I’ve been thinking about heroes and their to-do lists.
It seems to me that 21st century life isn’t very well configured for heroes as we traditionally see them and revere them.
Back in the days before the Internet, the smartphone, Twitter, etc, heroes kept themselves at a distance. Our sense of them was based on their occasional appearances, their achievements, glimpses at confirming aspects of their personality.
Today, our heroes have non-removable speech bubbles above their heads, though unlike in the comics, they script their bubbles. Heroes weren’t given to us to enable us to see their every waking utterance. A hero’s life is mostly edited – and quite often scripted by others.
Imagine heroes from the past subjected to the levels of scrutiny that we have today. Churchill, for instance, slurring at the dispatch box, with all the social media opportunities for instant parody or outrage that this might evoke.
It goes wider than this. We all have our icons – humanitarians, artists, writers, musicians and others – who we admire with a long lens. But it’s the message or the outcomes that often imbue someone with his or her heroic qualities – not a shopping list of their everyday thoughts.
Getting up close and personal can mess with our sense of who our heroes are and whether they ‘deserve’ that tag. There are people who I have hugely admired from a distance – and who I have found myself involuntarily reassessing as I’ve got a better understanding of their views – and often their intolerances. One singer that I have long admired for her work, one novelist who has shared a discordant view too many.
Views and intolerances on a daily basis are part of the human condition – to be valued, yes, but to also sometimes to sit at odds with how we have seen someone in the past. Perhaps it’s all about the medium and the message again. Message first, medium second. Perhaps, also, heroes just aren’t cut out for social media.
Maybe we need myth, legend and fog to obscure and tantalise – and gild our icons.
In the lead up to an election, the concept of the hero is something that comes into focus. Part of the reason that our politics are becoming so fragmented is because we see so much of people – and so much of what they say is deconstructed and held against the truth. This in turn leads to hearing even more of them through social media – and a sanitized version (my work on the polifiller.com site has confirmed my feeling that politicians are largely doing cover versions of the same ballad).
There’s no answer to this – and no purpose, save an acknowledgement that mystique and distance play a part in our assessment of people. We hypothecate on the basis of very little – a patch of oratory, the reporting of a decision – or on the basis of the work alone. There’s almost a case for costumes and masks in this. A day outfit that disguises identity and something more comfortable for our heroes’ anonymous evenings. Perhaps Marvel Comics had the recipe for enduring heroes all along. Politicians need outfits and masks. Vote Zorro, vote Wonder Woman, vote Batman.