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Has Society Killed The Hero?

Updated on July 6, 2009

What Is A Hero?

I have been thinking about this idea for a while now; about the characteristics of a hero. What spurred the thought was this semi-recent fiasco with Olympic athlete Michael Phelps; a kid with a vision, and poor foresight. In my eyes the need for heroes has never been greater; our kids and grand-kids seem to be locked in a battle with self-esteem, when they should be imagining their heroes, tangled in epic battles of integrity, character, and courage.

When I look back at the heroes of my childhood, there are very distinct images of right and wrong; there was simply a "bad guy" and a "good guy." The bad guy embodied all that was unjust, evil, or just plain mean. The good guy was larger than life, the apex of courage, morality and virtue. A hero had no time for internal struggle; he stood his ground, and never wavered in his beliefs. A hero's efforts were concentrated on repelling evil and the temptation of corruption, unless a kitten needed to be plucked from the highest branches. Those were my heroes; those were the guys I wanted to be; that was the image of a man.

Heroes alone, however, are only half the picture; being grounded in reality is the other half. My grounding came in the form of a hard-working father, a devoted mother, and a family unit, even though it was far from perfect. We were the very reason heroes existed. We needed the protection of soldiers, policemen and firemen. We were the motivation that kept heroes going.

Where Are All The Heroes?

Heroes are all around us. Maybe not in the dynamic form that I remember, but heroes nonetheless. We still have soldiers, policemen, and firemen. We have seen courage and those that laugh in the face of adversity, but heroes have been whittled down to size. The days of capes, masks and super-human power are gone. The family unit, the very reason for a hero's existence, has been diminished, and our definition of virtue and morality is being smeared.

I remember the "good 'ol days" of good versus evil; a time when villains wore black, and bound helpless damsels to railroad ties; a time when good guys wore white, and arrived in the nick-of-time to whisk them away from danger. It was a simple concept, but very effective. There were only two sides of the fence to choose from. Nowadays the lines between good and evil have been blurred. We look to those that are reasonably good, not-so-bad, or we settle for the less terrible  There seems to be a margin of fuzziness that is easily accepted; acceptable degrees of goodness or badness.

We are constantly bombarded with messages of disregard. Disregard of the law, disregard of the family and disregard of morality and personal responsibility. Again, I refer to Michael Phelps. He won eight gold medals; a new single, Olympic Games individual record; he has sixteen overall. Surely he has to be a hero of legendary stature. A role model for every kid that swims with the dream of someday taking a stand in some foreign country listening to their national anthem. He came close; a moment of indiscretion and poor judgement cost him. He even missed the Wheaties box. Has he truly lost his hero status, though? I don't think so. I have heard debates and arguments. There are those who will just as quickly forgive his "little slip." I wonder if my generation would be as quick to forgive Superman, or G.I Joe, if he was seen hitting a bong. The line in the sand has been crossed too many times.

I'm not picking on Michael Phelps; he just happens to be the most current, blatant example of my point. I will acknowledge his talent and accomplishments, but I will not (I cannot) elevate him to hero status. The media, whether it be TV, newspaper, radio or the Internet will run a story about a "hero," but will just as quickly, if not faster, run a story that sensationalizes shortcomings. I think our society has lowered the bar on basic values to a level where heroes make us feel bad about ourselves; instead of inspiring us, they shame us. We no longer wish to achieve heroic standards, we would rather believe that heroes are no better than us.

Is All Hope Lost?

I don't like being a "doom-and-gloomer," but the simple reality is that we are in trouble as a society. I don't think it is any coincidence that heroes are disappearing with our values. I believe we still have the ability to revive our heroes and put them back where they belong; in the hearts and minds of children. It's going to take some serous societal CPR to resurrect the hero.

As I stated earlier, I think having a hero is only half of the story. A hero only exists in those places deserving protection; we need to make our society a place deserving. Why would heroes want to hang around, and risk life, with people that don't value the very things that heroes stand for, like virtue, morality, and honor? Is it so hard to admit that life is trying, and that we need heroes to help us through, and inspire us? Lack of honor will make a society weak, but choosing paths that embrace the lack of honor will surely destroy it. History has shown it.

I think it's about time we embraced our heroes instead, and we can do that by fixing our own houses first. Forget the hype that we must make others smaller, so that we may feel bigger. Discard the idea that watching others sink is the way to rise to the top. I still believe in heroes, and I still believe they serve a greater purpose. I only hope that heroes still believe in us.


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    • profile image

      Ronald Court 5 years ago


      Your post on Heroes may be two years "old", but is just a relevant today.

      Pop culture, negative peer pressures, politicians and corporate miscreants receive way too much publicity/notoriety, whereas today's (and yesterday's) genuine heroes in fact and fiction do not.

      Roy Rogers and Dale Evans have been displaced by Brangelina... a couple that means well, but do not convey a life we can aspire to.

      American education has for years highlighted our external differences as 'diversity' rather than celebrate the virtues and values we hold in common.

      The balkanization of our country serves the political ends of some, but it has clearly done the Nation no good.

