The recent sex scandals which have swept Hollywood are a good reminder that our society rarely bestows hero status on the right people.
Actors, directors, pop stars and myriad other ‘celebrities’ adorn every newspaper, magazine and child’s bedroom wall. But now more than ever it seems appropriate to ask whether or not they deserve the adulation they receive.
Celebrities, including sports personalities, are invariably pursuing a career that they have always wanted to do and presumably have a proclivity for. Is there anything inherently heroic in that? I have always wanted to eat chocolate cake, and I definitely have a proclivity for it, but I doubt that would be enough to put me in line for the New Year Honours List.
Ah, but these people have trained and worked tirelessly at their craft for years, sometimes decades – surely that could be considered heroic? True, but again, for whom have they done this: their loved ones, the local community, their country, or themselves? No sacrifice has been made that was not the pursuit of personal betterment and reward. Indeed other relationships, including those with their partners and children, are often sacrificed for these dreams. Is it any wonder that many of these celebrities end up being deeply unpleasant, entitled and narcissistic?
For me, a true hero must make a sacrifice for someone, or something. To borrow from Hollywood for a moment, that’s what makes George Bailey, James Stewart’s good-guy-next-door in It’s A Wonderful Life, so appealing. At every crucial moment, he puts the well-being of others before his own, sacrificing dreams of travelling the world, a career as an architect and even his honeymoon, to ‘do the right thing’.
Superman is another good example. The Man of Steel is a hero not because he can fly or leap tall buildings in a single bound; he’s a hero because he sacrifices any hope of having a ‘normal’ life in exchange for a life of anonymity in pursuit of the greater good. He wouldn’t be quite so noble a character if he sold his wedding to Hello! magazine and was sponsored by Nike.
Aspiration and ambition are necessary for humans to achieve great things, and to have heroes as a child is normal and perhaps necessary. But if you are past the age of eighteen and still believe that the greatest person on the planet is an actor or pop star, perhaps, in the light of recent revelations, it’s time to choose our heroes more wisely.