Friday, February 7, 2014


I was inspired by a Glee episode to ponder whether or not we need
heroes in our lives.  Are people really looking for heroes?  Do they need someone to follow, someone to look up to?  Do people want a superhero, a public figure known for righting the wrongs of this world?  Do they want a role model?

I find more times than not, when you ask someone who their hero is, they say either their mother or their father.  If its not one of their parents, its usually a relative.  Well, certainly not every family in the world has a superhero, or even a really good role model, I couldn't believe that.  So what is it about a mother or father or influential family member that makes them heroes in some way to their loved one?  Is it just that they are there for them?  That they have been a shoulder to cry on?  They've had their back, or given them advice?  Helped them in a time of need? 

For a long time I've been under the impression that people like to have a voice, they like to hear the sound of their own voices, and they want their opinions heard.  This is why there are oversharers on facebook and Twitter, this is why people like to comment on articles, etc.  The internet has really revolutionized the way the masses can speak out, and it's been both a good thing and a bad thing.  So maybe heroes are just people with the superpowers of listening, showing empathy and confirming that it's okay to feel the way they feel.  That really is a superpower in itself, but is that all?  Or is there something more to being a hero? 

Superheroes are portrayed as mostly ordinary people (in some cases, the frailest and most ordinary as possible) with one amazing trait.  But people never really follow heroes, usually because their identity is secret, but also because they don't understand and can't relate to the superheroes differences.  Superheroes are often portrayed as a nuisance in the public eye, the media always looking to trash the superheroes to sell more.  Everybody likes a good train wreck. 

On that note, the most popular TV shows are those about people who aren't spectacular, sub-ordinary in most cases, that are full of exaggerated drama.  From stressed out brides ready to explode at the slightest touch, to uneducated hicks slurring their words so bad they need captions so the viewers know what they're saying; from princesses having to do farm work to gold digging idiots trying to make money buying and selling someone else's junk; from little people running a farm to criminals telling their stories; from ex-strippers starting a family to people from extreme religions doing wild things.  TV producers must love this fad, if it is a fad, because they don't need writers to come up with the next big twist or fancy game show sets or highly-paid talented actors.  All they need is a few recording devices, and for a fraction of the price of filming a sitcom, America watches as the drama unfolds.  Some of these people have maybe overcome something, and maybe that makes them heroes in some way, but they're a far cry from superheroes protecting the greater good with some amazing power they have.  

A show about heroes would be a show about people trying to make a difference in this world.  But every entertainment journalist would search high and low to find some dirt on those people, to rip them back down to our level, and we reward that much more than the good-doing.  I doubt Lance Armstrong was ever mentioned in South Park until after the scandal broke out.  Joe Paterno died under the circumstances of being villainized after being a hero for so many years.  Every big pop star had a drug addiction or beat their wives or molested children.  Some major athletes follow suit.  On the one hand, it goes to show that nobody is perfect, so it gives us hope in some small way.  On the other hand, everybody loves a good scandal and they won't leave the heroes alone until they find one. 

Lots of musicals are about aspiring to be great, finding the greatness within us, or figuring out what makes us great.  In Wicked, the bad witch was really the kindest person alive, just severely misunderstood and trampled on, until she gave in.  She was "Defying Gravity", one of my favorite songs about letting nobody hold you down.  In Pippin, the main character is convinced he's "Extraordinary", and goes from battle to drugs and sex and politics and nearly forfeits his life to prove he's Extraordinary, when he realizes that an ordinary life with a beautiful woman and son is actually pretty special.  In Rent, the songwriter wants to write that "One Song" that will make him legendary, and the filmmaker wants to make a difference with his footage.  In Les Mis, the rebels see just "One More Day" until the uprising, for which they had high hopes that it would bring a better life.  

I think about whether I should be a hero at work.  I want to be seen as someone who is smart and can always find a solution.  But experience has shown that when you're too helpful, you just get bogged down with more work, people want you to fix their problems instead of learning how to fix it themselves and they come to you with issues you don't know anything about.  Just imagine if Spider Man or the fantastic four were commonplace in every city; we would eventually do away with the majority of our police force, or the police we had would become lazy and incompetent, because someone else is doing their jobs for them.  What if a superhero had the power to cure cancer?  Then we wouldn't take care of ourselves, because we'd know there's a cure. 

No, I don't think superheroes are what the world wants and needs.  The precedent set by a superhero is that you don't need to learn or take care of yourself or do your job, because the superhero would take care of it.  In some ways, technology is a superpower, like in Iron Man.  We expect computers to read our minds and do what we want them to do.  Indeed, technology has simplified our work and made us more productive, but at what cost?  We can't do simple arithmetic in our heads because we're used to calculators, we can't remember anybody's phone numbers because it's stored in our phones and now on the cloud, we don't know how to spell because we have spellcheck to take care of that. 

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