My Heroes aren’t Super

Brace yourselves, boys and girls, this is likely to turn into one of those “When I was a girl” rants.

Still with me? Bless your brave soul.

Here’s the thing: If you type ‘heroes’ into Google you’ll get 399,000,000 hits. And you’ll have to scroll through many, many pages before you move away from superheroes. Isn’t that sad?

Image result for pow!

Now before you start writing your “Holy Batman!” responses, hear me out.

There’s nothing wrong with superheroes. I really enjoyed Batman when I was a kid. Well, not so much Batman as the Riddler when he was played by Frank Gorshin. And I loved The Incredible Hulk. That is to say Dr David Banner, especially when he was played by the late Bill Bixby.

The point, my friends, is I’ve come not to bury Superman but to praise his less-than-super cousins. The regular guys who glitter on the page, on the screen or, best of all, in real life.

Fiction’s concept of the hero has changed over the past 40 years or so. Our choices seem to be limited to the aforementioned Biff! Pow! Whammo! type of caped whatsit or the anti-hero, the flawed soul who’s just trying to do his best (it’s almost always ‘him’ and not ‘her’) in a troubled world.

When I was growing up heroes were people like Hawaii-Five-O‘s Steve McGarrett who not only caught the bad guy but somehow managed to keep his impeccable hairdo in the middle of hurricanes and fisticuffs, and Mr Spock who was the most super of the non-superhero heroes. I’ll come back to him.

In the 1970s a lot changed around the world. We became much more cynical. People weren’t singing things like “The Grand Old Flag” except on Independence Day and even then it sounded nostalgic. Instead we were singing were songs like Tom Paxton’s sardonic “What Did You Learn in School?”

What did you learn in school today,
Dear little boy of mine?
What did you learn in school today,
Dear little boy of mine?

I learned that Washington never told a lie.
I learned that soldiers seldom die.
I learned that everybody’s free,
And that’s what the teacher said to me.

That’s what I learned in school today,
That’s what I learned in school.

I suppose with the taint of Watergate and Vietnam, daily pictures of flag-draped coffins, assassinated leaders, civil rights’ outrages, and the end of flower power people were far less likely to believe in the government. Or anything else, really.

Enter dad.

Everybody trusts dad.

We had John Walton who ruled the roost on Walton’s Mountain, king of all he surveyed. He was endlessly patient, flawlessly wise, insufferably nice.  And, oh, Charles Ingalls who built his little house on the prairie with his own strong hands. Not only was Chuck endlessly patient, flawlessly wise, etc., but he was good with a hammer and saw too. But my favourite dad (on the telly) was Howard Cunningham. That’s right, Richie’s dad who ensured that every day was a Happy Day. Howard wasn’t always patient. He got grumpy sometimes. He got frisky. A lot. He made mistakes but he was willing to admit it and he wasn’t afraid to apologise. Howard was flawed and therefore seemed more real than Saint John Walton.

Despite these paragons, or maybe because of them, it didn’t take long for us to get sick of dad-as-hero. We all had dads and we knew how flawed they could be. We liked them better for their flaws.  Which brings us to the anti-hero.

He’s dominated in recent years but he’s been around for a long time. He’s older than Holden Caulfield or even Jay Gatsby. He’s even older than Shylock. Odysseus was more anti-hero than hero (feel free to debate among yourselves), and so was Jason.

I’ll examine the anti-hero more next week, but right now I want to keep looking at heroes. For all our cynicism, or perhaps even because of it, we all need heroes in our lives. Heroes have been hard to hold onto lately. People we grew up watching and believing in, such as Rolf Harris are exposed as predators. Every day someone else from my childhood is revealed as having devastating flaws. I was never much of a Harris fan but I know others who loved him. How do you deal when you discover your hero is really a villain? Doesn’t their poison taint all your childhood memories?

Not only are we losing heroes to their own demons, but we’re losing them in far more prosaic ways as more and more of our role models die. The past twelve months have been particularly cruel. We’ve lost Robin Williams and Ryk Mayall, Maya Angelou and PD James, Elaine Stritch and, just this week, the gentle soul that was Leonard Nimoy.

All of these people touched my life in different ways. They made me laugh, cry, think, and celebrate the world. They made me believe in the goodness in people because they believed it. If someone like Anne Frank can say,

Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart.

Then why can’t I believe that too?

This is what heroes are for. For teaching is to believe.

 

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About Geri Schear

Geri Schear is an award-winning novelist, author of three Sherlock Holmes and Lady Beatrice books published by MX Publishing. Her short stories have appeared in a number of journals. For further information, see her page at Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Geri-Schear/e/B00ORWA3EU
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