Where Have All The Heroes Gone

You and I couldn’t get through a day without heroes. Really!

We all need heroes in our lives, but at the very same time, villains. Villains to marshal our sense of superiority, heroes to give us a purpose for that superiority. It’s been pretty much this way ever since we lost the lease to the orderliness of Eden, and were thrown out into the disordered darkness of living by our own wits. Where we’ve had to learn the hard way who among us is worth reviling or revering.

The ancient Greek dramatists made it easier for us by having their performers wear the masks of either hero or villain, comedy or tragedy. In our own culture we’ve had a history of heroes as remarkably varied as the Father of our Country to the Godfather of actor Marlon Brando.

If all this sounds like a surreptitious prelude to an American history lesson, I promise it’s not. Despite my age, I don’t want to live in the past. However, neither do I want to lose the past. So lets take a look at it….

Slowly, slowly, but ever so surely, our national heroes have become less unblemished. George Washington, Davey Crockett, Robert E. Lee, Abraham Lincoln, George Custer, etc were at first portrayed as gods. Later we allowed into our pantheon blemished heroes like Jesse James, Buffalo Bill, Elliot Ness, Charles Lindbergh, etc. Our cinematic heroes too have grown darker as in the roles of a young, eager Mickey Rooney vs a young, brooding James Dean, a perfect Mary Pickford vs a complicated Angeline Jolie. In government too authentic heroes have become fewer in the wake of such flawed leaders as President Nixon, J. Edgar Hoover and General Petreaus. In sports, well you can’t count the number of heroes who have crashed from their pedestals in the shambles of lying, cheating and worse.

If Hollywood reflects the culture, the culture today has edged beyond blemished heroes all the way to anti-heroes. As in the case of such powerfully popular shows as The Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire, Nurse Jackie, The Big C, Ray Donavon, Homeland, Bart Simpson, and Blacklist. Not to mention the pathologically high ratings given to the “housewives” of several embarrassed regions of our country.

Here’s the question. Is this trend from good-goody to sick-and-sicker a better way for our children to learn about their world….? Or is our world already so sick that it no longer makes any difference….?

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