Kuro5hin.org: technology and culture, from the trenches
create account | help/FAQ | contact | links | search | IRC | site news
[ Everything | Diaries | Technology | Science | Culture | Politics | Media | News | Internet | Op-Ed | Fiction | Meta | MLP ]
We need your support: buy an ad | premium membership

The Generations Without Heroes

By br284 in Culture
Wed Apr 04, 2001 at 10:42:27 AM EST
Tags: Culture (all tags)

School shootings dominate the news. We have grown to expect those in power to exercise their power to further selfish personal ambitions. Our most loved entertainment and media figures are expected to have severely dysfunctional aspects of their lives. As a culture, we feel that our youth are sliding down a slippery slope, yet we despair because we don't have a solution to address the problems. It seems as if we are the lone Dutchman who plugs the holes in the dike as leaks spring from the walls. The wall separates noble society from a sea of selfishness, deceit, and despair. We find that we are running out of fingers rather quickly.

Is part of the problem that we have become a generation without its heroes?

I just completed reading John McCain's partial family biography, Faith of My Fathers. I was dazzled and entranced with the examples of heroism and courage mentioned within the book, from the selfless sacrifice of the man who attempted to fight the flames upon the flaming decks of the aircraft carrier Forrestal during the Vietnam conflict to the courage and spirit that refused to be broken within the POW community living in the Hanoi Hilton during the war.

The one impression that I took away from the book was that within McCain's depiction of the events, there always seemed to be this presence of a higher ideal that these men held themselves to that was manifested within their heroes and role models. For McCain, the heroes were his father and grandfather. The other men had role models who had set an example that the men did their best to emulate that example and display the courage and valor that their heroes had shown them.

After completing this book, I felt quite disappointed. I was not disappointed that men of great mettle that McCain mentioned did not exist within our time and society. I was disappointed that for all the noble qualities such men demonstrate, my generation and the one before seems to have failed to recognize these traits and emulate them. In short, while the heroes are out there, we have failed adopt these people as our role models.

When did we stop looking upon exceptional people as role models and start looking at them as simply people? Was the catalyst the Vietnam conflict that shattered the American faith in their warriors and their protectors? Is this change a result of increasing media reports of our athletes committing criminal acts and becoming victims of too much fame and money? Did the Watergate scandal destroy the ideal that it is possible for the political leaders of a country can be people integrity? Or is all of this a result of the increasing tendency to view our celebrities as a class of famous, yet extremely dysfunctional segment of our population? Perhaps the catalyst is a combination of all of the above, or none of it. In any case, there is a noticeable difference between the generation that produced people like John McCain and Orson Swindle, and the one that I grew up in. McCain and Swindle had their heroes that personified a set of ideals that these men lived by. I can think of no such person that I have looked up to while growing up.

Is it that as a society, we have given up on the idea that there are some causes that are greater than the individual -- causes that are so great that the sacrifice of the self is worth furthering its goals? I have no doubt that when asked which causes are worth self sacrifice, men that grew up in McCain's generation would not have to pause to think of answers. Asking myself the same question, I find that the answer comes far less easy.

In the present day, if a person were to talk about a goal or a cause that is worth devotion enough to give one's life, he would immediately be considered some sort of extremist. It seems like the only people we hear about now who have this sort of commitment to a set of ideals are people like Tim McVeigh and suicide bombers. Perhaps our generation feels that there are no places for role models, as each individual can be entrusted to make the best decision for themselves without having to ask, "What would Mike do?" However, I do doubt that this is the case, at least within the younger and adolescent segments of the population. Or are there simply no people out there who have what it takes to earn the right to be considered a role model?

I am an amateur historian who is very interested in the global conflict of the 1940's. I look upon World War II as the defining moment of the twentieth century. Reading the stories of the people who served on the front and in other capacities, I am constantly amazed by what so many young people put on the line in order to serve a cause greater than themselves. These are people who are my age, and they risked their lives and carried out the great responsibility of standing up to the imperialist German and Japanese war machines. Imagining myself in their shoes, and imagining my contemporaries around me in similar situations, I wonder if my generation possesses the spirit to do as those who had come before us.

Thoughts? Are we a generation without heroes?


Voxel dot net
o Managed Hosting
o VoxCAST Content Delivery
o Raw Infrastructure


Hero? Do you have one?
o Yes 44%
o I don't want one 12%
o I don't need one 26%
o I'm still looking for one 16%

Votes: 102
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o Faith of My Fathers
o Also by br284

Display: Sort:
The Generations Without Heroes | 64 comments (57 topical, 7 editorial, 0 hidden)
heroes of slight and starkness (4.00 / 3) (#4)
by eLuddite on Tue Apr 03, 2001 at 07:46:34 PM EST

I want desperately to have a hero but none of the current crop of nihilists seem to care enough to set themselves up as role models. I fear I must settle for the next best thing - angry opportunists and girls baring their midriffs. Fight the power!

God hates human rights.

Media sensationalism (4.40 / 10) (#5)
by Makhnophile on Tue Apr 03, 2001 at 07:55:00 PM EST

It seems that it is you, not a "society without heroes", that is the victim in this sad tale. I began to be suspicious of the piece when you cited an increase in school shootings as your sole evidence supporting your thesis of a heroeless society. Are you aware that youth violence is down two hundred percent since 1990? Of course, I'd wager that media reporting on such events is up a good 2000%. You are allowing a picture painted by a profit-seeking media to guide your viewpoints on society.

Further, you state that anyone who is willing to give their life for a cause will be considered an extremist in today's society. Indeed, this is true some of the time, but your example of Timothy McVeigh as proof is again using an exception. One need only look at the Zapatista movement of Chiapas for inspiration and heroes, or the Tupac Amaru revolutionary army for a historic case of people willing to sacrifice their lives for the ideal of justice. However, the media doesn't report on such things very much.

As someone who claims to be a historian, you surprise me. Your piece seems aimed at a lack of confidence in our armed forces as a sign of a disenchanted generation. However, our history should show that such a disenchantment is not only well warranted but also healthy for democracy. There is one type of government where a people willing to devote their lives to the ruling of their leaders form the bullwark of society: fascism. Vietnam did a great thing for America. After the release of the pentagon papers it became a country far more conscious of the implications of total dedication to the calls of government. As a historian, I would hope you have read such classics as "A People's History of the United States" and "American Labor Struggles" so that you would be informed of the US military's stance in the world and at home and why even Thomas Jefferson felt that dissidence is healthy for democracy.

No, our generation is not a victim of being "heroeless". We are, however, victims of an overzealous, profit-seeking media, and you are not exempt from this status.

Please consider reading the premier journal of social ecology, Left Green Perspectives.

Speeking of sensationalism.. (3.00 / 1) (#14)
by bjwest on Tue Apr 03, 2001 at 10:17:43 PM EST

> ...youth violence is down two hundred percent since 1990?

How can anytning be down 200%? Bringing it down 100% would bring it to zero, another 100% would bring it down into the negatives. Does this mean we now have a negative occurance of youth violence?

