Voice Actor Crispin Freeman Discusses Mythology Scholarship and How Myths Affect Popular Culture

Entertainment Geek Culture

Crispin Freeman, while perhaps best known for his many voice-acting roles (Alucard in ‘Hellsing’, Itachi in ‘Naruto’, Winston in ‘Overwatch’) is also a mythology scholar. He spoke with me about how his interest in mythology began, the role it played in his career, and how myths have shaped our popular culture.

Note: there is a spoiler for Young Justice in this interview when Crispin is describing his roles – you can avoid it by skipping to the first question (“How did your interest in mythology start?”)

Sean
So just to begin, could you introduce yourself to our readers?

Crispin
Sure. My name is Crispin Freeman, I work primarily as a voice actor, but I’m also a mythology scholar, and I do presentations on how the different religious traditions of different cultures and countries affect pop culture storytelling.

Sean
Before we discuss your mythology scholarship, can you just list off a couple things people might know you from in voice acting?

Crispin
Sure. I started working in anime, Japanese animation, and some of the big titles I’ve worked on there are Naruto, where I play Itachi. Hellsing, where I play Alucard. Ghost in the Shell, where I played Togusa. Wolf’s Rain, where I played Tsume. I’ve also worked on a couple of Miyazaki films, including Howl’s Moving Castle, where I played Prince Turnip. And I did some background voices on Ponyo.

In terms of domestic American animation, I’ve worked on Spectacular Spider-Man, where I played Electro. Young Justice, where I play Red Arrow and Speedy and Arsenal, and I’m cloned in a million different ways in that show.

Also worked on Steven Universe as Mr. Maheshwaran, the father of Steven Universe’s girlfriend, Connie. And in the video game world… most recently, I’m probably most famous for the character of Winston in Overwatch. I also did the Male Wizard in Diablo III, Vindicator Maraad in World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor.

Sean
How did your interest in mythology start? Were you initially a history student, and then you became a voice actor? Was this something that you developed on your own?

Crispin
I was initially a computer nerd, who became an actor.

I guess, I was raised in an audiophile family, my dad always had fancy audio equipment. I learned about audio probably by breaking a lot of the equipment he gave me, his hand-me-downs. But then I started getting into computers when I was younger, and I was a computer nerd long before I was a theater geek.

Then when I was going through high school and college, computers were just getting fast enough to do professional quality audio. I was not only acting on stage, but I was doing sound design for the theater as well. Back then, things in my college were still on reel-to-reel tape decks, and I was like, “Are you kidding me? This needs to be on mini-disk decks, and we need to be running through a Macintosh, and blah-blah-blah.”

But then, when I was in graduate school in New York, I was going to Columbia University to get my Master’s in acting, I had an artistic crisis of sorts. Things were not working, which is something that can happen in grad school, because it’s a very stressful environment, and they’re trying to break you down and build you back up. And I realized that I didn’t know why I was acting, I didn’t know what I had to say, I didn’t know why I was doing what I was doing. My artistry was suffering, my personal relationships weren’t so great. It was not a good time. The head of the program turned to me and said, “Crispin, you look good, you move well, you speak well. Why am I not always interested?” I said, “Yeah, that’s a problem.”

Luckily, around that time, I discovered two things. First, I rediscovered my love of Japanese animation. I’d always loved animation as a kid, and it wasn’t until high school that I realized animation could come from different countries, and that there was Japanese animation. And I had been watching it all during my childhood without knowing. When I looked back, I realized that all my favorite cartoons tended to be Japanese. Speed Racer, Star Blazers, Battle of the Planets, Robotech, Voltron. I thought, “that’s weird.” I re-found Japanese animation again after college, because I was going to school in New York City, and there was a cool store down in the East Village called Anime Crash that sold anime on VHS tapes. So I would go down there and get my fix of anime.

At the same time, I discovered Joseph Campbell’s work on comparative mythology. And what happened was that Campbell became a Rosetta Stone for me. He brought to my conscious mind why I was subconsciously attracted to this Japanese animated storytelling. He explained to me how mythology could work and help someone psychologically, both in terms of improving one’s artistry, but also, and probably more importantly, improving one’s life journey. Then I was really off to the races, and I wanted to figure out more about mythological storytelling and archetypal hero journeys. I realized that’s really where my fascination was, when it came to storytelling and artistry.

