I was reading an article in the paper yesterday in which two men, pedalling from Hastings to the London Olympic site in a pedalo shaped like a big swan for a documentary on how London is changing, were described as having taken an “epic” journey. In the comments below the article, someone pointed out that we may be lowering the bar on epicness.
Thing is – and I’m telling you this before my friend Chris appears below the line to explain – what they did really is epic, in the original concept of the word. I looked this up. We borrow the concept from the epic poems of Greek literature, which detailed the achievements of someone who struggled against adversity for a principle and whose deeds occurred while he wandered about a lot. OK, so I didn’t really bother to finish reading the definition, but you get the idea.
Pedalling from Hastings in a fibreglass swan to document the consumerisation of our culture is, in a British way, epic, and contrasts with the way we commonly use “epic” to describe something which has only the quality of bigness. The film of this small pedalo epic is out today. It is called Swandown, and I’d rather watch it than having to sit through many recent cinema epics, where “epic” translates as “45 minutes longer than it needs to be”.
I remember Rolling Stone reviewed Oliver Stone’s epic film Alexander as a Buttnumbathon, for example.
Looking at European press coverage over the last 10 years, the growth in the frequency with which films, books, fashion items and pedalo journeys are described as epic has been similar for press releases and in newspapers. This has resulted in approximately 15,000 things becoming epic for the first time since the beginning of 2003, and we’ve still got an Olympic Games to exaggerate.
As we are often told, we live in a global world these days (which always makes me wonder what shape they expected it to be). But, as our horizons get larger, the epic stuff gets smaller: our 10 year timeline begins with the epic gym kit transportation solution of 2003, the Nike Epic backpack:
At first glance it looks a bit small for an epic hero’s knicknacks. The siege of Troy took 10 years, for example. We can’t be completely sure: there are 15,000 lines in the Iliad, and Homer never once mentions a Greek warrior’s luggage allowance. We must therefore conclude this is a modern concept, and so I suppose Nike is free to corner the market in heroic backpacks.
But some of these 15,000 things just aren’t epic, even if the excited journalists who happily rewrite press releases for us wish it were so. Fast forward to last month, when MTV used “epic” to describe Mark Wahlberg fighting with an imaginary teddy bear. I sat through Alexander, I’m relaxed about rucksacks, but this is where I draw the line.