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Who Needs a Hero?

Updated on September 28, 2010

Heroes in Pop Culture

It's been about 25 years now since Tina Turner told us that we don't need another hero. Why, then, do we still see imaginative spaces today filled with the heroes we wish we could find in real life? Why have Superman, Spiderman, Batman, and the whole gang not yet retired? Why are they still out busily saving the day (and always bringing along new heroes to work with them)?

While the face of the hero might have changed rather dramatically today (just take a look at this article for an exploration — a nice companion to Turner and Mad Max), we still seem to find ourselves drawn to the idea of the hero.

Thoreau's Thoughts on Heroism

Henry David Thoreau, in his Civil Disobedience , was already bemoaning the lack of heroes — or, as he puts it, "men" (I'm just going to have to take a deep breath and ignore the gendering of it for now) — in his day. As he says, thousands were then opposed to slavery and/or the Mexican War, but they sat back doing nothing about it. For this reason, he describes Americans in his day as "gregarious, but with no intellect." Ouch. I wonder what he would say about us today, so many years later? It seems to me that the situation, if anything, has gotten much worse.

Thoreau calls us to an idea of the hero that is liveable. He calls for each individual to go as far as peaceful civil disobedience in any situation where an injustice is met. And for Thoreau, this sort of heroism can be a response to a big or a small injustice. What really matters is that we act and not just sit back idly complaining about the injustice. We shouldn't just buy into the system. Our lives, he says, should be a source of friction against the smooth running of the Great Machine of oppression.

His call comes with a warning — Thoreau is at least fair to his readers. It will, he says, all come with a cost. Heroes are labeled rebels, and Christs are crucified. So, the road to heroism is not an easy one.

But then, as Thoreau reminds, the cost is so much higher if we don't fight injustice. Incurring the cost of a life of friction is, ultimately, the much more economical route to go. After all, "You can trace the effects of a dollar, but not of allegiance."

© 2010 Shelly Bryant


This is reprinted from a post at my original blog, which was kept at a site that is now (sadly) defunct. — SB


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