I was not the kind of person, or the actor, who was really into Arthur Miller or hyper-realistic drama, or not even necessarily didactic social commentary in art. I was into hero journeys and legends and fairytales, and stuff that worked on a metaphysical level, that was trying to say something about the cosmos and our position in it. Once I found that, then it was me trying to figure out how do I apply Campbell’s scholarship to pop culture? Because Campbell, god love him, really didn’t think anyone wrote much that was worthwhile after James Joyce. So that left the whole 20th century open for me to try to explore.

While Campbell is very famous nowadays, probably because he was so influential on George Lucas and the whole Star Wars franchise… Other than Star Wars, I’m not convinced that Campbell really cared about pop culture in the least. So I took it upon myself to try to apply his principles to pop culture, storytelling, and heroes in comic books and animation, and films and video games, and see if I could decode how those heroes functioned and how the stories worked.

Sean
Could you explain some of Campbell’s theories?

Crispin
Joseph Campbell’s probably most famous for his book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, which he originally planned as an introduction to his class on comparative mythology. In The Hero with a Thousand Faces, he articulates a concept he calls the Monomyth.

The Monomyth is a structure of storytelling; it describes the plot points that almost every single mythological hero hits on the course of their journey. There’s usually the call to adventure, then there’s often the refusal of the call, then there is the first threshold, the gatekeeper at the threshold. The journey through the belly of the whale, the meeting with the goddess or the god. The flight back to home. These structural aspects of mythological storytelling repeat over and over cross-culturally.

So much of what people now think of as Campbell is… “All mythology’s the same, and everything follows this formula. So we’re done.” Well, no. It is true that structure is very common, and he’s not the only one who said things like that. Vladimir Propp in his Morphology of the Folktale did something very similar, where he broke down traditional Grimm’s Fairytales, and figured out that there was a structure, a morphology to them as well. At least the ones that are the most popular, that have stuck around the most, and have the most psychic weight in our culture.

But Campbell also talked about the notion that a mythology serves four purposes, and that is it serves a mystical function, a cosmological function, a sociological function, and a psychological function.

The idea is that the mystical function of a mythology is to put you in touch with a notion of what he called cosmic awe. That the nature of the universe is so vast and mind-blowing that the religion and its rituals and its storytelling, and everything else is supposed to awaken you to that notion of the mystery of the universe. That’s the mystical function of a mythology.

The cosmological function is saying this is how the universe is actually physically structured. We are on the back of an elephant that’s on a turtle, and it’s turtles all the way down, or it’s a universe that was created in six days by an omnipotent god. This is the actual physical structure of the universe, the cosmology.

The third function is the sociological, which says, “now that we know how the universe is ordered, this is how we should order our society”. As above, so below. Or in the Purusha Sukta, when you’re looking at Hinduism, and everyone is part of the body of the cosmos, and each caste system relates to a certain part of Purusha’s cosmic body. All this stuff.

Then the last is the psychological, which means that these stories and these rituals are trying to pull you through life to have the most fulfilling life experience possible. Campbell would say that in a modern secular society (which, based on recent history, we may be going away from) but, if we work in a modern secular society, the cosmological and the sociological function have now been co-opted by science, and rightly so. We use science to determine how the heavens go, and we use science and psychology and sociology to figure out what’s the best way to create a just and equitable society to the best of our ability. But the mystical and the psychological are still very useful, from a mythological standpoint.

So the principles that I’m using are not only the Monomyth, which is the simple decoder key, but this notion of what is the psychological meaning of mythology? If we look at a hero journey and the slaying of a dragon, or the psychological psychedelic journey of Alice in Wonderland, rather than looking at it literally and ask, “what is physically going on,” we instead look at it metaphorically and ask, “what is this story revealing about our own psyche.”

