Recently the Mythographer’s Mom passed on an PowerPoint presentation of dubious provenance which claimed that, come August, the planet Mars would be so close to Earth that it would appear spectacularly large and bright at night, the size of another full moon. Said Mom, “Wow!” The planets are vast myth repositories, especially the Red Planet. And if we can’t get to Mars, perhaps Mars can get closer to us. Fortunately Mom’s boyfriend quickly debunked this perennial classic myth, the “Mars spectacular.” But that wasn’t the weird part. The weird part was: the “Mars spectacular” wasn’t always a myth. That is, Mars DOES get closer to earth every couple of years, usually in August. The closest swing in recent memory was in 2003. [It never appears as large as the moon–that part of the myth is based on an unfortunate typo: the real Mars would appear as the moon IF you look at it through a telescope with 75x magnification.] Ever since then, this myth has been circulating, especially in the summer.
That’s when I started thinking about NPR. I know you know that perennial e-mail forwarded petition to save NPR from congressional budget cuts. The “Save Sesame Street” appeals are frauds: Sesame Street was never in danger. But Snopes actually declares the Congressional-budget-cuts e-mail true., citing the original appeal from MoveOn.org. They started in a budget season when the NEA’s funding was in danger, and then they just kept going. So while the NEA and NPR and PBS are not at the moment in danger–they got stimulus money too–the myth still sticks around just in case it’s needed in the future.
I call these zombie myths. Not myths about zombies–stay tuned for that story–but myths that were once living and now are un-dead, stalking us in our sleep. Unlike, say, leprechaun myths, which of course never existed in the first place.
Although maybe the better metphor is in gardening. Mars spectacular and Save Sesame Street are “perennials”, which re-seed themselves every season after they were originally planted, as opposed to “annual” myths–the ones that start from scratch.