Monday, March 14, 2011

When heroes fail us....

I wrote this blog post on my flight back from Vancouver after having a discussion/debate with one of the other passengers sitting next to me on my flight. I usually try not to wax philosophical... it makes my head hurt.

What is the concept of a hero? I took a course in college that was entitled "The Concept of the Hero in Greek Civilization" and in that course the professor talked about the ancient Greek ideals of a hero, including the requirement that heroes were mortals who had to suffer before achieving their glory. (They also had to die, but that's a minor minor point.)

Obviously, the concept of a hero in our current world is much more flexible. We have heroes in every aspect of society now… ranging from social justice to sports, from the political arena to theatre. But what happens when our heroes don't act heroic? What happens when they fail? Why do we care so much? Why do I often hear things like "I can't believe that XXXX (insert sports figure or celebrity) did that! He seems like such a nice (or loyal or clean) person! They should know better. I'm so disappointed. They are role models... etc etc."

When a hero fails in the arena of their success, it seems appropriate for us to be upset. If a brilliant writer is found to have plagiarized or an athlete is found to have used performance-enhancing drugs, it is understandable why we are so disappointed in them. Their failure threatens the precise reasons why we made them our heroes and we feel deceived and disenchanted. So I can understand when we get upset when our heroes in law, politics, or religion commit morally questionable acts. We have some expectation that those heroes should act as model citizens. (Except in Italy, apparently, where the prime minister is allowed to purchase the services of underage call girls.)

But why do we get so upset when our athletes (or our entertainers) do stupid things? Like when we discovered that Tiger Woods took poetic license with the definition of "fidelity"? Or when Brett Favre allegedly decided that it was a good idea to send pictures of his little general to Jenn Sterger? Let's be honest... we didn't pick our athletic heroes because they were good people. We picked them because they could engineer touchdown drives, manhandle a golf course, or throw a 102mph fastball.

Admittedly, having fame and fortune should engender some degree of social responsibility so it would be nice if our celebrities were model citizens. But it also doesn't surprise me when they fail. We, as a society, didn't make them celebrities because of their moral character. We put them on pedestals because they provide us entertainment.

Personally, I look elsewhere for my moral and ethical role models.

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