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The casting of heroes and heroism defined

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Real heroes, the role of the press and characterizing

(1st edition - Mar 2013) by A.O. Kime
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It’s been evident for some time the label ‘hero’ is overused and the term ‘saving lives’ can’t be budged as a characterization. Clearly it’s the fault of the press - the media in general. Apparently they believe these terms would create more interest in their news stories. The theatrical element would, after all, make them more of a ‘headliner‘.

In reality, real heroes and heroines are rare and ’saving lives’ is actually ’prolonging lives’.

Note: While 'saving lives' is commonly utilized solely out of habit it seems and while a harmless habit it became the target in this article because it happened to tie in with heroism. It begs a moment on the stage.

While the hero or heroine label can be legitimately applied to a person who, at great personal risk, rescued someone from disaster or otherwise ’saved the day’ is some perilous fashion, nowadays far too many acts are advertised as heroic. In effect it’s “an exaggeration of someone’s role”.

Primarily the ‘courage’ aspect is missing. For instance, someone retrieving a cat from a tree should not be considered a hero. It would be no more dangerous than trimming the tree. While that rescue was heroic as far as the cat was concerned - and surely the cat was thankful - nonetheless it dilutes the status of a real hero. The rescue would be far more akin to altruism, not heroism.

Of course, in the face of danger, adversity or from a position of weakness courage is most notable, more admirable. And, it powers and sustains itself by the “will for self-sacrifice“. It’s the ‘fuel’.

Other characteristics which might hint at heroism would be “noble” and more loosely “moral excellence”. Almost invariably the hero would be characterized as a “defender” or “protector”. It might even be inherently ingrained in them to defend or protect… someone who hates violence. To the extreme they would be “at war with violence” which is evident in people who won’t hesitate a second to break up a fight. They can’t help it.

Also, before labeling someone a hero a historian might ponder this counterfactual question “what would have happened if this or that historical individual had or had not been alive?”. Generally, it seems, this would pertain to their lasting effect on society. Thomas Jefferson certainly made an impact… perhaps the greatest hero of all time.

Commonplace usage of the term ‘hero’ and the misleading qualities of 'saving'

But as a consequence of the commonplace usage, if we heard the media or city fathers proclaim someone a hero - but while not yet knowing the reason - we might tend to think it wasn‘t going to be due to anything particularly noble. We’d think it could be anything from someone who quickly fixed a hole in the roof to someone who got rid of a beehive.

It seems there’s a lesson to be learned here from Aesop’s fable “The Boy Who Cried Wolf“.

But before getting back to the subject of heroes, the curiosity of ’saving’ begs an audience. Usually on the stage with heroism, it avails itself to serve as an example of curious sayings. While largely innocent, it is nonetheless of the misleading variety.

First of all, nobody on God’s green earth can ’save’ a life unless humans were not necessarily fated to die… being only subject to death (quasi-immortal). Not even doctors save lives… they can only prolong them. Of course, cast as heroes because of the usage of ‘saving‘ all the medical fields benefit.

Of course, ‘prolonging’ doesn’t sound as good as ‘saving’ which has positive overtones… and thus its promotional value. The term ‘prolonging’ would tend to be associated with “dragging out” in some (or many) cases. For someone in constant pain for instance or otherwise miserable… those who don’t want to live any longer but are too scared of death to do anything else.

On the other hand, if it concerned a child then ‘saving’ seems appropriate. At some point it gets ridiculous however… how can someone save the life of an 85 year-old? So little is left to save. But at whatever age ’saving’ begins to fade as a logical characterization, ’prolonging’ begins to take over.

Sports heroes

A sports hero is another kind of hero frequently mentioned. But that too is often overused… a football player who ran for a touchdown in the final seconds may not be the real hero. The last touchdown shouldn’t make a hero anymore than the first touchdown. Nor who made the ‘most exciting’ touchdown. Of no consequence however, in sporting events creating heroes is just for fun.

But in torturing that curiosity still, whoever the designated hero was for the winners they wouldn’t be for the losers.

To the losers, he’d be an ‘anti-hero’ (effectively) which would seem to cancel out ‘hero’… just like matter and antimatter cancel each other out. While the opposing sides in war would never recognize each other’s heroes either, there’s no denying war heroes. That’s because war heroes are ’bona fide’ whereas sports heroes don’t have to be. The fans could even choose the water boy if they wanted.

