(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com 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.