Storytelling is often … A way I really like to think of storytelling is that it is a mind trying to work out a problem. Each character in the story is representing a different opinion about that problem. In Star Wars, you have Luke, and Obi-Wan Kenobi is saying, “Use the Force.” But then you have Han Solo saying, “Dude, this Force thing is ridiculous. Why don’t you just be practical, get your head out of the clouds, and this is how you get through life. Life is tough, be a smuggler like me.” So you have this battle where Luke has to make a decision, is he going to use the Force or not? And so that’s a mind trying to figure things out. So if we apply that mind notion or paradigm to mythology, then we can look at the characters in a mythological story and see them as having an argument, and then is there some sort of consensus or conclusion that is reached at the end of the story. And can we use that to realign ourselves with the cosmos and with our spiritual center.

That’s usually what I’m using it for, is for the psychological usefulness of this storytelling. How does it help me improve my own life, and relink myself to a metaphysical reality.

Sean
How did it help you? You mentioned that his really helped you improve your acting, it helped you figure out why you acted. The psychological aspects of the storytelling… how did that impact you?

Crispin
I think the way it impacted me is that I always wanted to know how the world functioned. It can be daunting when you’re young, because what you are usually given is just a basket full of aphorisms or rules that are not always, shall we say, cohesive systematically. No one’s put them together in a structure that has a cohesive hold. That is usually the goal of a religious tradition, is to say, “Here is a cohesive way of looking at the universe, and how you should behave in it, in order to have the most fulfilling life.”

What I found was that, when I was growing up in America, I was raised in a very secular environment, so I often approach religion like an anthropologist, like I’m exploring this new world that I’ve never seen before. But that doesn’t change the fact that certain religious traditions, specifically the Abrahamic ones, have greatly influenced America and how American culture works. Even though I was raised in a secular household, there were still many Christian values that were just the default setting for the American culture that I grew up in.

What I found was that I was attracted to the storytelling of other cultures, because it rang more true for me than the stuff in the culture that I was raised in. So that when I would see a character struggling in a story, and you’ll see this in kung-fu movies all the time, where they’re fighting, they become exhausted, and then somehow they go quiet, and they find this new center in themselves. You could describe that by saying they have aligned themselves with the Dao, with the true flow of the universe. Or when Neo in The Matrix, spoilers, when he gets shot near the end of the first movie, you think he’s dead, but then he stands up. And instead of trying to physically dodge the bullets, he spiritually stops them in midair. He’s found his spiritual center, and from that center is a place of calm. You can describe it as nirvana, that place of no wind, not moved by desire or fear in the Buddhist paradigm of looking at things.

That place is not only a place of calm and peace, but it’s also a place of bliss. It’s from that place that I could then make decisions about what I want to pursue in my life, that would give me a true sense of happiness. Rather than trying to follow the conventional wisdom that other people were giving me, often with the best of intentions, “this is what you need to do in order to have a happy life.” Okay, maybe that’s true for them, but maybe it’s not really true for me.

For instance, when I was in graduate school, I was acting and I was doing sound design. I was working with this wonderful sound designer named Darron West, who has gone on to win umpteen awards, he’s amazing. It was earlier in his career, and I just knew he was the bomb, so I would help him out whenever I could. We sat down, I think it was for lunch at one point, and he said, “Crispin, here’s the thing, you’re a good actor, you’re a good sound designer, but you’re going to have to make a choice. You can’t do both at the same time.” I’d been getting away with it, because I was in grad school, and everyone’s doing everything. But he was basically telling me, “Once you get into the professional world in New York City, in the world of theater, you’re going to have to decide. Either you’re going to have to commit to being an actor, or you’re going to have to commit to being a sound designer. Because you’re not going to be able to work on a professional level on both at the same time.”

Now he was right, and he was wrong. If I had followed his conventional wisdom, I would have either committed to being a Broadway actor, or committed to being a Broadway sound designer. Limiting myself wasn’t going to make me happy that way. But it turns out there was this other way of doing things, this thing called voice acting. Which at the time, I didn’t even know anything about, but it came across my path because I was following what gave me bliss. I was following what made me the happiest. What was making me the happiest at that moment was working in anime. It was making me happier than acting on Broadway, which is again, conventional wisdom would say, “You should be happier acting on Broadway in a Broadway show, than doing some little anime dubbing project.”

But the reverse was the case, I was much more excited about working on this anime dubbing project than I was about being on Broadway. I realized, wait a minute, this voice acting thing allows me to combine the two things that I like the most. This notion of acting and playing characters, and I get to work with some of the fanciest audio tech on the planet at the same time, so there was a way for me to follow my own path. But it was only going to happen if I stopped listening to everybody else. I found my own quiet place to decide how to move forward.

