OK, I read the last Harry Potter book over the past two days. It’s an excellent read, and I wasn’t too shocked by anything that transpired in it. No, I will not be posting any spoilers here. I’ll leave that to less scrupulous people to do. While reading it, I was struck by a thought that I’ve had before, and one that I think needs some attention.
Why do we, as a society and as a culture, insist on tearing down our heroes? What JK Rowling did with Albus Dumbledore reminded me of this idea. Why is it that we have to give all our heroes feet of clay? Why do we insist on bringing those who are heroic, who provide examples and lead the way, down into the mud?
I understand the desire, and the need, for completeness. It should serve to enhance the heroic aspects, showing that ordinary people can rise to become extroidinary in the right situation. Yet that is not what happens. Instead we find ever salacious and scandalous act, or even implied act of impropriety, not to show that people can rise up, but to belittle, tarnish, and discredit.
Where and how this trend started, I don’t know, nor does it really matter. What we have now is a society that strives for, and glamorizes scandal, bad behavior, and cannot accept anything that rises above this muck. We destroy out heroes, be they real life, or fictional.
Sure, some of this has political motivations. Look at Martin Luther King. He was perhpas the greatest leader for civil rights this country has ever known. Yet people insist on focusing on his womanizing and plagiarism, not to show how he rose above that sort of stuff, but to belittle him as a person and his message. Or how about JFK? The drug abuse (pain killers), his womanizing (Marilyn Monroe et al), and his temper. Though in the case of JFK, that was more a reaction to the mythical Camelot image as formulated by TH White.
For a more “modern” example, look at what some people have done to John McCain, most recently in 2000. Here’s a gut who embodies everything we want out of our military people, yet he gets branded a “traitor” by some (I’ll take the word of his fellow POW’s here, who say he is not now nor ever was one), and some less that flattering things by others. Look at what was done to Bob Kerrey (not John, he deserved it) a few years back. Innuendo and gossip are seemingly more important than fact, or the actual acts of courage and heroism themselves.
This is not limited to the political sphere either. We do it to our fictional heroes as well. As I started off, JK Rowling did it to Dumbledore in the “Deathly Hallows.” Marvel tried to do it to Captain America, found they couldn’t, and had to kill him (Steve Rogers will return!). DC did it Hal Jordan (Green Lantern), but that fit in a logical way, and he has since been “redeemed.”
I know we like “flawed” heroes. Guys like John McClain, the Punisher, Jack Sparrow, and Han Solo grab our attention. We like the “bad boys,” more so when they get to kick the back side of the villain. The difference here is that we go into liking these types knowing they’re flawed, and have “issues” or “history.” This is unlike most situations where we take a hero, then have to find every dirty piece of laundry so it can be aired for all to see.
The media feeds this trend, and we continue to buy it. Scandal sells, and we’re addicted to it. Doesn’t matter what it is, but the juicier, the more outrageous, the most tittlating, the better. Why else would Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan grab headlines so much? Why do we turn every “tell all” book into a best seller? Why must we dredge up every imaginable worng doing anyone has ever done?
I guess I wouldn’t be so bothered by all this if information was used, and presented, to round out an individual. If it was used to show how an individual can rise above circumstance and achieve something more. All we do is use it to attack, damage, and destroy. I am convinced we as a society, as a nation, cannot stand heroes.
So the question is, why? I think it’s because we are so molly coddled that we have been trained, no, indoctrinated, that heroism is just for “special” people. The average Joe or Jane just isn’t capable of doing this sort of thing. So we seek to “level the playing field” with the heroic people, by finding every flaw and misdeed (imagined or real), to belittle them personally, to demeen them in the eyes of the public.
This has all become a modern form of human sacrafice. We kill our heroes, destroy them on the altar of mass media. We end up belittling and destroying ourselves in the process. We have become a society that is anti-hero. I’m not saying we instead turn to antiheores, but that we just can’t stand a hero, flawed, pure, or anti. We must destroy them, it’s what we feed on for entertainment, and to make ourselves feel better about ourselves.
Think of why all those who rushed to the WTC on 9-11 have essentially been forgotten, especially by the media? They were average people, doing thier jobs. They knew what the risks were, yet rose above their fears, their sense of self preservation, to go into a highly dangerous situation to help others (Ken Marino, you are gone but not forgotten, at least here). Sure, they’ll make some allusions to them, but only if they can atatck or demeen someone else.
Look at Barry Bonds. A lot of his problems stem from the media. Not all for sure, he has done himself no favors. But would it be so much of an issue if he wasn’t doing what he is, chasing Aaron, and having hit 73HR in a season? Probably not. He would just be another “bad boy.” Look at what happened to both McGwire and Sosa following that “magical” 1998 season.
No one is allowed to be iconic anymore. We have no figure, real or fictional to uphold the ideal. They killed Cap remember? We just want to enforce an image of mediocrity, that only “normal” is acceptable. We can’t accept that anyone can do something heroic. They have to be a glory seeker, or in for some sort of personal gain. We don’t even talk much about “the Greatest Generation,” who rose to the occasion in WW2 much anymore. It goes against the mainstream too much now.
The fact is, we need heroes. We need people to step up and raise the banner for all to see. It’s more than leadership, it setting an example, and embodying more than just the individual. We need people to rise above the teeming masses and show us that we can achieve something more. We can’t just continue to be satisfied with “normal” and “average.” We have to strive to be more, to achieve more.