[ Parent ]
I think there are more HEROES... (3.50 / 2) (#6)
by scorpion on Tue Apr 03, 2001 at 07:58:03 PM EST

I think you are on to something here, in the larger meaning of your article. Heroes are harder to find or easier to find depending on how you look. It is not a time or WAR and self scrafice, it is more of a time of self gratification. It is a time when the media needs "headlines" and "dirt" to pump up the "bottom line". It is a time when money at any cost is what people may be looking for. BUT, I think there are many heroes out in society if we take the time to look. The "ordinary" working individual who wants to provide for his/her family; the person who listens to the issues of the day and takes the time to go and vote; the people who stay in touch with family members in order to share the good times as well as the bad. I think that we need to refocus on what are the trait that make up a hero in society today. It may not be the most highly paid or the most often in the newspaper or on tv or in the movies. It may be the person next door.... I think it is only in adverse times that those heroes start to stand out for the news media to focus on because "no one " has time for the everyday trash. It is too bad society doesn't have time for the HEREOS of today!

My thoughts exactly (3.50 / 2) (#8)
by nurglich on Tue Apr 03, 2001 at 08:25:55 PM EST

Times right now are pretty easy, and there hasn't been a big war in quite some time. There are heroes out there, they just require more looking. A hero these days is most likely just some average guy, who has probably never been in the newspaper, much less in the headlines. A great war veteran is a powerful figure, but he can never compare to the father who actually raised his son in every aspect of his life. A famous Marine may inspire you, but he probably won't make you a good person.

"There are no bad guys or innocent guys. There's just a bunch of guys!" --Ben Stiller, Zero Effect

[ Parent ]
We don't want heroes. (none / 0) (#62)
by John Milton on Sat Apr 28, 2001 at 09:33:16 PM EST

We're an anti-hero generation. Why do you think books like The Vampire Lestat are so popular? We don't want to believe that some people live up to a higher standard, because our culture has told us that it's alright to settle for mediocrity. The media immediately turns on anyone who refuses to be her chum. If a hero or heroine shies away and refuses to play the "look at me" game, they'll be chastised. We love to tear a great person down. It's really just a psychological protection mechanism. If we showed too much respect for heroes, then we might realize how much we fall short.

"When we consider that woman are treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should Treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit." -Elizabeth Cady Stanton

[ Parent ]
Heros. (3.66 / 3) (#7)
by Seumas on Tue Apr 03, 2001 at 08:04:46 PM EST

First, I agree -- McCain's book is great. I may not agree with much of his stances, but he is certainly an interesting man. His military career is remarkable and I find him to be a respectable human being, insofar as any politician can achieve some semblance of respectability.

Sure, it's great to have heros. Someone to admire, respect and strive to emulate. Someone for young men and women to structure their life on. I hear stories that there was a time when these heros were test pilots, astronauts, war heros, geniuses and others. Living in an era when heros are Puff Daddy, Eminem, Jodie Foster and and the Animal Liberation Front, I have to wonder what it must have been like to have role models and heros who weren't devised by Hollywood.

However, I sincerely doubt that heros are a necessity of life. There was obviously a generation that didn't have heros when it started and at some point -- either in that generation or down the line, some of them were remarkable enough to be considered heros.

Heros may, however, be a necessity for the human spirit. But who needs human spirit when you have have pop-culture?
I just read K5 for the articles.

Can achieve? (2.00 / 2) (#9)
by jasonab on Tue Apr 03, 2001 at 09:05:08 PM EST

His military career is remarkable and I find him to be a respectable human being, insofar as any politician can achieve some semblance of respectability.
I think that quote says a lot. Not about our politicians, but about ourselves. It's not that our politicians are disrespectible (although many are), but that we are unwilling to respect them. Regardless of his politics, McCain has shown that he is willing to sacrifice himself for what he believes. If that is not worthy of our respect, we truly have lost our perspective.

America is a great country. One of the freest in the world. -- greenrd
[ Parent ]
Stepping back a bit (5.00 / 2) (#10)
by Miniluv on Tue Apr 03, 2001 at 09:32:54 PM EST

I think the focus on the "hero concept" exclusively is part of why many people have a hard time identifying what is troubling the author. I don't think that it is so much the lack of individual hero figures, so much as the greater acceptance of mediocrity that this piece is talking about. The hero is merely the focus of that strive for greatness, the lack of complete satisfaction with current circumstances.

"Show me a thoroughly satisfied man and I will show you a failure." -- Thomas A. Edison
That quote used to embody the drive of ordinary men. Today that is regarded as preposterous by a majority of people, for a variety of reasons. In the modern era of pigeonholing everything, with sociopolitical agendas driving everything a public figure utters, satisfaction and contentment have become one of the holy grails for politicians. Every party wants to "reward" people with perfect satisfaction, as if that is something that can be handed down from on high, and the worst part is that people have believed them.

There are still people who are useable as icons embodying Edison's quote, people who see progress as the only acceptable option. There are athletes who fit this, Michael Jordan springs to mind, as well as industry leaders, Jack Welch maybe, and politicians such as John McCain.

I think though, that in the end, the lack of hero worship is only a symptom of the overall problem. Equality has been bought wholesale as a concept of entitlement, rather than a goal for progress. No longer do people believe that everyone deserves the same chance at things, they believe everyone deserves the same things, the same rewards, the same benefits of hard work.

"Its like someone opened my mouth and stuck a fistful of herbs in it." - Tamio Kageyama, Iron Chef 'Battle Eggplant'
[ Parent ]

exactly (none / 0) (#16)
by Seumas on Tue Apr 03, 2001 at 11:05:47 PM EST

That was actually my point, though made through different means. What could be more mediocre than the acceptance of your average pop-culture icon as a hero?
I just read K5 for the articles.
[ Parent ]
Depends on definitions (4.00 / 1) (#20)
by Miniluv on Tue Apr 03, 2001 at 11:42:03 PM EST

Actually, if you look at two of the figures I mentioned, they might qualify as pop-culture icons. In fact, one of them most definitely does. Michael Jordan is very much a pop-culture icon, he's an athlete. The fact that he was exceptionally talented, and strove to better himself as both an individual and an athlete has next to nothing to do with it.

Pop-culture isn't a negative thing, unless you happen to always despise what's popular just because it is. Pop-culture has the negative connotation it does because it has become a misused term, denoting the talentless hacks shoved upon society by a record industry that uncaring consumers allow to walk all over them.

I could name dozens of "hero" status worthy musicians, authors, and so forth who would quite easily fall under the pop-culture heading. People like Gwendolyn Brooks, for example. I wonder though if pop-culture icons becoming mediocre is yet another symptom however of the lack of concern the average person has. I don't really believe it's a cause, because it's been such a gradual evolution.

"Its like someone opened my mouth and stuck a fistful of herbs in it." - Tamio Kageyama, Iron Chef 'Battle Eggplant'
[ Parent ]

Pop culture isn't always bad (4.00 / 1) (#32)
by error 404 on Wed Apr 04, 2001 at 05:59:39 PM EST

But it tends toward the mediocre because that's what appeals to the largest number of people.

Great art pisses people off. You sell more by being pretty good.

Electrical banana is bound to be the very next phase
- Donovan

[ Parent ]

Government Heroes (3.33 / 6) (#11)
by cameldrv on Tue Apr 03, 2001 at 09:38:31 PM EST

Well, it's true that since we haven't had a major war for thirty years or so, there aren't many war heroes in the news. However, you really have to examine whether it is desirable to have lots of war heroes around. Do we really live in enlightened times when death and destruction are our inspiration? Sure, it's a tale of humanity surviving in extreme conditions, but should we value that when the extreme conditions are of our own making? Especially in Vietnam, where U.S. forces invaded in order to prevent a democratic election which would have elected Ho Chi Minh. Can we really call McCain a hero when he participated in an unjust war? Do you consider a German ace who shoots down dozens of British planes a hero?

