Monday, August 13, 2007

Rituals in a Throwaway Society: Disposable Heroes

Remember this guy? Yeah, that would be Ruben Studdard. I feel like heroes are another casualty of our throwaway culture and yet in an odd way, we are creating more heroes today than ever in history. In the past, in order to garner hero status, a person had to actually do something heroic or at least noteworthy. Julius Caesar conquered empires. Joan of Arc toppled stereotypes. William Wallace was portrayed by Mel Gibson in a movie. People actually used to do things of note in order to get notoriety.

I feel like there was this big lull on heroes following the tragic assassinations of the 1960's. Many of us grew up only with the history of heroes, great people who had come before, but did not live in our lifetimes. Yes, there are very notable exceptions--Mother Teresa, Billy Graham, Mr. T, but it seems like there just weren't enough. And at the same time, the folks who were supposed to be heroes in the previous 3 decades came up short--presidents, televangelists, industry leaders. Lots of scandal, lots of controversy, lots of fodder for SNL, but very few bonafide mentors to look up to.

Enter reality TV with a solution: if you don't have enough heroes or idols or icons, just make new ones, annually with each new season. Now we don't have to wait for someone to do something great, we can just vote for them by 888 number or text message. Poof, there's a hero. And the beauty with these guys is that if they fall off the face of the earth or it turns out they're into cruelty to animals as a hobby, no problem. Just discard your new cardboard hero, there's another one on the way any minute. Now, reality shows are making heroes out of geeks and inventors and people who think they can dance.

So the question is: in an age of declining ethics in leaders, total invasion of media into the private lives of public figures and Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader, do we have any chance at seeing real heroes again? Can offices like the presidency of the US survive its current image problem? Will church leaders ever again be considered heroes outside of the church? Is celebrity the same as heroism?

Enough questions. Gotta go catch Simon Cowell's latest brainstorm: So You Think You are Smarter than a 5th Grader's Big Brother, America?