      Feel free to contact me. (my website:

    • tinaweha profile image

      Tina Boomerina 7 years ago from Seattle (and the world)

      Society has made villains into heroes. And, society has fallen for it. We are not lacking good role models...TV has hijacked our country. And, the solution is simple...turn that sucker off. Then, only watch movies that aren't made by America Haters.

    • Dgenr8 profile image

      Dgenr8 7 years ago

      So True, these days we are seriously lacking good role models.

    • puppascott profile image

      puppascott 8 years ago from Michigan (As far as you know...)

      Hey Seabastian,

      Thanks for checking in. You are right. There is nothing more powerful, or scarier, than true independence. Imagine being responsible for yourself. Yikes!

    • Seabastian profile image

      Seabastian 8 years ago from Raleigh

      Great hub.

      Heroes are too reminiscent of why America is so special compared to so many other countries. It is her celebration of the individual who is not afraid to stand apart from the crowd.

      Our elites certainly don't want to have to put up with a bunch of independent thinkers.

    • puppascott profile image

      puppascott 8 years ago from Michigan (As far as you know...)

      Thanks James,

      Your words are always kind, and I am glad you enjoyed this.

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 8 years ago from Chicago

      It seems to me a lot of this started in the films of the 1970s.  The Anti-Hero, such as Travis Bickle came to the fore.  The filmmakers were so good at their art that they had ways of manipulating the audience into rooting for miscreants. 

      Throw in relativism in our schools and universities, where there is no objective good or bad, only whatever you think is good or bad is good or bad.  Of course, that is a false ideology. 

      This is a great hub and very thought provoking.  I love your work here and I thank you for it.

    • puppascott profile image

      puppascott 8 years ago from Michigan (As far as you know...)

      Ixxy and Marine,

      I've noticed several people that write here just can't get past any comment that might cast some type of negativity on marijuana. It was an example. Get over yourselves. This hub is not a comparison of weed to alchohol, it is to stress the point that heroism, and the lines between right and wrong, have been blurred. If it will help you both, just scratch out the word marijuana where it appears and write in the word alcohol. Perhaps then you will have less trouble concentrating on the point of the article.

      Thanks for the comments, though.


      First, thanks for your service. Second, I wish their were more family heroes. That's where they should be. What greater experience could there be then to hang out with a true hero.


    • marinealways24 profile image

      marinealways24 8 years ago

      During those wars mentioned as well as Vietnam, They smoked weed to ease the mind. Is easing the mind a crime? No one is flawless. Some just choose different outlets.

    • trooper22 profile image

      trooper22 8 years ago from Chicago

      Great hub, and very well written papa! As a kid my hero was Ironman, and Audie Murphy. Ironman because he was a believable character and Audie Murphy because he epitomized the courage of a simple man from a simple world. I wanted to be them, and I was guided by their tenacity and honor. Of course as I grew older I realized that one is the product of a writer's imagination while the other was a very troubled man that ended his life due to a myriad of reasons. My all time greatest heros are my Grandfathers though...both served in the military during World War Two, and are the reason I also became a soldier.

    • lxxy profile image

      lxxy 8 years ago from Beneath, Between, Beyond

      "He came close; a moment of indiscretion and poor judgement cost him."

      I'd have to disagree with this point; would you get angry at your son's favorite sports star drinking? Well, marijuana is a much safer drug than alcohol, as pointed above.

      Don't believe me? Well, just remember...the FDA isn't about telling you truths. ;) They just want your money for a seal of approval, my friend.

      The biggest tragedy, at that point, the fact that some a-hole decided to take the video and put it on YouTube. That is immoral, that is indecent. Not Mr. Phelps relaxing at a party.

      Granted..if it was something more hardcore, I'd have cause for alarm. But marijuana is on it's way to being rescheduled, so you're going to want to lose the bad opinion of it--you'll be finding it in your liquor stores within the decade. ;)

      But I digress. Heroes face villains, the good versus the bad....but in real life, it doesn't work that way. One person's hero is another's villain

    • puppascott profile image

      puppascott 8 years ago from Michigan (As far as you know...)

      I don't know if I'm right, but this I believe. It has been happening for many years, slowly and subtley.

      Thanks for the comment

    • advisor4qb profile image

      advisor4qb 8 years ago from On New Footing

      Well I was a BIG fan of Wonder Woman, the Bionic Woman, and we must not forget Samantha (Bewitched) and Jeannie.

      For my oldest, it has been Batman and then Buzz Lightyear. Now, alas, he's more into violent video games.

      For my daughter, she never really had a superhero, but she loves that mermaid show, H20.

      My youngest one likes Spiderman, but never watches it. He is more into that Thomas the Tank Engine than anything.

      OMG, you're RIGHT!

    • puppascott profile image

      puppascott 8 years ago from Michigan (As far as you know...)

      Ahh, the beast of fuzziness rears its ugly head once again.

    • marinealways24 profile image

      marinealways24 8 years ago

      I think weed is a lot better than alcohol if he can get stoned and win six gold medals. Could he have won them drunk?