Well, I don't idolize people who behave bravely when thrown into a war. The real heroes are those who take initative to make the world a better place. I think that George Soros is a hero. I think that Noam Chomsky is a hero. Ghandi and MLK are heroes. I may not even agree with all of the things that these people do or say, but they are fighting the good fight, but not with guns and destruction. They fight with words, money, sweat and sacrifice in order to change the world.

If you want to be a hero, identify some aspect of the world that needs changing, and change it. You're not powerless. Sometimes small people with lots of commitment and a bit of luck make the world a better place. Stop whining and get out there, K5 will be waiting when you get back.

Where to look (4.50 / 4) (#13)
by Tatarigami on Tue Apr 03, 2001 at 10:13:34 PM EST

I think it's more a case of changing perceptions than of heroes disappearing. War has become a nastier business, where it's possible to kill a hundred people by pressing a button and ethnic cleansing has become SOP, so maybe soldiers don't match the criteria anymore.

Then again, while you and I might not approve of Puff Daddy's antics, to his fans he's a man standing up against a system that wants to beat him down into obscurity and poverty. They wanna be like Puffy, and if he's shown himself to be less than perfect by firing a gun in a nightclub, they're willing to forgive him for it.

I put the difference partly down to the news media -- once upon a time they would have dropped a story which portrayed a popular public figure in a bad light, these days they'll hype it up as much as they can.

Which reminds me of something I saw reported in the news last year here in New Zealand, about a 9-year old boy who made three trips into a burning house to save his younger sisters -- and got them all out, although he died in the process. From the tone of the reporting, it was easy to believe that even the cynical newshounds were shedding a quiet tear over their typewriters...

Due to the lack of dedicated followers... (4.30 / 13) (#15)
by _Quinn on Tue Apr 03, 2001 at 10:27:12 PM EST

   ... the production of great leaders has been temporarily discontinued.

Reality Maintenance Group, Silver City Construction Co., Ltd.
What about... (1.00 / 2) (#18)
by Zeram on Tue Apr 03, 2001 at 11:32:00 PM EST

ESR? Or RMS if you prefer? =)
Any sarcasm you may sense is totaly intentional.

Like Anime? In the Philly metro area? Welcome to the machine...
When faced with a tough decision... (3.00 / 4) (#19)
by dilinger on Tue Apr 03, 2001 at 11:42:00 PM EST

It's pretty simple, really. We all have our heroes, they're just not as perfect as they used to be (back before the media was so invasive).

For example, when faced with a tough decision, I ask myself, "What would Brian Boytano do?"..

Sorry, I couldn't resist ;)

Look at Superman (2.00 / 3) (#21)
by democritus on Wed Apr 04, 2001 at 01:23:05 AM EST

Yes, I know he's fictional and from a comic book, but he still is and has been the greatest American hero (sorry Marvel). A working class bloke who has the power to do anything he wishes yet still helps out those in need. A Great Man. Yet what has happened to poor Mr. Kent in the last decade? He's died at the hands of an unthinking beast, only to come back to a disalusioned world where his mortal enemy is elected to the presidency.

And before anyone says it, I don't think that our society is imitating the Superman comics, but instead the comics are (as they always have) imitating life. The fall of Superman and trend of the bad guys winning just reflects America's attitudes.

I ain't never worked with Superman (none / 0) (#35)
by Rand Race on Thu Apr 05, 2001 at 02:02:32 PM EST

A working class bloke? Clark Kent is a reporter, part of the effete liberal intelectual media elite.

Sorry, I couldn't resist that bit of sarcasm.

"Question with boldness even the existence of God; because if there be one, He must approve the homage of Reason rather than that of blindfolded Fear." - Thomas Jefferson
[ Parent ]

Losing heroes is the price you pay (4.44 / 9) (#22)
by The Cunctator on Wed Apr 04, 2001 at 02:07:24 AM EST

Heroes can't really exist in post-modern culture. World War I more than WWII defined at least the Western psyche, for that was a war without God, many times worse than the war without heroes. The Great War, the first war of true mechanized and chemical carnage, destroyed faith in God and country as it destroyed the young men of Europe. From Wilfred Owen's poetry:
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
Without the clear righteousness that comes with a moral system that delivers absolute good and absolute evil, you lose heroes (Columbus, anyone), but you also lose holy wars, caste systems, and manifest destiny. Of course, people manage to find equivalents in pseudo-scientific theories based on evolution, from Romantic racism to eugenics, or the application of economic theories to society, from communism to free-market capitalism.

But hey, this was all covered by Nietzsche over a hundred years ago.

You can moan that we don't have any heroes now, or you can rejoice that there is a measure of heroism inside all of us, and you don't have to rely on myths, legends, and lies to appreciate greatness. I for one am glad that we know that Ty Cobb was a drunken, womanizing jerk as well as an unbelievable athlete, for just one example. I'd rather learn life lessons from people than myths.

Gak!!! English GCSE all over again!!! (none / 0) (#30)
by deefer on Wed Apr 04, 2001 at 03:30:50 PM EST

Please, please please *never* post any dreary WWI poetry on K5 or any other weblog, ever, ever again. Please?

I spent about 6 months covering the entire gamut of WWI poets when I was 15... Did you know that Sassoon (Owen's mentor) and Owen were into poetry as a propaganda tool? Government lackey newspaper editors would print bold, glorious poems to convince young men to sign up, get their rifles and go and teach damned Jerry a lesson. Owen's Dulce et decorum est... poem was in direct reply to a newspaper's poem using the same Latin quote. It means "it is a sweet and fitting thing to die for one's country" and Owens was attempting to do some reverse propaganda at the time - that there was no glory in getting shot to pieces just to exhaust the enemies ammunition supply.

Kill the baddies.
Get the girl.
And save the entire planet.

[ Parent ]
I hate Confucius (4.26 / 19) (#23)
by Blarney on Wed Apr 04, 2001 at 02:38:31 AM EST

It's time to take this stupid argument outside and shoot it. "There were giants on the Earth in those days." Can't you see it's all a line of crap that the old folks feed you? Can't you see that they're sucking us dry?

Do you go to college? Probably you've got loans, lots of people do. You'll spend the next 15 or 20 years of your life paying off the college loans. Did you know that tuition used to be very small, and universities were largely government supported? In other words, all these old folks you love so much got to go to school for free or nearly so. But they wanted to pay lower taxes, so that they cut it to it's present state. Enjoy being an indentured servant?

And by the time you get your college loans paid off, it'll be time to pay taxes for the Social Security of all the retired Baby Boomers. But hey, at least the old folks get theirs, right? After all, they're better then we are. We are a destructive, demented generation, incapable of the feats that they performed.

All I'm saying here is that the older people saddled us with TONS of debts. Monetary, environmental, social, and psychological. They get the lions share of everything good that there is to be had. Even now, they whine about health care and prescription drug coverage --- while beautiful young women give birth and are saddled with tens of thousands of dollars worth of doctors bills for the CRIME of REPRODUCING without having a high-paying job with health benefits. Young, working women who pay Social Security and Medicare taxes, spending her money on the old folks for the same things that she needs herself. Who is worth more? That young mother and her baby - or some old fart who worked in the office of an Army that was allied with the Russian Army that killed Hitler?

