Modern Culture and Beowulf
Cheryl Karim

In many ways the world of Beowulf can be compared to modern pop culture and life in America. From aspects of modern life such as our political practices, pop culture icons and television storylines, there are many parallels in loyalty, alliances, subtlety, honor and war that strongly stand out. Throughout Beowulf we see Anglo-Saxon culture through the eyes of an insider, which in a sense makes us comfortable and capable of identifying with their way of life and the attitudes that are taken towards certain topics such as life, death and loyalty. Beowulf is a story that has survived until today because, like many other stories still accepted by our generation, it has themes that can be related to on a basic level.

In modern pop television America has many sitcoms and dramas that demonstrate many of the beliefs found in Beowulf. The ultimate American television show to represent the beliefs in Beowulf is HBO's "The Sopranos." Through the on-goings of the Soprano family's mafia connections we can see the warrior code and the notion of camitatus come to life. As Scyld Scefing is considered a great king, Tony Soprano is considered a great leader. Scyld Scefing is considered a great king because "every one of those who lived about him, across the whale-road, had to obey him, pay him tribute." (Howe, 3) In "The Sopranos," the whale-road could actually be looked at as the Hudson River. Tony's power covers both New York and New Jersey and the inhabitants of both pay him tribute. Aside from Tony Soprano's similarities to Scyld Scefing, the concept of comitatus shows up in every episode of "The Sopranos." Tony gives his loyal friends protection and material goods in return for their loyalty in the event of a physical confrontation with an opposing force.

In America today we have taught our military personnel to fight like the Anglo-Saxon men. We ally ourselves with great "tribes" and make bonds with them for social and economic prosperity. We also use these bonds to create alliances for times of war or unrest. Much like the Anglo-Saxons, we believe in having loyal warriors on our side also. Also, a man or woman that dies in battle is honored for fighting the good fight in Afghanistan because these men and women are the martyrs of our freedom and democracy. They are the great warriors of America that, like Beowulf and his loyal warriors who battle Grendel, go into battle to destroy a plaguing evil of our world. In essence they are seeking a form of wergild from the Taliban and Al-Quaeda. "Sorrow not, wise warrior. It is better for a man to avenge his friend than much mourn." (Howe, 25) Our warriors seek the life of Osama bin Ladin in return for the lives of our brothers and sisters who were slain in the World Trade Center attacks.

American icons closely resemble the character of Beowulf through the description given in the end of the poem: "They said that he was the world-kings the mildest of men and the gentlest, kindest to his people, and most eager for fame." (Howe, 52) American action movies have created an icon for the public whose characteristics match that of Beowulf greatly. From movies like Commando, Rambo, Terminator and Conan the Barbarian an entity known as the "action hero" has been unearthed. The action hero is unnaturally strong, powerful, smart, subtle and gentle character. He is a leader, a loyal friend and true warrior. Could Beowulf (the man) have been the inspiration for this hero that still exists in Hollywood today? They similarities are startling and can only leave one wondering where exactly the original "action hero" came from.

Throughout history art has imitated life, and to an extent life has imitated art. Could the political actions we take, the television shows we watch and the icons we create simply be an extension of one man? Could Beowulf have influenced countless generations and left us with a world where our hero, no matter his race, religion, size or shape, fit into a pre-designed mold? Beowulf lives on because generations identify with the main character. Yes, the language has changed, but the message has not. Neither the story nor the ideals have died. They live on..forever.

Works Cited

Donaldson, E. Talbot. Beowulf. Ed. Nicholas Howe. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2002.