This is very similar to the Temptations of the Buddha. The Buddha had similar challenges in his life. Initially, his father wanted him to be a great ruler, and so his father gave him everything he wanted. He lacked for nothing, he had money and women and adventure and excitement and hunts… Whatever he wanted, he could have, because he was the prince. But that didn’t satisfy him. So, then he went and said, “I’m going to become a yogi, and I’m going to figure out spiritual things, and I’m going to be the more ascetic than any yogi you’ve ever seen. I’m going to be the hardest hardcore yogi you’ve ever seen. I’m going to out-monk everybody.” That didn’t work either. He had to find his own middle path that was uniquely his own, that was not following somebody else’s path.

So often in life, we have people telling us what we should be doing, when in fact, what’s probably going to give us the most satisfaction in life is to go to that quiet place and find our own hero journey. When I see other people going on their hero journeys, I can take wisdom or advice from that, and incorporate it into my own hero journey that I’m writing.

Sean
I see you referenced Buddhism there, and you cited Buddhism very heavily in your talk on giant robots. When approaching religion, you mentioned you approach it like an anthropologist; how did you grow your knowledge on these topics? And how did you do it alongside your voice acting work?

Crispin
Campbell was my gateway drug, I’m a big fan of his Power of Myth PBS series, which was done by Bill Moyers, and is now, I believe, available on Netflix. You can stream it, which is awesome. That gave me an introduction, a birds-eye view, a Reader’s Digest version of what was going on. Then I had to go and start doing this research myself, so I would research different religious traditions and try to learn about world religions. There are many common books on the subject, Huston Smith’s The World’s Religions. Nowadays, one of my favorite places to go is a company called The Great Courses, that videotape college professors, renowned college professors around the world about different college level subjects.

So often I would find, one of them would have a great lecture series on mystics and heretics, and I was like, “Ooh, I want to learn about that.” So my iPhone is filled with lectures, when I’m driving around Los Angeles, I’m listening to lectures or podcasts, I’m listening to data. I very rarely listen to music in my car. For most people, that would be painful, it would be like doing homework every day, but I fall asleep listening to people talk about the logical absolutes and philosophical ideas, because it just makes my brain happy. So that’s what I do when I’m not doing other things, that’s my hobby is learning stuff.

Sean
How did you then take those learnings and start giving lectures on your own?

Crispin
What happened was Campbell’s work on mythology helped me understand why I liked Japanese animation so much, and I had this idea that other people felt about anime the same way that I did. I wanted to reach out to my fellow anime fans, who appreciated anime on this mythological level, but I realized it was hard to find them.

Fortunately, I was a voice actor, and I was starting to get invited to conventions. What I did is I put together a panel to try to talk about these topics. And what I did is I took the very first episode of the Power of Myth, with Campbell talking about the hero journey, and I cut it down, made it shorter, and I inter-spliced video examples from anime to elucidate what Campbell was talking about. So that it wasn’t quite as abstract or historical, and you could see what he was talking about demonstrated in current anime shows.

That little video ran about half-an-hour, and so in an hour-long panel, I would show the video for half-an-hour, then we’d have a discussion afterwards. I’d been doing this for a while, and a fan found out about this, and said, “There’s this event that happens at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, called Schoolgirls & Mobilesuits, which is this academic conference on anime and manga. You should totally go present there.” I said, “Really? I’m not sure I’m in that league.” And then I reached out, and the woman who organized the event said, “Oh my god, we’d love to have you, because we not only love having academics come talk, we love having people from the industry come talk as well. We’ve got a publisher guy from Tokyopop who’s coming, we’ve got all sorts of great people coming.”

I said, “Great.” And then I panicked, because I realized I couldn’t get up at an academic conference and just play a Joseph Campbell video. That’s completely ridiculous; talk about plagiarism. So I realized that I needed to put together something that was my own type of presentation. I didn’t know what to do.