All I'm saying is: They get what they need for free, while we pay for ours. And we'll be paying until the last one dies. We are their servants! The system they have set up is incredible, beyond Confucius's wildest dreams of the duties of filial piety. We are all Confucians.

Not to mention (none / 0) (#26)
by alprazolam on Wed Apr 04, 2001 at 10:26:43 AM EST

the costs in terms of privacy and freedoms that the boomers have given up to gain convenience. And the line that we're a generation without heros is bullshit. We've got plenty. IMO 'gen x' is going to be more varied in their approach to the world than boomers, but the younger generation will react against the things that went wrong with the previous two generations, I expect the most out of them.

[ Parent ]
Quit your whining (5.00 / 1) (#34)
by Humphrey the Mad Cow on Thu Apr 05, 2001 at 08:21:02 AM EST

Oh come on. The parent post reads like it was written by a loser, a whiner and an idiot.

Do you really believe things were better in the past? You really think that our generation has it worse than any other? You don't think that past generations have had to support their parents and grandparents? You think yourself indentured now? Then maybe the previous generation is better than this one... it seems like our average IQ is dropping fast.

Life is hard. Deal with it. If you don't like it, go off yourself or something. Nobody's going to give you a free ride or pay your way. Nobody's going to try and make your life easier. Bemoaning the fact that you actually have to work and think in order to succeed and that the benefits of modern society aren't simply laid at your feet isn't going to get you anywhere. (I know, I know... thinking hurts. I'm so sorry.)

Yeah, we have debts. Yeah, we have obligations. Yeah, there's injustice in the world. Yeah, the odds are stacked against us. But nobody has ever gotten anything for free, and people have still managed to succeed. The heroes we're talking about are the people who have risen about your kind of pathetic drivel and have, in the face of these 'insurmountable' obstacles that you describe, changed the world. They busted their asses and ended up beating the system.

It's time for you to get out of your cocoon and to wake up to the real world, where nobody cares about you except YOURSELF. It's nobody's fault but your own that you're still "indentured".

Think, people. Why have you mod'ed this guy up? If you really share his opinions, than you don't deserve to succed.

[ Parent ]

OK. (none / 0) (#44)
by xdroop on Sun Apr 08, 2001 at 10:43:29 AM EST

So you think it is fair that the national debt, run up on behalf of the retiring baby boomers, should be paid back -- with interest -- by me and my unborn children?

I take exception to this view.

This seems to be a typcially American solution to a problem -- declare victory, ignore the problem, and let someone else clean up and pay for the mess.
xhost +
[ Parent ]

you should read "holy fire" by bruce ste (none / 0) (#39)
by sayke on Thu Apr 05, 2001 at 07:21:34 PM EST

check out the spiffy little review over here. it's easily on my all-time top 20 list; maybe even my top 10.

sayke, v2.3.1 /* i am the middle finger of the invisible hand */
[ Parent ]

To quote John(ny Rotten) Lydon.. (3.00 / 1) (#27)
by pallex on Wed Apr 04, 2001 at 12:54:54 PM EST

.."I ain`t go no `eroes.... they`re all useless"

Someone got it right (IMO) when they said that the old heroes lived in an age where there was less media interest. I`m sure in 100 or so years time people would`ve found proof that just about every one of them was racist/kept slaves/beat their wifes/whistled on a tuesday etc.

You choose your own heroes, dont worry about shootings or whatever. You can still be inspired by people, even this generation!! For starters, how about: Einstein, Stravinsky, Zappa, Turing... god, i can think of loads but it`d be a long, boring, personal list.

Flip open yer Beowulf (4.75 / 4) (#28)
by error 404 on Wed Apr 04, 2001 at 01:49:13 PM EST

No, not the cluster, the epic.

And read about how there were heroes in the old days, unlike now. "Now" meaning the time about which the oldest known piece of English literature was being composed. Not the time it was being composed, the past in which the story was set. Between ripping the arms off monsters and nailing them to the wall, Mr. Beowulf and his buddies used to sit around guzzling mead and complaining about there not being any heroes anymore.

Heroes are part of the past. It doesn't matter what generation or century or year it is now.

In the middle ages, there was a saying "call no man happy while he lives". Live people are subject to scandal and stupid acts and reversal of fortune. Live people make dangerous heroes. For that matter, people who were alive at some point make dangerous heroes. And if you look up Hercules (Heracles) heroes from rich mythology aren't all that reliable either.

One problem with heroes is that the best supply of heroes is war. Glorious, unambiguous war against strong evil bad guys. That kind of war is hard to come by, lately. Weapon technology makes wars very expensive and dangerous. Communication technology makes the evil bad guys people. Worst of all, we just don't have any decent enemies. Not to disrespect Gulf War veterans, but when you go in there with that kind of superior force, you don't have much opportunity for heroism. The admiration we have for those veterans is for people who went in, did a hard job very well, and attained a goal effectively. And the general attitude toward war and enemies has changed. Used to be that you could be a hero just by killing lots of the enemy. Now you have to do something more.

Electrical banana is bound to be the very next phase
- Donovan

Where is the Grendel? (none / 0) (#50)
by nurikochan on Mon Apr 09, 2001 at 06:18:56 PM EST

From my point of view, It's not a lack of Beowulfs, but a lack of Grendels, and an increasing tendancy to be like the dragon. (For you non-literature people, the Grendel was the monster Beowulf faught.)

(Note: All of my reasoning come from John Gardner's Grendel, which is a really good interpretation of the Beowulf legends, and I hope someone will read it.)

As highlighted earlier, our nation no longer has the giant war heroes to look towards. At the same time, it's been mentioned that we can't have heroes because they need to be perfect. Too bad no one is. Gardner's characterization of Beowulf most certainly isn't. "They watch on, evil, incredibly stupid, enjoying my destruction." (from the Grendel's POV) While this is biased, I got the impression throughout the last chapter that Beowulf really was evil, and yet he got memorialized as a hero. Think about what this says about heroes, and rethink whether heroes need to be perfect.

But what srikes me is that we no longer have our Grendels. With the defeat of The International Communist Plot To Overtake The Free World (free world meaning us), we removed the boogey man who lies outside of our vision. We've tried to instill fear in a new Grendel, international terrorism, but, to the most part, I feel that's failed.

I don't know if in the orriginal Beowulf, there was a character called "The Dragon", who's raw cynicism almost characterizes modern America to the letter. The Dragon believes he's smart, and will rant on the nature of the universe, which only he, of course, understands. We, (reffering to the Western World), have become like The Dragon. We believe in our superiority, believe we know everything; meaning we believe in ourself before others...and have turned into total nihlists.

[ Parent ]
You really need to read Beowulf (none / 0) (#54)
by wiredog on Tue Apr 10, 2001 at 10:21:55 AM EST

Gardner's "Grendel" uses Beowulf as a basis for commentary on modern society. Clearly that worked on yourself (which is good) but to make a literary comparison you should read the original. Well, a good translation anyway. Not too many of us can read the Old English version. Grendel is to Beowulf as, say, a version of Lord of the Rings with Sauron as the good guy, and Frodo et al as evil, would be to Tolkiens.

Actually, LoR from Sauron's viewpoint could be very interesting. Wish I had the talent to write it.

