I still hold fast to my suspicions about Joseph Campbell's followers. However, the responses suggested that I wrapped up my discussion too quickly, as Walter and Alex were hot on my heels with implications that I hadn't bothered to deal with. The issue of intentionality and archetype came up: Walter noted "Archetypes happen whether you intend to weild them or not" and Alex followed up with "Artist intentionality means nothing when all is said and done." Which leads me to a few conversation-starters:
First of all, the fact that archetypes happen all on their own exposes the uselessness of the Campbellite project. The main thrust of this school of screenwriting is that you must know and deliberately repeat the archetypal structure- forgetting to mention that for millennia, storytellers managed to repeat those structures without the benefit of someone like Campbell pointing them out. If such structures are latent within the human psyche, then wouldn't it be a better idea to concentrate on something else?
And it is that "something else" that makes narrative art valuable. This is where artist intentionality does mean something: it's where the sum total of the individual meets the biological programming and strikes a compromise. Not everything can be reduced to the collective unconscious- there are external circumstances- personal histories and social machinations that don't necessarily gell with the archetypal gestalt. And to serve the infinitesimal possibilities underserved by mere archetype, you have to be able to say, quite intentionally, these are the things that I believe, and here is a form that adequately represents them. You may not know ALL of what you're doing, but that's different from being entirely on autopilot.
Choice really is the issue here. Campbell isn't just some jerk who annoys me, he's industry standard: screenwriting classes teach him right beside the hated Syd Field, executives tremble at the mention of his name, and people who don't follow the party line don't get their scripts produced. And the reason he's industry standard is that his all-purpose ideology is easily assimilated by the capitalist project. Walter was right when he pointed out that 95% of indie and foreign films have the same marks as the 95% of Hollywood films I hate- but that's because the Hollywood machine has become so pervasive that all other films must adopt its style or be crushed.
Campbellism homogenizes every culture into one, and so does capitalist filmmaking: both state that your individual geography, history and culture are basically immaterial. The problem is not just that this makes movies bad, but that it's part and parcel of a negative social trend that is erasing local identity and collecting culture into the hands of a few megacorportions. Freud and Shakespeare may have their pedantic reductionists, but because of their specificity and insistence on outside referents they can't be used against us quite so easily.
We now have a culture that can't deal with anything really foreign. The Fellinis, Bergmans and Kurosawas of the pre-Campbell world didn't look a damned thing like Hollywood (except for the unconscious archetypes, of course), and were enjoyed by a large audience of specialists and intelligent amateurs alike. The F's, B's and K's of our time- Claire Denis, Edward Yang, Bela Tarr, Tsai Ming-Liang, Abbas Kiarostami, Olivier Assayas, et al- are the province of the hardcore believer and no-one else, because they say that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in your simple myths.
None of these people care sweet F.A. about whether they fit the collective unconscious. They've got their corners of the world to define, and they do it quite deliberately. The Hollywood players would like to define you too, just as deliberately- but it can't let you know that, or you wouldn't buy. Thus they internalize Campbell to sell their covert ideology to you and give themselves a personal alibi: I swear, your honour, it was the myths, the myths!
The playwright who's most pertinent here isn't Shakespeare, but Brecht. He taught us we could stand outside our myths and see how they affect us, becoming an active viewer and the hero of our own lives. And while we will never shake the structures, saying we have no control over cultural actions is cowardly at best and irresponsible at worst. There's a part of the process that is our conscious doing, and it's the part that keeps those archetypes are curtailed from attaching themselves to things that might harm us.