My younger brother Jordan Gross has written an excellent guest post on the concept of the hero and how modern society has tried to tear him to pieces. I agree with Jordan 100% that modern politicians are so afraid of stepping on anyone’s toes that we have lost very vital principles. What do you think? Should a politician take an unpopular stance on something he or she believes?
I have realized, in reviewing my many favorite pieces of literature, that our culture has managed to completely and absolutely obliterate any semblance of heroism. Our media, our culture, and even our government have managed to circle like vultures around the identity of the hero. They have slowly picked him to pieces over five generations, and now in Generation Y or Z, we are left with nothing but fleeting moments of selflessness.
In reading Beowulf, Arthurian legends, Atlas Shrugged, and other books, epics, poems, etc, I’ve realized that in the last half century we have not allowed one person to ascend to the status of hero. Instead, we allow them fleeting moments in the spotlight, before we denigrate their achievement, question their motives, or sully their history. Even in traditional folklore, heroes (or heroines) are allowed their personal flaws, and often their greatest moment comes in the overcoming of that fatal weakness. They set a standard for the culture by whom they were worshipped, even in their failing. They are examples of determination, courage, pride, strength, and self-understanding. They fought impossible odds, and sometimes succeeded, and other times were laid low. But we don’t have even that story any longer.
How have we lost this valuable portion of human tradition in our post modern society?
Our Media has refused to respect the individual. Every person, event, or place has become another dollar sign to the news agnecies of this period. They care little for the story or its people, only that it sells. Sensational stories, weird stories, disturbing stories, earn the dollar for their magazines or print. We hear about the Fundamental Latter Day Saints and their Temple, about Britney Spears in rehab, about protests of the Olympics. Global warming, international terror, economic recession, and local murders hog the spotlight. We are left better educated, better informed, and completely uninspired.
Culturally we have been taught to accept everything around us, to not question the viewpoints, opinions, or beliefs of others. To do so would be insensitive and offensive. We can’t make a slip up in a blog post, or in an interview, or in a speech. Everything is monitored and reported. Our society wants us to be a nice neutral tone of grey. Nothing too unique or individual. Monotony, PC, and the almighty beige are what we strive for. Our art imitates the past, recreates the present, but presses nowhere. Our music “samples”, “borrows”, and outright steals from more creative ilk. We do nothing new, imagine nothing special, and are fearful of doing either.
And the government is perhaps the worst offender of all. We see bureaucratic purges more severe then the previous with each new “elected” government. Our statesman and politicians strive above all to be polished, refined, well spoken, and bland. They cannot tell us their own opinions, without firing their speech writers. They dare not present a different view point then their fellow candidates, for fear of missing some portion of the electorate. We discourage fair representation with our two party system and give only two outlets for hundreds of millions of people. Third parties have, at best, served to hand the reins of power to one of our two Twin Towers. Other countries see open debate, heated arguments, and honest exchanges about policy and opinion. And we have the mud slinging of our election cycle. Slips of the tongue, email circulations, and stupid hick husbands determine absolutely nothing, but decide everything.
What have we lost in destroying the figure of the hero?
The ability to dream. Perfection is always worth striving for, but we seek so much exposure that we are not allowed to forget for a moment that it is an impossibility.
The ability to change. Heroes are leaders, offering differing viewpoints, unique opinions, and a hard headed arrogance to carry it through. We don’t remember people who led the change anymore. Simply those who have best repeated the past.
The ability to challenge. We don’t have courage enough to stand for anything. We are so crippled by our pasts, by the chance to make a mistake, the fear of ridicule on a local/national/global scale that we can’t make a meaningful fight for anything. It cripples the spine and weakens the heart.
The ability set a standard. Heroes define societies, traditions, and momentous occasions. Their behavior is a way of living to be pursued. Without them, we have simply joined the rat race, regurgitating, repeating.
I miss the heroes we have never had.