmmakers want to re-connect with the Australian audience – or any audience for that matter – they better stop refusing the call of the Hero’s Journey.

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