Is a hero someone who is always does good? Or someone who tries to do good? In working on my two current projects, I’ve been giving this question a lot of thought, and I wanted to run my current thinking by you.
Our biggest heroes are people who never make mistakes. They stand for what is right and just, and they never allow their personal desires to get in their way. Think about the three heroes above: Wonder Woman, Superman, and Batman. Think about James Bond and Sherlock Holmes and Harry Potter. Think about Professor X and Captain America and Daredevil. These characters put the good above all else, and even if they flirt with changing their methods, their single-minded drive for good never changes.
Moreover, the choices they ultimately make in this regard never proves wrong. In other words, Superman never kills a child to save a village. No, he finds a way to save them all. James Bond is occasionally deceived by a double agent, but he never succumbs to her feminine wiles a second time.
Conventional heroes can have flaws, but they can’t ever be wrong. If ever for a moment they seem so, they’re almost immediately retconned to account for the discrepancy. And here, as I see it, is the problem.
Impossible Role Models
Conventional Heroes are impossible role models. No human being is always good. No human being is always right. Sometimes we make the selfish choice. Sometimes, the cowardly choice. Sometimes, the uninformed choice. This doesn’t mean we’re evil. It only means we’re human.
Yet there aren’t many who want to settle for “only human.” People, I believe, want to be good. They want to be heroes. At the very least, they want to be seen as heroes. But how can they, when the conventional heroes our culture worships are so completely out of reach?
I see a few possible means, each more troubling than the last.
Conventional heroes don’t make mistakes, but ordinary humans do. So when an ordinary human being aspires to heroic ideals, the easiest way to account for the difference between zero errors and countless errors is to refuse to admit that your wrong.
It’s like that time Trump said, “Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything,” but later refused to apologize for his “locker room banter.” Why? Because admitting that you’re wrong is admitting that you aren’t a hero. And we expect our politicians to be heroes, putting our entire government in a position where no one can grow for fear of being mortalized.
Mere mortals second means of reaching the unimpeachable heights of conventional heroes is simple: to lie. Everyone does it aside from the lucky few spectrum individuals who can’t. The rest of us face the constant temptation to improve our social status by adjusting other people’s opinion with untruths. Conventional heroes always make the right choice. They never have to lie. But if we want to seem like heroes when we inevitably make mistakes, we must.
Just like that time Trump claimed he had a massive victory in the electoral college, but was really in the bottom 25% of electoral college victories. But in a world looking for heroes to stand up for them, you might say that Trump had to lie constantly to play the part, or else he never would have been elected to begin with.
Ultimately, we average human beings are all faced with the prospect of never, ever reaching the moral peaks of the conventional heroes we admire. Some of us are broken by this pursuit and cease aspiring entirely. In other words, some of us go to the dark side.
This, I see as the most devastating result of conventional heroes influence because its also the most inevitable. For just as we can’t stop planes mid-flight or solve crimes with astounding accuracy or to death-defying stunts on a daily basis, neither can we make good choices at every turn. And after a few too many, its no wonder so many of us see being cruel, close-minded, and evil as easier.
Consider Trump, who is so busy lying his ass off and pretending he’s always right that he’s made racism, sexism, and bigotry part of his political platform. Worse, Trump is not the least of the worlds’ villains. There are people the world-over who’ve decided its easier for them to be wrong than to aspire to greater things? And the reasons are clear: We don’t reward those who are sometimes wrong. We don’t reward people who are in a state of development. We only reward those who seem, on the surface at least, to be like our heroes.
And that’s a problem.
A Modern Solution
It’s time for a new kind of hero. It’s time for a hero who is not a paragon of virtue. Who sometimes gets things wrong. Who isn’t afraid to admit her mistakes. Who falters, but persists. Who cares more for truth than being right. Who suffers through hardship, but eventually saves the day.
That’s the kind of hero our world needs.