The idea of a global village is wrong, it's more like a gazillion pub bars.
[ Parent ]

Recommend a translation? (none / 0) (#56)
by nurikochan on Tue Apr 10, 2001 at 06:35:49 PM EST

Could you recomend any specific translation? I remember that there was a recent one with a black cover and chain mail outline of a head...

Actually, LoR from Sauron's viewpoint could be very interesting. Wish I had the talent to write it.
That does sound interesting. Try contacting one of Tolkien's children. I think they've kept the legends alive with some histories... Blah. Just wishfull thinking...

[ Parent ]
Translation (none / 0) (#57)
by wiredog on Tue Apr 10, 2001 at 10:20:20 PM EST

Can't think of any offhand. Hit up your local bookstore and look around. An independent bookstore is likely to be a good resource. Or, if there's a local college, check with the english department. Approach a secretary or student assistant first, they'll know which professor to approach. They will probably have a few good ideas themselves.

An interesting take on Beowulf is "Eaters of the Dead" by Michael Crichton. Don't rent 13th Warrior, which is based on the book, it's horrible. Only got released because Jurassic Park did so well. The book is based on the question "What if an arab scholar had traveled to scandanavia and actually witnessed the events of Beowulf? And written them down in a report? What would the report look like?" Fun book. And he was clearly stretching himself to write it.

The idea of a global village is wrong, it's more like a gazillion pub bars.
[ Parent ]

While we're on Beowulf... (none / 0) (#60)
by nurikochan on Wed Apr 11, 2001 at 03:56:37 PM EST

<RANT>...did you see the horrible movie rendition of it that came out about a year or two ago? The one where Beowulf was using Asian fighting techniques and weapons, where there was a complicated oil lamps and spinning death saws? I'd reccomend it just for the humour value, it was that godawfully bad! It was like someone decided to create a totally different story, and then stick "Beowulf" on it as the title!</RANT>

[ Parent ]
Online Translation (none / 0) (#58)
by zbob on Wed Apr 11, 2001 at 05:13:31 AM EST

There's a pretty good translation here.

"he who laughs last thinks slowest"

[ Parent ]
Recommended translation of Beowulf (none / 0) (#64)
by kirghiz on Wed May 09, 2001 at 12:16:59 PM EST

Beowulf has recently been translated by Seamus Heaney. It's well worth reading. A lot of the older translations are too literal and poetically hamfisted.

[ Parent ]

It's about the journey... (4.50 / 2) (#29)
by xaositec on Wed Apr 04, 2001 at 03:26:21 PM EST

There are some good points being made by other posters regarding what a hero is, what myth is, etc. I won't rehash those.

One thing I would like to emphasise is the fact that it is very hard to talk about modern heroes for one reason: we are grounded in the present. We can look back and say there were heroes somewhere in the past be they Beowulf or Einstein. The remark that dead people make better heroes is a good one. Once they are dead, some of the scandle surrounding them dies off, facts are recorded, and then maybe, someday in the future, someone will look at those facts and say, "This guy was a hero". Trying to evaluate living personas on their heroism is doomed to failure. Only through the test of time will heroes stand out.

Evaluating heroes in the present is also hard because there is no way we can evaluate the journey they have undertaken to get their heroic status. In most cases, it isn't finished yet. One war, battle, or feat does not a hero make. We must be able to evaluate the whole tapestry in order to label someone "hero".

We have heros... (5.00 / 4) (#31)
by cr0sh on Wed Apr 04, 2001 at 05:04:12 PM EST

We just need to look around ourselves a bit to find them.

Maybe the problem is we don't want to look around ourselves to see that we are the lesser of other men. We don't want to see that we could improve ourselves, and become better. We prefer to think we are the best, rather than that there is somebody better. Perhaps we don't want to look too close at these people for fear of finding out something that shatters the illusion of them being a hero?

I have a hero - a dear friend who someday soon will be my brother-in-law - but I will always think of him as my friend, for we each can pick our friends, but we are stuck with our family (ok, maybe we can pick our inlaws too, but that would be a crappy reason to dump someone you love).

Anyhow, my friend is a honest man - one of the most honest I have known. He is also a very giving individual - I have often said that if you and him were lost in the desert and dying of thirst, he would give you the shirt off his back and spit in your mouth to keep you alive - that is how giving this individual is. He loves his wife dearly (my girlfriend's sister).

He recently bought her a new house in San Diego, where they had a long and protracted court battle to gain easement rights. They recently won, after spending untold thousands in court fees and lawyers, all the while paying for the mortgage on the house. She lives in the new house, because he has to work here in Phoenix for the time being (he's a self-employed dump truck driver). He lives in my girlfriend's mother's basement apartment. This has gone on for two years. He has worked daily these two years, still does, weekends included, 12-18 hour days, sometimes even putting in 24 hour shifts - just for this house for his wife. Sitting in a truck. Hauling rock, maybe only a distance of a few hundred feet - other times damn near halfway across the state. Through winter with no heat, and summer with no airconditioning.

Yet he always has a smile. Even with all this, he is always willing to help out - to find a little time to do something (my GF's mother is old and needed the oil changed in her car, so he did it for her). My girlfriend and I try to help where we can, when we can - but it is never enough (small things, like keeping him company or making him a sandwitch and some lemonade).

I strive to be like him - I think I am pretty successful in the relationship front - just the other day, his wife came to Phoenix for a visit, and in the process she helped to clean up her mother's backyard. It had a lot of weeds around it, and my friend's backhoe was there, so she tried to clean the weeds using the backhoe (she knows how to operate it fine - she is definitely no ditz). Problem was that it doesn't have good brakes (I know, I have run it - and it is scary - step on the brake - no brakes!), so while she was cleaning near a block concrete wall, she hit the wall accidently, knocking it down. They now (in addition to the lawyer and other bills) have to pay to repair the wall. She called my friend on the phone to let him know - and while he wasn't happy about the situation - he never yelled, never called her any kind of name, said it would be alright, and that it would be taken care of.

That is a hero - one I am proud to know.

We have lots of heroes (4.50 / 6) (#33)
by RangerBob on Wed Apr 04, 2001 at 11:28:52 PM EST

Not everyone has the same definition of what makes a hero to them. Some people only see heroes in military figures, others see them in scientists. Heck, geeks can even be heroes these days. A hero is someone who inspires you, who you consider to express those noble goals that you someday hope to achieve. If you limit your definition to military only, then yes, you'll feel that there aren't any heroes out there today.

Nobility doesn't just occur in famous people, nor does it just occur in people who have great adventures and get on tv. There are TONS of everyday Joes out there who never experience their fifteen minutes of fame, yet who earn respect and admiration from their actions. From the people who volunteer time to work at soup kitchens to those who show up at retirement homes giving warm smiles and compassion, there are lots of heroes out there. Just open your eyes and pay attention to the world around you, they're there.

The problem today is that most people want their heroes spoon fed to them. They want big flashing neon signs and reporters running pointing them out so they can say "Hey, look, there's a hero, the tv said so. Let's smile and wave." People assume that someone is a hero just because they're told that they are.

People should think long and hard about what inspires them, about what kind of person they want to be. Sacrifice doesn't always have to be for military purposes. Look at Mother Theresa. She had nothing and wanted nothing, and she spent her entire life trying to help complete strangers. If that's not noble, and if that doesn't deserve respect and admiration, then I guess I've lost touch with the times.