Luckily the movie An Inconvenient Truth had just come out. I went and saw it, and I realized, “Aha. What Al Gore is doing up there with slides and video and presentation, that’s the format.” While everyone else was all about saving the world, I’m looking in the credits going, “What software did he use?” I purchased Apple Keynote, and went and started putting together my own presentations, based on my own thoughts about mythology, anime, and storytelling.

It was also just when I could really start doing some proper video editing on my Macintosh laptop, so I was able to incorporate the video into the slides, and try to make it as elegant as possible. I was trying to mimic that production level of Inconvenient Truth, except this time I’m talking about giant robots and superheroes. Because I’m an actor, I love performing in front of people, so I want to make it humorous and engaging and funny. I did a dress rehearsal here in Los Angeles for some friends of mine who are screenwriters to get feedback from them before I went and gave the presentation at the academic conference.

It went over like gangbusters, and they basically said, “You have to keep coming back.” And so for the next five years, I came back and gave a new presentation every year at Schoolgirls & Mobilesuits. Those are the five presentations that are listed on my Mythology and Meaning website in the animation section.

Then financial things changed at the school, and they couldn’t really afford to bring people out in the same way, so unfortunately I haven’t been back since. But then I did another five lectures on sci-fi and fantasy film, live action films, that I presented at a location here in Los Angeles where they wanted to have classes as well. So that’s where those presentations on the film section of the Mythology and Meaning website come from.

And then recently I did an ad hoc presentation with a friend of mine, Helen McCarthy, who wrote the Anime Encyclopedia, and won an Eisner Award for her book on Osamu Tezuka. We did a presentation earlier this year at a convention on monsters in anime. We turned it into a co-presentation.

Sean
You mentioned a desire to publish your own thoughts, after building on Campbell’s research. What are a couple of conclusions that you presented that were completely your own? Of your research, what was it that you found the most interesting or the most surprising?

Crispin
What I’m doing in my presentations on animation is that I’m trying to look for large cultural patterns that repeat in storytelling, because those tend to be really good rules of thumb when you’re trying to make your own project. Whenever I see a character archetype, or a story trope repeating itself in a culture, even amongst different creators, then I know I’m onto something that’s probably mythological, that’s low on the brainstem. It’s almost subconsciously influencing the creators.

One of the ones I was probably most proud of is when I got the bit between my teeth about Power Rangers. I said, “This is weird.” Power Rangers have been around for what now, 40 years or so, and it’s always the same formula. It’s always a five-person team, and the makeup of the team is usually the hero, the rebel, the fat guy, the kid, and the girl. Whether it’s Battle of the Planets, Voltron, Combattler V, Voltes V, it doesn’t matter. This Power Ranger formula just keeps coming over and over again. There’s got to be something underneath that.

Power Rangers have their roots in one of my favorite anime, Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, which was known as Battle of the Planets in America, in its first dubbed incarnation. Battle of the Planets is the progenitor of all the Power Ranger stuff, it’s the first five-person team that combines into the God Phoenix and does its thing.

Science Ninja Team Gatchaman is the Japanese trying to do their own interpretation American superheroes. But American superheroes never combine, they don’t do that, they don’t become a giant robot. And American superheroes are almost always different lineups. There’s no consistent lineup of the X-Men or the Justice League or the Avengers, except for the Fantastic Four.

The Fantastic Four is always four, so I said, “Huh? I wonder if I can reverse engineer what the hell is going on here. Why is the Fantastic Four, four?” Well, they’re four because they’re the four Greek elements. They’re fire, earth, air, and water, and each one of the Fantastic Four not only physically behaves like their element, but also mentally behaves like their element as well. So Ben Grimm is grim, and he’s earthy. And the Human Torch is hot-headed. So I said, “Huh… if the Fantastic Four are four elementals, what if the Power Rangers are five elementals?”

And then it turns out, it’s absolutely true. Not only is there a Japanese five element system, but there’s a Chinese five element systems as well. Then you can go into esoteric Buddhism, where there are five Buddhas that are put in a mandala and they each have elemental powers and whatnot.

So then it’s off to the races for me to try to figure out, how does this all function together, how does this manifest, how does it affect their storytelling, and how does that iterate over time, and does it change over time from when the stuff happened 40-some years ago, to now.

Sean
How do the depictions change with time?

Crispin
Well, one of the interesting things is that you get this cross-cultural influence. The original Power Rangers, Himitsu Sentai Gorenger, was released in 1975.

