In Search of the Heroes of Old

“Where have all the heroes gone?”  Ok, yes it is a cheesy ‘80’s song, but worth investigating.  Growing up in the mid ‘70’s to mid ‘80’s there were many real and media created heroes around.  Sports teams were full of strong and larger then life men like Mean Joe Green, Dick Butcuss, Tony Dorsette, John Riggions, Dr. J, Kareem Abdul Jabarr, Larry Bird just off the top of my head come to mind, Kurt Jenner, Mary Lou Reding, Dorothy Hammal, Billie Jean King, Chris Everett Lloyd were there for those who didn’t want to be the big bruisers.  TV had its re-runs of the Lone Ranger, along with new shows like Star Trek, S.W.A.T., C.H.iP’s, Magnum P.I., Knight Rider, Miami Vice, and others where people of principal, even if it went down hill as time went on, fought and usually won over people of no principal.  Movies were in a transition between the golden age of cinema and the new direction of realism and grit.  Marlin Brando was still acting, Shaun Connery still had dark hair, Clint Eastwood and Charles Bronsen introduced the vigilante working against the system and making the ends justify the means.  Star Wars introduced Sci-Fi with depth and themes never seen before in that genre.  Comic Books saw a resurgence in popularity, making Spider Man, Super Man, Bat Man, Wonder Woman, Thor, The Fantastic Four, the Hulk, and even Gen 13, Hell Boy, Spawn, and the X-Men house hold names among teens and kids.  It seemed ideals and morels were everywhere, even if covered in a thin or thick vial of celluloid story telling.  With few exceptions good people were good, bad people were bad, and in the end things worked out to the way we always hoped they would.

Now this may be because of my age, but it seems the age of heroes available to today’s youth are on a long vacation.  Music stars, wrestlers, reality TV stars, political figures, and the such were never heroes in my youth, and I don’t think they should be elevated to that degree today.  But with sports today, they are mired by steroids, contract negations, strikes, lock outs, endorsement deals, sex parties, run-ins with the authorities, drug scandals, publicly immoral incidents and other things that have tarnished the role of being what we want the next generation to strive to be.  Now I know Babe Ruth was a drunk, steroids was in football a long time ago, Mike Tyson was a freak, and others of my time were not perfect, but that was usually kept behind closed doors and did not come out to the public knowledge until we were old enough to understand.  Movie stars today are less role models and more rock stars.  They are known for parting, marrying often, and acting outrageous.  Very few try to instill a sense of responsibility and public charity or plug a values laden message.  TV is full of reality programs, sitcoms, and explicit crime and hospital dramas with some lawyers thrown in for flavor; however the themes are usually the same the stories thin and predictable at best. 

Where are the heroes?  First lets look at what makes a hero a hero.  It is basically this: demonstrating a high degree of character, never giving up, always doing what is right, championing the values and forces of good, and being larger then life.  Heroes are worshiped because they are what we are not.  They are an ideal, a goal, an aspiration and inspiration to strive for.  When we are about to do something stupid the admiration of our heroes is supposed to stop us and make us question what it is we are doing and whither it is a good choice or not.  Heroes need to be accessible, visible, and known to all.  For their visibility guards against our laziness.  They are larger then life because they have to be.  Heroes take the spotlight of fame and craft it into a platform from which to spread their message of good and hope.  Heroes can be ordinary everyday people, but seeing the person next door as a hero leads to lessoning their accomplishments as they seem so much like us, including our faults and darker sides.  When it comes down to it, Spider Man is a higher degree of hero then the man across the street who calls 911 and then goes out to help in a car accident.  Not to lesson the actions of the person who is helping out people in an everyday incident, but he is only a hero to a few, and they will not follow him for more then the time they share.  Heroes are teachers, lights, guardians, and idealists who are there to help us be better then we currently are.

If you measure most of those people today’s kids look up to we see they fall short of this ideal.  Heroes are not dead, but they are in sad shape as for their quantity and publicity.  Our shifting ideals and sense of acceptance for the gray areas between right and wrong have lead to the decay of our modern heroes.  We have become more tolerant of their faults.  We do not speak out or question their miss-steps.  We do not hold them accountable to the mold of the past.  For a person to truly be a hero they need an audience, otherwise they are just a good person.  Everyone needs someone to look up to, to see how things should be done.  Who are these people today?  Who out there is of high morel and virtue and when they speak and act our hearts tell us they are right?  The quality of those today does not seem to be near that of those of my youth.  Heroes have taken a turn down a darker path, justice is giving way to vengeance, money trumps doing the right thing, and the lewd and outrageous are more popular.  Certain sections of the media has seemed to make a crusade of tearing down the public heroes and making them more real by exposing their faults, vices, and private lives.  As the Green Goblin stated in the first Spider Man movie, “What people love to see more then a hero, is to see a hero fall”.  We do relish seeing the playing field leveled, but this is part of the problem.  We have many sides in our personalities.  Each of us is more the capable of extreme acts of cruelty or goodness; it just depends on the circumstances and our own morel compass.  Heroes are supposed to be the stars at the north end of our compasses, not a tree in front of us we can touch and molest as we see fit.

I grew up with only one real hero… Spider Man.  Why him?  He had similar problems to me, I could relate to the character, always down on his luck, always being dealt a bad hand, never seeming to be able to get ahead.  Yet he never gave up or gave in, even when given the opportunity and encouraged to do so.  He had a morel compass that seemed true and strong.  He never kicked a person when they were down, never took things too far, always looked out for others over himself, knew there was a greater good and was never scared to sacrifice himself for that.  He was larger then life, sure he was made up and under control of his writers and inkers, but the quality of the character was always there.  The others who would come and go around him always made him seem more real then Super Man, and his adventures were far more interesting to me, as a kid.  Essentially Spider Man was two people in one.  One down on his luck, often poor and struggling kid trying to make his way through life, the other… a confident and wise cracking champion who gave it his all in the best way he could.

Too bad the Spider Man of today is not the same one I grew up knowing.  Since the clone wars, and wedding and eventual child, not to mention the 2099 fiasco he has fallen by the wayside to his former glory.  Some of this is due to age and growing up, I know… but still there seems to be a drought of candidates to fill the void of his existence.  As people age their requirements for heroes change, but in an age of selfishness and self-centeredness let us not forget that there are others around who have not gained from our experience and life experiences.  We have let thinks slide to where commercialization is the norm and selling out is standard par for the course.  In an age such as this who is there to look up to, who stands stead fast and true to higher ideals and principals, who is willing to risk it all for ‘doing the right thing’?  Look at the candidates around us and ask yourself, which would you have followed when you were younger?  There are things we all remember in life.  Our favorite teacher, our worst teacher, our childhood best friend, our childhood nemesis, our first crush, our first heartache, the defeat of our deepest fears, the first time we accomplished something totally on our own, and yes… our childhood heroes.  Whither it be a drawn comic on rough pulp paper, sports legend, movie character, or public figure who shows us right from wrong, they always live on in us, illuminating the way in our times of need.  We need to stand up and create the next generation of heroes, because as the last 10 years have shown…  they are fewer and farer then they were when we were younger.  It is up to us to be or create the next Super Man, Spider Man, Bart Starr, Michael Jordan, Luke Skywalker, James Bond… etc.  It is time to be a hero both in and out of the spotlight.  Stop worshiping and giving accolades to those who are deviant in social and morel arenas, despite their accomplishments in their professions.  It is time for words like integrity, honor, loyalty, and dedication to come back.  For as old and experienced as we get, we still need heroes to look up to.

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