The people who inspire me are those who stand up for themselves and don't give up when the odds are against them. Yes, one of them is my grand uncle, who fought in WW2 and helped to liberate some of the concentration camps. But it's not just that he fought in the war. It's also that my family treated him like crap, had him sent off to war, caused him to witness things that no one should have to see, and he kept his sanity and decency until he died. He had his quirks, and he tried to act gruff, but he was probably one of the most gentle people I'll ever know. He was also the most incredible carpenter that I've ever seen, and I'd wager that he was better than any of these so called experts who are on television these days.

And as cheesy as it sounds, people who fight to overcome their limitations, like Hawking, also inspire me. Learning physics is hard enough, but this man faught his body and people's perceptions and is now one of the most intelligent and respected people on the planet. We all think we have our problems, but there's always someone out there who has it far worse than we do. It's always good to keep these people in mind everytime we decided we want to have our own personal pity parties.

The problem is not a lack of heros but of tradegy. (4.66 / 3) (#36)
by SnowBlind on Thu Apr 05, 2001 at 02:03:46 PM EST

The generations born after and around 1970 have a profound problem, they have been robbed of a life defining national event, or a national tragedy.
These tradegies are REQUIRED for a generation to for an identity, and thereby a set of heroes. With out a tragedy to inspire either resistance to the event or support of the event, a generation will just drift along, or in a word: Slackers. The last great tragedy of the United States was the stepping down of President Nixon. His departure burned in the minds of those in old enough to remember it (I am on the cusp), and it created a generation wary of the Government and its benevolence, and on the other end those who believed it needed vast reform. My mothers' generation was formed by the dual events of the Missile Crisis and the Kennedy Assassination. They are fixated on personal security (money, things, power), or on the other hand, have a "live for today" attitude. In the intervening ~30 years, the list is short and weak.
As a result, these generations are still adrift. Gen X; Y, etc suffer from a lack of definition, catorgy, or direction. We been padded by the Reagan/Clinton years, protected from the paradigm shifts that rocked those before us.
If I were to pick something for our generation, I would have to pick the economic crash of 70's and corporate domination of the 80's and 90's, adding in the Challenger explosion and fall of Communism.
How did these diverse events impact my generation? Seems impossible at to tie them together. Yet, I am hoping that the current GNU/Freeware movement is my generations protest against the fallacy of Corporate Culture, the failure of closed systems such as Communism, and the technical failure of monolithic systems such as the Shuttle. Because the source of "tragedy" comes from a decade of complex, low intensity changes, the revolution/affirmation is equally subtle and complicated.

There is but One Kernel, and root is His Prophet.
Or the shared hero. (none / 0) (#38)
by error 404 on Thu Apr 05, 2001 at 05:18:10 PM EST

We have individual heroes all over the place. What we don't have is a big hero for everybody.

Frankly, I don't have a problem with that.

Part of the complaint is that there are no big causes that anybody is willing to die for anymore. Well, some of us have our little causes that we willingly give our lives for one day at a time.

Lots of little heroes. Lots of little causes. Maybe that's better than getting behind one big thing that may or may not be the right thing?

Electrical banana is bound to be the very next phase
- Donovan

[ Parent ]

What a visual! (none / 0) (#53)
by wiredog on Tue Apr 10, 2001 at 10:13:44 AM EST

Gen X; Y, etc suffer from a lack of definition, catorgy...

Cat-orgy. Yikes!

Hey, we could have a new cow-orker type of construction here...

The idea of a global village is wrong, it's more like a gazillion pub bars.
[ Parent ]

How many of you... (4.00 / 1) (#37)
by darthaggie on Thu Apr 05, 2001 at 03:23:16 PM EST

grew up with your father? that is to say: you lived in the same house until you made your way in the world.

For McCain, the heroes were his father and grandfather.

How many people of the modern generation actually know their father well enough to think of them as hero-material?

ObMoms: they're always heroic. :)

I am BOFH. Resistance is futile. Your network will be assimilated.

to add to this... (none / 0) (#46)
by atomic on Mon Apr 09, 2001 at 08:18:27 AM EST

for McCain, saying that your heroes are your father and grandfather get you re-elected.

sorry, cynicism left over from the 2000 election.


"why did they have to call it UNIX? that's kind of... ewww." -- mom.
[ Parent ]
Two things... (4.80 / 10) (#40)
by tapir on Thu Apr 05, 2001 at 10:31:13 PM EST

First, there are two ways to read this question. One is "why can't young people find role models these days?" and the other is "why aren't there any war heros today?"

It bothers me that you equate hero with war hero. War, ultimately, is an ugly thing, something that most of us wish could be eliminated. In the last century, millions of ordinary men women and children died unglamorous deaths in wars. The images of war heros are often held up to justify the carnage, and encourage a new generation of soldiers to march forth and repeat it.

"Postmodernism" is the one word answer to why young people can't find role models. In primitive soceities, things change slowly and old people are a valuable source of wisdom for the young. In the industrialized world, technological and social change makes an 80-year old person something like a visitor from another planet.

There has been a general breakdown in authority because our elders have screwed up so many times. To Vietnam and Watergate you could add an endless list of crises and scandals, ranging from global warming and three mile island to Clinton's Sex Scandals. [Which damaged the image of the Presidency as much as Watergate even though it didn't topple his regime.] Although we've always had scandals (Teapot Dome, widespread corruption after the Civil War), Vietnam and Watergate marked a watershed in both media coverage and the techniques of rule -- it's progressed so far today (the Florida situation in the last election) that the Government no longer feels the need to look legitimate.

Finally, the mass media has introduce a group of new storytelling techniques that have largely displaced the older traditional techniques because they (i) attract large audiences and (ii) require little creativity. Things that appear in the media are "more real than real" or hyperreal, because they are experiences shared by the largest possible number of people. To tie into that shared experience, most things in the mass media refer heavily on other things in the mass media. "Pulp Fiction" and "Forrest Gump" are two particularly painful examples.

People build up their identity by absorbing things that they perceive in their environment. The mind has an affinity for the hyperreal that causes it to replace the real -- much like radioactive isotopes of iodine and strontium are incorporated i the body. The ultimate effect is that you become a burnout. Maybe a 45-year old driving down the highway in an S.U.V. with two kids and a $40,000 credit card debt, or a 27-year old hippie who's too screwed up to file the paperwork to collect welfare, never mind work.

[If you want to understand all the above, plus what the "power elite" knows that you don't, read "Simulacra and Simulations" by Jean Baudrillard]

Anyway, there's another interesting question, which is "Why no war heros?" That's because war has changed.

A long time ago, wars were fought between nations that were roughly equal. If it hadn't been for the intervention of the US, WW I could have gone either way. The hero not only defeated the enemy, but defeated death. For every General Lee there was a General Grant. For every Patton there was a Rommel. It wasn't clear who was going to win, so war had the kind of drama that people enjoy in professional sports.

Since WWII, however, the United States has become a hegemonic power, so powerful that no nation can fight it as an equal.

Take the case of Vietnam. Over the Mekong Delta, American pilots, flying the most advanced aircraft in the world, dropped Napalm on Viet Cong troops who were half starving and lucky to have bullets for their rifles. If the Viet Cong got lucky and hit a vital spot on the plane with a rifle bullet, the pilot would probably bail out and be rescued by a helicopter within fifteen minutes.