They did some more Power Ranger shows for a while, and then what they did is they licensed the character of Spider-Man from Marvel Comics in 1978, and they made a Spider-Man Power Ranger show [Supaidāman]. It’s amazing. The premise is that he got bit by an alien spider, so now he’s fighting aliens that are attacking the earth.

In that Spider-Man show, they developed what we now know as the standard fighting escalation. Which is Spider-Man, “Spido-Man,” as they call him in the show, initially fights the alien bad guys using kung-fu.

Then he gets on his special Spider-Man motorcycle. Then he gets in his giant robot, Leopardon, and fights the aliens in his giant robot. That notion of a Power Ranger escalation from fisticuffs, hand to hand combat, to “I’m in some sort of car or bike or vehicle,” to now we have taken those vehicles and combined them into a giant robot, that’s where it started. It started in that Spider-Man Power Ranger. Had there not been this cross-cultural influence of Spider-Man into the Power Ranger formula, I don’t know if we would have gotten that same synthesis, which now seems perfectly canon. That’s as core to Power Rangers as anything else.

That’s what you get, you get this interesting evolution of these characters, and how they function. Now we have something like Pacific Rim, where you have two pilots in one robot, that are drifting. Whatever that means, it’s still a little squishy… But the fact that the two pilots are somehow psychically linked, and you need two of them to make the robot work, that’s a variation on the notion of Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, where you had to get all five of the team members to create the God Phoenix vehicle to fly in. Or even Getter Robo, where you had three different parts of the robot that combined. Then there’s Volton, where you have the five lions that combine.

So this changes, and it changes when DreamWorks decides to remake Voltron. They have to modify the mythology of the storytelling, because they’re doing it for a Western audience, and not for a Japanese audience anymore.

Sean
One thing that struck me about your presentation was the way that heroes in Western culture and Eastern culture differ. I remember your comment, “Superman must defeat Lex Luthor. Astro Boy must make peace with Atlas,” and how you emphasized this difference between Western heroes and Eastern heroes, and their overall objective in the story. Could you talk about that a bit?

Crispin
I think there’s a lot of things that influence what a hero is fighting for. Mythology I think is a big influence, history and culture are a big influences as well. So, in the mythological world of Superman, and many superheroes, especially from the Golden Era of comics in America, the villains are unredeemable. They are in some way, inherently evil. Whether they are Lex Luthor or the Red Skull, or whoever else (the Red Skull is Captain America, so that’s Silver Age), but they are unredeemable, they are somehow intrinsically evil. So therefore, they must be defeated.

The notion of someone being intrinsically evil only works when you have either a frontier, where you can push the bad guys over the frontier and remove them from your sphere, or you can incarcerate them indefinitely. Those options don’t always work in a lot of Asian cultures, because there is this Japanese notion of Wa, of getting along. The idea that we’re all in this together somehow, and so we can’t demonize a part of the group, because that will just lead to endless conflict. We must find a way to find harmony and bring the group together. There’s this idea that the other may only be evil because of your perspective on them, because maybe you misunderstand them. Or because they misunderstand things. Or they are justified in their complaints, but not in their means of addressing them.

So using the character of Atlas in Astro Boy, Atlas has good reason to be upset, angry, and to distrust humans. The same way that Magneto in the X-Men world has reason to distrust humans. But what we question are their methods, so Atlas’ methods and Magneto’s methods we find unethical and unacceptable. But because we see this thing, this person, as a human, and not just as something that is intrinsically evil, we can negotiate with that person. And there is a hope that person might be able to change their minds, if circumstances change. And sure enough, we’ve had times when Magneto has been in charge of the X-Men. When Charles Xavier was unavailable, or out of the picture, Magneto would come in and run the place, because he’s human and you can reason with him.

There’s not a whole lot of Lex Luthor taking over the Justice League. I don’t think that’s possible, anymore than it’s possible for Sauron in Middle Earth to become the King of Gondor. Or for our heroes to work out some sort of détente with Mordor, so that Gondor and Mordor can coexist. That’s not going to work. So Asian culture has this, and I think Japanese culture especially after World War II, had to do some reckoning. They lost the war, and so this notion that the enemy is evil, and that they’re the good guys, and they’re going to defeat the enemy is hard to maintain in the face of losing the war. And realizing that maybe there are some things they did that were really immoral. So there has to be a reckoning with oneself.

