No Real Heroes

(This column is posted at and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

Americans say they love heroes. It’s obvious that’s a lie for too many Americans – we hate heroes and want false ones.

Real heroes are messy people because they’re real humans with flaws and problems. We idolize them but can’t tear our eyes away from the feet of clay every idol has.

Real heroes are creatures of time, of a particular era. As we’ll all too aware, those we admire become less admirable in time. Real heroes are ones we too oft grow out of as persons and as a culture.

Real heroes are a challenge to us because of their reality. Their very existence is a reminder we can do better and be different- while being flawed. If someone with flaws can do great things, why haven’t we?

Real heroes have real results, but also messy results. The extraordinary actions of heroes challenge us to do better. The mistakes and flaws of their choices require us to confront uncertainty about people. Heroic efforts aren’t clear-cut and morally simple, and they force us to think.

Real heroes don’t have the signs of success we want. They may not be rich or good looking, or charming. Doing the right thing doesn’t always pay well, and people who get their hands dirty don’t look clean.

Real heroes don’t fit our template. Real heroes aren’t always the gender we want, the age we want, and or the ethnicity we want. Real heroes remind us that heroism isn’t confined to people like us.

There are many admirable people with us and passed on, but their lives challenge us. To sort the good from the bad in a person is an effort, and when we do so, we confront ourselves. Our simple images of a hero don’t survive contact with history, nor do the images of ourselves.

We hate real heroes, so we often seek false heroes. We find some person who has the right pose, the right words, and follow them instead. We worship the fakers, the actors, the deceivers, and the grifters.

Fake heroes are clean. They present the way we want, act the way we want, say the things we want. There’s no moral ambiguity – unless you look at their actions.

Fake heroes often have money and fame, and the right looks. They have all the worldly things we want, and we decide that’s heroism. The image is there – as long as you don’t ask how they got there.

Fake heroes don’t have any apparent ambiguity because they lie about it or cover it up. Fake heroes are an act, and we don’t have to deal with moral complications because we buy into it. Fake heroes are so much easier.

Fake heroes fit all we expect. They’re the right age, right sexual preference, right skin tone, etc. Fake heroes are a confidence game that looks just enough like us that we’re confident in believing in them.

We so prefer fake heroes in America. They’re so much easier, and the internet and media will help us find them or turn them out for us.

This presents a challenge in a troubled time. But we need to rise to it or drown in false heroes and false faith. We need to know who to trust.

The hero might even be us, flawed as we are, temporary as we are.

Steven Savage

No More Heroes, All The Heroes

(This column is posted at and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

After it became obvious Biden would indeed fairly win the 2020 election, I saw praise for the “heroes” of the election. This activist may be lauded one day, the next a bureaucrat doing their job, and later an elected official showing a shocking amount of integrity. The heroes changed from day to day, but in all cases the praise felt the same – “this lone person/persons was all that stood between us and Dictatorship!”

Which is bullshit and I wish to discuss the bullshit. In fact, after the 2020 election we need less bullshit and consider this my small contribution to reducing the amount of bovine feces in political discourse.

Too many times I witness Americans seek the hero or heroes, the single person or small group that changes the world. There is doubtlessly a great deal of psychology and cultural analysis to be done here, though for me that may be for another time. I suspect it’s a combination of national myth, remnants of the Great Man theory of history, our media, and a large amount of parental issues. I would also add there’s plenty of ego as well – if there is a Great Hero Astride History you can be that person – or pretend to be online!

But the Lone Hero or Lone Small Group of Heroes really doesn’t stand up to reality and is cruel to those doing good things.

A functioning world depends on many people, as we have learned during the COVID-19 crisis when we suddenly discovered “Essential Workers” (and have in many cases unforgivably forgotten them). Our election saw activists texting and phone banking and protesting and their names are rarely in the news or even known. Legions of people processed votes, provided security, monitored for discrepancies, and no one is interviewing them or writing books about them. Even elected and appointed officials doing their jobs are legion, even if we’re surprised they show anything close to actual principles.

This is a terrifying reality for us to accept. In some ways there are no heroes, no one person is coming to save us, there’s no one to look at and say “they have it under control.” If there are no real heroes, then there is no chance for us to be praised and lauded. If there are no real heroes then all we have is each other, and that’s messy and complicated.

It also means we better get to work because life is all hands on deck.

But also this is a wonderful reality to accept. There is an army of people out there ensuring things work, often unappreciated – but we can appreciate them. There are legions out there doing the right thing – and these are people we can help and amplify our own power. This also means the world doesn’t have to hinge on one hero – or one villain – if we only remember that there are a lot of us out there who frankly don’t need them – or can prevent them.

Heroes give the world shape as we can understand the laudable. Heroes give us role models, and we certainly need all we can get. But we need to recognize that pathological ideas about heroes only harms us, makes us seek perfect parental figures. Instead let heroes be humble so we too can be humble, and let them be swappable so we can find the hero we need as opposed to clinging to one.

Besides, it is is cruel in the end to rely on others to save us. Now in the age of COVID-19 we try to ignore the exhausted doctors, the working people in masks and goggles hoping not to get ill, the scientists operating on no sleep. But because they are legion, because it’s hard to find that Special Standout Person among so many, they are oft ignored. If we didn’t seek heroes so much, maybe we’d roll up our sleeves and help all the people doing important things.

Hard work sounds better to me.

Steven Savage

Are All Superhero Movies Looking The Same

Well it’s apparently “Hollywood is screwed” day  . . .  er week . . . or . . . well you get the idea.

This author points out some interesting factors on the genericization of heroes.  There’s definitely a point here, though I’d say some elements are archetypical.  No differentiation is a marketing problem . . .

– Steven