Heroes all, unsung heroes and the press

So far then… in societies there’s real heroes (catastrophe averters), war heroes, sports heroes and media heroes. But they all have one thing in common… almost invariably all are ‘as advertised’ heroes.

In the first instance, ‘as advertised’ is responsible for all the make-believe heroes. In other words, those the press corps (media) cited as heroes. And, while heroes in the opinion of the press - and thus suggestively entrenched in the mind of the public - ‘as advertised’ is also responsible for the notoriety of real heroes. How would the public know of them otherwise? So, whether the public shares these opinions or not… can heroes exist without the press?

Note: there’s nothing demeaning about being an unsung hero. But being unsung that trail goes cold for investigative purposes. Only in the mind of a few might their noble deeds be known… but fated to be forgotten forever. Yet, heroes nonetheless to God.

So then… what well-known heroes, if any, ever originated with the public? In other words, what persons were deemed a hero by the public without any influence from the press? Are there any? For example, surely the press had something to do with the hero status of George Washington. Yet, everybody knew he played a huge role in gaining (as general) and maintaining (as president) America’s independence. All the press had to do was cite his accomplishments.

Perhaps then in our search for 'unadvertised' heroes - but popular nonetheless - we should exclude wartime victories since they always produce heroes in the mind of the public - making practically every soldier involved a hero. It doesn’t matter what the press said or when they said it. It goes without saying.

Freedom heroes

But it also goes without saying for ‘freedom heroes’, a category so far unmentioned. These sentiments can also fly without help from the press. Since there is no type hero of greater import, freedom heroes could be considered ‘super-heroes‘ (i.e. Thomas Jefferson, Jean Jacques Rousseau, etal).

So - except for victorious warriors and the standard bearers for freedom - is the press the sole arbitrator? Without the printing press can other type heroes be otherwise known?

Legendary heroes

Well, legends have been successful. Among others they’ve produced are heroes such as David (of David and Goliath), Hector (of Trojan fame) and Achilles. Though the Bible, books and Greek mythology they became known. And, notably, through Indian lore was Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. In effect, all were publicly-appointed which would make them bona fide. Whether or not some legendary hero was a mythical character doesn’t matter. The matter of heroes belongs to the public. If they want to call a Dodo bird a hero that’s their business.

Of course, the amount of support for labeling someone a hero would vary. It is surely never unanimous. For those who hesitate labeling someone a hero, it could be just a matter of “who cares?”. Or maybe they never heard of the dude. At any rate, this is where the press comes in. They’ll either promote the public sentiments or ignore them… giving them almost complete control over the matter. Press coverage is, after all. absolutely essential for common knowledge - notoriety.

Except, as said, for freedom fighters and warriors. Whatever press coverage freedom fighters and a war gets is already old news, the heroes already decided. All soldiers are heroes and the public's awareness of freedom fighters has always originated in cafes, bars and other meeting places. And more-so today on the Internet.

As to who the heroes are, the press should step aside and let the public take the lead... voice it first. There's no room for political correctness in the matter. The ‘public’ in this case would be the witnesses to the deed. Let their tales serve as testimony. If it was some guy who slugged an IRS agent, so be it. If it was some six-gun-toting motorcycle mama who goes around blowing away child molesters, so be it.

It should be made clear to the press... do-gooder altruism and sissies don't make heroes.

The making of heroes

Perhaps however the press has other reasons than to just create headlines. Who knows… it could be lofty, magnanimous. Well, at least it's a possibility. Perhaps they truly understand how important heroes are for the psyche of societies. It gives people hope for mankind, instills brotherly trust and produces positive outlooks. In this picture, apathy, substance abuse and resentments fade. The sun is brighter. So too are the colors red, white and blue.

If true, then that’s the reason the press tries to create heroes... albeit usually just 'make believe' heroes. At best they're just 'substitutes'.

But largely responsible for creating real heroes is the atmosphere within societies. It’s either ripe or it isn’t. Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) wrote "You must admit that the genesis of the great man depends on the long series of complex influences which has produced the race in which he appears, and the social state into which that race has slowly grown… (but) before he can remake his society, his society must make him". (parenthesis added).

It shouldn’t be hard to recognize what ails a society or makes it great. Greatness, of course, is fertile ground for heroes. It’s only natural the desire to perpetuate admirable ideals - nobleness - to have a hand. But a sick society doesn’t necessarily discourage everyone… especially not the super-heroes.

A.O. Kime

Last modified: 04/30/16