It’s a similar thing that frankly I think America needs to go through more often now. For too long, America felt like they were the Boy Scout and they could do no wrong. And now it’s becoming clear that no, America’s done some crappy stuff too. We need to be honest about that, and we need to make a reckoning about that, so that we can move forward without being blind about our past, and repeating past mistakes. And so the world that we live in is much smaller, so if you’re going to say that we all have to live on this globe, this planet of earth together, and there are people that are just intrinsically evil, what do you do with them? Do you kill them? Do you banish them to the moon? Do you incarcerate them indefinitely?

All these solutions seem really problematic. So the notion that maybe we can find some way to negotiate some sort of order seems to be the most practical way of approaching things. Assuming that they’re not just psychotic, there aren’t biological or structural things that make it impossible to reform. I’m not even sure what the criteria for that would be. But assuming that people can use reason, that they do have empathy, then there’s got to be some way for us to negotiate and resolve differences so that we can coexist, because the alternative is never ending war.

Sean
You mentioned earlier the cross-pollination between various cultures and it having an influence on our media. Given that, are we seeing more American creators adopt more of those ‘villains that can be reasoned with,’ versus the more intrinsically evil ones of the earlier Golden Era?

Crispin
Sure, who are the bad guys in the Avengers? Most of the time, the Avengers are fighting themselves. In the first Avengers movie, they spend most of the film not really fighting Loki, but fighting each other, and trying to figure out if they can form a family out of this dysfunctional crew. And so, by the end of it, when they finally decide, “we could be a family,” they defeat Loki at the end of the third act. It happens rather quickly. Then what’s the next Avengers film, who are they fighting? Ultron, which is an enemy of their own creation. They made Ultron, Ultron didn’t come from somewhere else.

Before that there’s Captain America: Civil War, and it just seems like the Avengers are all constantly fighting each other. It isn’t until we get Thanos that we finally get some sort of external threat that is intrinsically evil. Now you could argue that Thanos is justified in what he’s doing, that maybe you could reason with him, but the problem is that Thanos does not seem amenable to debate. He doesn’t seem willing to listen to another point of view, so what do you do by the end of Endgame? You destroy him. He has to be eliminated from the equation in order to move forward. What’s ironic of course, is that’s not how it was done in the comic books.

In the comic books, he’s put out to pasture. He’s neutered. And he realizes the error of his ways in many ways, and decides, “I was wrong, I’m not going to do that anymore.” So, it’s funny that in the movie versions, Thanos has to be more intrinsically evil than he was in the original comic book version of himself. In most of the Marvel Universe, the hardest thing they have is coming up with a good villain. Who can they fight against? In the first Captain America movie, he’s fighting against Red Skull and Hydra and everything else. And then by the second movie, it’s Winter Soldier, which is again, fighting with his fellow compatriot, Bucky, as the Winter Soldier who used to work with him. He’s now fighting Robert Redford’s character who is running S.H.I.E.L.D., and the Triskelion and whatnot.

Again, it’s an internal battle. It’s like they’re eating themselves. That’s not the way superhero movies were made when I was young. When Christopher Reeve fought Lex Luthor, he fought Lex Luthor, and then he fought Zod. He’s always fighting an external thread. Now in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, often the threat is either internal or one of our own creation.

Sean
That’s an excellent answer. I believe that exhausts my questions. If people are interested in seeing you give these talks, or learning more about this topic with you, where can they go?

Crispin
They can go to my website, MythologyAndMeaning.com. There is a place there where they can sign up for my mailing list. I do my best to send out announcements when I’m going to be giving my presentations.

They can contact their local convention or film festival and see if they might want to invite me to present one of these. I remember a couple years ago, they had a Japanese animation film fest here in Los Angeles, and they had me come and do my Power Rangers presentation before, because they were showing Saint Seiya, and other shows that work on superhero team motifs. But MythologyAndMeaning.com is the best place to find the information about my mythology scholarship.

Sean
All right. Thank you so much for your time, sir.

Crispin
You’re welcome.

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