Is there any heroism in swatting a bug? If anybody is a hero in this situation, it's the Viet Cong who keeps his sights on the plane even as he contemplates being burned to death by Napalm.

Now, you'll say, "Wait a minute, didn't we ~lose~ the war in Vietnam?"

We didn't.

The war in Vietnam was never about Vietnam, it was about intimidating the Russians and the Chinese with our military might. Nuclear weapons made a direct confrontation between us and the communists an exercise in suicide. The only meaningful way that we could test our strength against them was by fighting a war in another country -- Vietnam was convenient. The communists were intimidated. In 1972, Nixon went to Russia and negotiated an exclusive deal to sell Pepsi there. China gave up it's crazy rhetoric and started down the "capitalist road" and these days it's the home of the Billy Bob Bigmouth Bass.

Wars since then have been like that, only more so. What room for heroism was there in the Gulf? in Somalia? in Yugoslavia? When war is like a video game and more soldiers are killed by friendly fire than by the enemy, the human element disappears.

In the new rhetoric, the American soldier is a victim. When everything goes as planned, he's just conducting a "police action." He comes to harm only as the result of a freak event. A few hundred marines blown up in their sleep in Lebanon. And an endless series of aviators shot down and detained by a foreign country while our president whines pathetically about how they (and us) are being victimized. The POW/MIA flag that inexplainably flies outside of government offices.

It's in this condition of hegemony that the slightest reversal is the image of a chain failure. A butterfly flapping it's wings anywhere is a threat to Captain America. The more total America's control over the world is, the more it will use the rhetoric of victimization and helplessness.

Hmm, good points. (none / 0) (#42)
by error 404 on Fri Apr 06, 2001 at 04:24:18 PM EST

I don't think it is so much hero == war hero as war having been a major source of heroes in the past. If a hero has to be someone who faces death for a cause, well, war used to provide plenty of opportunity. Modern war doesn't so much - one side dies and the other is relatively safe.

I don't think the one-word answer is "postmodernism," though. I think it is "literalism." A modern hero has to actualy exist. And not just exist, but exist as a complete person. The "lived happily ever after" curtain is never closed - the hero has to be nice to the wife and kids and not drink too much mead.

We want happy endings for heroes now, too. The classical hero most often died - the story isn't complete unless the hero is dead. Look at the ending in Beowulf - it just doesn't feel like it fits the rest of the story. My guess is that the poet (or probably a later poet) felt the story was incomplete and tacked the "and when he was an old man he got et by a dragon" ending on.

But what I think the real complaint is, is that there are no national heroes. And I think that is actualy a very good thing.

Electrical banana is bound to be the very next phase
- Donovan

[ Parent ]

How about... (4.00 / 1) (#41)
by captain soviet on Fri Apr 06, 2001 at 02:24:23 PM EST

I thought about some heroes I have. I think my heroes are Bob Marley, Che-Guevara, Rommel, I could continue the list. The only problem is, - in reality those people did not have much in common with the heroes we made from them.

Great Old Past (4.33 / 3) (#43)
by strlen on Fri Apr 06, 2001 at 11:43:49 PM EST

Why don't you people for once start to realize how much luckier you are then your folks? You complain how kids are now put on ritalin and diagnosed with a bunch of deceases? Well, I'm sorry but I'd take ritalin of the 90's over ECT's of 40's and 50's. And that's white kids. Black kids complain that they have to face racism, poverty etc.. Well in 30's, 40's and 50's they had to face all that + an apartheid system, a legalized lynching system, the KKK and a whole lot more. And guess who changed it? They did, that is why they are heroes. So don't complain how now you are being stressed and are facing a great deal of difficulties, over come them. A hero is like a hacker, like a hacker one is not considered a hero unless others begin to recognize them as such. Wait till you have your own children, and you will be a hero to them, just like your great parents and parents who have bled at Stalingrad (as in case of my great parents), Aushwitz, Normady, Iwo Jima, Korean, Vietnam. Point is a hero is relative to their admirers.

[T]he strongest man in the world is he who stands most alone. - Henrik Ibsen.
Hero Production (3.00 / 1) (#45)
by EriKZ on Sun Apr 08, 2001 at 12:08:06 PM EST

I'm surprised that no one here sat down and thought about what it takes to make a hero. We'll use war heros for this exercise.

To become a hero, you have to be in desperate straits, a chance to make thing better for other people will come up, and there will be an excellent chance of dying in the process.

To have a chance to become a hero, the situation has to be completely out of control, and the people in charge are taking bad risks. This doesn't happen often now, and will happen less and less in the future.

This is why the Gulf war wasn't really a war; it was simply the disassembly of the Iraq war machine. The US military examined the machine, looked for weak spots, and sat down and wrote the script. After that it was easy, take out the most vulnerable (Which also means 'low risk') high priority targets, which makes other targets more vulnerable, which you take out, etc, etc.

Although the missions were somewhat dangerous, the risks were low. Talk to people who were in the war and it sounds like they were performing an exhausting job rather than making combat. Jobs don't produce heroes.

So yeah, I miss my heroes. I'm enchanted as much as the next guy by heroics. If I see someone performing heroics now though, all I can think is "Ok, who fucked up and forced you into this situation?"


The Gulf War (5.00 / 1) (#51)
by MrAcheson on Mon Apr 09, 2001 at 08:52:37 PM EST

In point of fact the Gulf War was a real war and we only see it as a cake walk in hindsight. At the time George Bush Sr. thought that it was quite possible and probable for thousands of people to die on both sides of the conflict. The Iraqis for one thing actually outnumbered the coalition forces and were, by and large, veteran soldiers of the Iran-Iraq conflict as opposed to the relatively green Coalition forces. It just happened that the US underestimated the stupidity of the Iraqi general staff. If they had done something other than set themselves up for a classic flanking movement things would have been a lot different. GB Sr took big risks and had them pay off big and to say otherwise is to be using revisionist history.

As for risks and the like, I think the idea you are trying to carry across is that war isn't personal anymore. The Gulf War was fought mostly by armor and artillery. However Somalia was a very personal war which unfortunately most Americans know very little about.

In general I believe you are right though. Big heroes come from big risks and frankly I haven't seen many people taking any big risks lately. Playing the stock market excluded of course. :)

These opinions do not represent those of the US Army, DoD, or US Government.

[ Parent ]
Today, Heroes need be perfect. (3.50 / 2) (#47)
by Remus Shepherd on Mon Apr 09, 2001 at 01:41:51 PM EST

In 1988, I was in a sociology class in college when the professor asked the class, 'What are your heroes'? Nobody spoke up. 'Come on, anyone? Hmmn, maybe that's the problem, nobody has heroes anymore.'

One girl raised her hand then. 'Why do we need heroes anymore? None of them are perfect. They all have some flaw or dark side, and the tabloids turn them into no-class jerks.'

Other people in the class agreed. 'Heroes have to be perfect.' 'JFK was a philanderer.' 'Why look up to someone who's no better than we are?'

Then the professor looked at me (yes, I was the nerdy teacher's pet in those days), and said, 'Okay, I know that you have heroes!'

And I smiled and nodded. 'Yep. Luke Skywalker and Professor Peabody!'

All of which goes to show three things:

First, we have this assumption these days that heroes have to be perfect, and with today's rabid and unblinking media, no human being stands up to that measure. Even John McCain (who I would classify as a hero) was demonized by his own party last year. People will lie to ruin the reputation of anyone who they see as a threat. We've been tearing down our own heroes for decades, whether for tabloid interest or political gain.

Secondly, there is hope. Fictional characters can be 'perfect'. Unless spoiled for profiteering motives by the corporations that spawned them, fictional characters make fine heroes, and they're the best we have.

And thirdly...I am such a geek.

Remus Shepherd <remus@panix.com>
Creator and holder of many Indefensible Positions.
Right, but in a way ... wrong? (none / 0) (#48)
by SnowDogAPB on Mon Apr 09, 2001 at 02:19:20 PM EST

When people only learned the "good stuff" about people, they were able to draw idealized pictures about them. They could then try and reach those ideals....

Now, we know it all -- the good, the bad, and the ugly. But in some ways, that makes our heroes stronger. It's easy to look at a idealized hero and say "I could never be that good" and not even try. But seeing someone who has faults, but still rises to the occasion ... that's something cool.

On the other hand, Superman will always be my hero. He always finds a way out of every villain's ultimatum. He taught me that when life hands you two crappy choices, your best bet is to figure out some cool way to bypass both of them and offer your third alternative which is better than either. Yes, his superpowers helped, but when it came down to it, it was his attitude on life.

It would be tough for a "real" hero to inspire you like that :-).

[ Parent ]
Consider Hercules (4.00 / 1) (#61)
by error 404 on Mon Apr 16, 2001 at 05:38:15 PM EST

No, not the Disney version.

Had this little anger-management problem. Not a perfect guy, by any means. And being legendary, it wasn't just that nobody knew about his family problems.

Part of the lack of heroes is due to more disclusure, part of it due to higher standards. In this day and age, murdering your wife and children pretty much disqualifies you from hero status even if they did kind of look like wild beasts at the time.

Electrical banana is bound to be the very next phase
- Donovan

[ Parent ]

Trite .. but ... (3.00 / 1) (#49)
by bemis on Mon Apr 09, 2001 at 05:50:59 PM EST

To be honest .. my dad is really a hero to me ... (okay -- anybody that knows me is gonna look at this and go "wtf?!? -- we've heard the things you say about your dad!" ... which is true .. but it serves the point .. he's not perfect, by anymeans .. but he's my biggest role-model .. and if i could, I'd be just like him. Isn't that what defines a hero? .. On top of that, take into consideration, that he *made* me ... (well, he had some help .. but still) ... and I mean that in more than a physical procreation kidna way .. Almost all that I am is a result of something good or bad I saw in him growing up. And judging from what he taught me about his own mistakes and flaws, he shaped me into the man I am today. <shrug> .. I dunno .. but I think people need heros and role-models that they can look at in real-life and see as human, not superman.


Roger Frogley, British Hero (3.00 / 1) (#52)
by codemonkey_uk on Tue Apr 10, 2001 at 08:27:57 AM EST

Grew up on a farm, raced dirt bikes. Became the first British speedway world champion. Took up flying, took up aerobatics. Flew in the 19?? olympics (the one in Germany before WWII), returned to England and joined the RAF, trained the best of the British WWII figher pilots. Married an actress. Divorced, married my Fathers Mother.

Now *thats* a hero. Saddly he died before I was born.
"The most savage controversies are those about matters as to which there is no good evidence either way." - Bertrand Russell

What about the villains? (3.00 / 4) (#55)
by Giant Space Hamster on Tue Apr 10, 2001 at 10:40:16 AM EST

Every hero needs a villain. What is Skywalker without Vader, the Fellowship of the Ring without the Nazgul, Superman without Lex Luthor?

Are there any villains in these modern times? A villian needs to be feared, to have strength and the possibility of winning. People like Milosevic and Saddam Hussein are not true villains to the majority of people because they pose no real danger to them. The people who fear them have their own heroes: the brave people who stand up to the tyrant.

Heroes are defined by the quality of their nemesis. Who are the modern villains? The mega-corps? Most of my friends are employed by them. Are my friends villains?

The modern age has no great evils, and thus, no great heroes. There are many small evils, and many small heroes.

The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.
-- Bertrand Russell

The problem isn't a lack of heroes. (4.33 / 3) (#59)
by jolly st nick on Wed Apr 11, 2001 at 03:40:19 PM EST

It is a lack of ideals.

Heroes have always been held up as the embodiment of ideals, anyway. The truth of who these heroes really were has always been submerged in our collective projection of our ideals upon them.

Take George Washington. Here in the US, we've all been taught a completely fictional account about how as a boy he chopped down a cherry tree and immediately took responsibility for it. The fact of George Washington's character was much more complex and ambiguous. Washington a driven social climber, and chafed at the outsider status that his provincial status relegated him to in the British army. As a young officer he cheated his own men out of land that was granted to them. Eventually, his inability to advance his status within the British army turned him into a radical egalitarian -- the man who might have become America's king if he wanted, but refused to accept a third term on the grounds it would lead to a dangerous concentration of power in his hands.

The flawed man whose life experiences prepare him for a moment of heroism is much more real to me than the idealized person of superhuman character. Heroes, as we have known them, are nearly always substantially fictional.

It's getting harder and harder to maintain the fictional form of heroism, because the modern velocity of information can hit this fiction like a typhoon. Stir into this mix eagerness to engage in character assasination and political theater, and it's pretty much impossible to put forward an old fashioned kind of hero with any kind of wide, durable appeal.

The question is, can we have ideals without heroes to embody them?

Heroes and villains, both considered harmful (4.50 / 2) (#63)
by pavlos on Sat Apr 28, 2001 at 11:43:03 PM EST

It is a good job that we don't seem to have many herores. They are terrible role models. Heores:

  • Often behave irrationally, glorifying stupidity.
  • Serve dubious ideals, such as patriotism or courage.
  • Engender a tendency to expect other, supposedly exceptional people to solve problems.
  • Encourage one to be a spectator of the heroes' lives, rather then developing one's own.
  • Are portrayed with an unrealistic degree of perfection, making one feel inadequate.

    I don't know how it happened that we have fewer heroes. It seems to have been a fortunate accident. Unfortunately we still have lots of villains, which are equally unhealty artifacts of social discourse. Villains:

  • Are portrayed as behaving irrationally, to avoid discussing unfavourable political opinions.
  • Serve dubious ends, such as fuelling intolerance or distracting from unpopular policies.
  • Engender fear, and so willingness to accept oppression in exchange for "protection".
  • Encourage alienation and passivity, rather than active cooperation between people.
  • Are portrayed with an unrealistic degree of evil, lowering one's expectations.

    Hmmm, maybe we no longer have heroes because villains do the job so much better by themselves...


  • The Generations Without Heroes | 64 comments (57 topical, 7 editorial, 0 hidden)
    Display: Sort:


    All trademarks and copyrights on this page are owned by their respective companies. The Rest 2000 - Present Kuro5hin.org Inc.
    See our legalese page for copyright policies. Please also read our Privacy Policy.
    Kuro5hin.org is powered by Free Software, including Apache, Perl, and Linux, The Scoop Engine that runs this site is freely available, under the terms of the GPL.
    Need some help? Email help@kuro5hin.org.
    My heart's the long stairs.

    Powered by Scoop create account | help/FAQ | mission | links | search | IRC | YOU choose the stories!