The Real Fake Hero

July 23, 2007 at 9:54 pm | Posted in America, American politics, Bush Administration, Cheney, conservatives, corruption, Foreign Policy, Iran, Iraq, King George, Lord of the Rings, Media, Middle East, Military, nationalism, neo-conservatives, Republicans, secret combinations, Thoughts, War, War on Terror | 14 Comments

This past Saturday my wife and I went and saw Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. The movie was pretty well done, though I do wonder what the “Order of the Phoenix” actually had to do with the plot of the movie—the actual Order members appear at the very beginning and then at the end to save the day (but that’s another story). In any case, the movie was pretty good. I got thinking about a particular aspect of our modern fictional heroes and villains. See I’m also reading Hugh Nibley’s books on the Jaredites and their origins in ancient Asiatic cultures and kingdoms. Absolutely fascinating stuff! Mr. Nibley has opened a window to a world I did not really know about but have been quite curious about for the longest time. The steppes of ancient Asia were quite a bloody, violent, and unstable times, with ruling kings dueling with rivals, capturing kings, having them live in captivity all their lives, so on and so forth. These ancient Asiatic and Jaredite kings were unafraid of battle. In fact, it was their culture that the king took the lead in the battle. They reveled in besting their rivals on the field of battle. In fact, in the account of the Jaredites the two remaining kings, Coriantumr and Shiz battled to the ultimate death and destruction of the Jaredite nation.

In any case, I’ve noticed quite a trend in our stories of late regardless of medium, be it film, television or book. The hero (and the villain too) usually takes the lead, usually is willing to go through hellfire and damnation to achieve near impossible tasks. (These same heroes apparently come out rather unscathed psychologically, but again that is also another story). Jack Bauer takes the lead on “24”. Harry Potter leads the ragtag children of Hogwarts against far more advanced Death Eaters at impossible odds. Maybe their young age makes them not think twice about the fact that they could die very easily at the hands of a Death Eater. And let me just say, if I were a Death Eater, I doubt I would let little kids get in my way of things. But that would ruin the story, wouldn’t it? Leonidas takes charge of the 300 Spartan warriors against one million Persians. Leonidas and his men die in their efforts but their efforts were able to weaken the Persians enough that a few years later they were defeated. Aragorn charges wildly into the mass of orcs in Return of the King, even though it is a foolish move if you think about it. He doesn’t though, because dramatically speaking, charging against the mass of orcs is a far more powerful scene than sitting back strategizing the perils of the kingdom of Gondor at large if the king were to die in battle.

Reality is that when the king leads the battle, the kingdom has a good chance of completely failing, of complete collapse. This is what we learn about ancient Asiatic kingdoms. People wait around until a strongman appears who takes charge, quickly amassing a powerful army that takes control of half of Asia. In no time at all, upon the king’s quick death in battle, the kingdom falls. Modern nations are a vastly different institution, where the ultimate leader stays in the back of the battle sending off the underlings to die for the cause, the homeland, for the state.

I wonder what it is doing to our culture and our mindset when we tie in our hearts and culture the worship of the hero, the soldier, the warrior, the one who, risking all, darts off to battle “evil”, coming back conqueror. Even the most insanest of us all tends to be quite realistic when it comes to his or her own survival. Thus I am befuddled when I see for example this video of College Republicans who speak so easily of our cause against terrorism, but who they themselves do not wish to pick up a weapon and fight.

I don’t mean to pick necessarily on Republicans with this point, it’s just that their example is the most blatant right now. Who do they expect to do the fighting for the cause they speak so proudly of?

We see so many examples in our entertainment, in all mediums, books, television and film, of a worship of the warrior that I really do think it has clouded our understanding of both warfare and tolerating situations we really have no power to control. So many speak of doing “something” about Iran, for example, as if it were not tolerable to have an Iran with nuclear technology. When we speak of not tolerating a nuclear Iran, what does that mean? Do we really have the power to 1) stop Iran from learning nuclear technology? 2) and not further decay our own power?

Reality bites hard. We may have deposed Saddam Hussein. Few doubted our military might and our ability to defeat someone as weak as Saddam. But I wonder if the fakery of fictional characters has so clouded our vision that we think taking massive risks means the risks won’t actually take place? I was watching “A Bug’s Life” with my daughter the other day and I thought some more about this. Flick made a grave mistake when his contraption caused the offering to fall into the river below. That’s fine, a big problem, but fixable. But Flick does not learn the lesson of his mistake, and that is that taking risks could be destructive to the whole tribe. It was quite opportune for Flick and the ants that a bird lived close by, because really, without the bird, something Flick could not control, all his plans were doomed to fail.

Pundits favoring the actions in Iraq talked so often and frequently about how this action would utterly change the Middle East that one really has to wonder how they were believed. Then again no one really asked these pundits just what evidence they had that forcible invasion of a very nationalistic tribalistic state would magically create a pro-Western democratic haven right smack in the middle of a whole slew of other ultra-nationalistic tribalistic states whose influences were and still are far greater and more powerful than the invading army’s influence. We took a high priced risk. We were the hero who rushed wildly at the mass of orcs thinking that, hey it worked in the fictional account, it should work in reality. Aragorn won’t die. He can’t. Frodo will somehow magically make it to the Mount of Doom to melt the ring of Sauron’s power. And more importantly that action would somehow make all the orcs stop attacking to kill Aragorn. Or that Han Solo would appear at the right moment to “surge” and deflect just enough of Vader’s ship to give Luke the opportunity to shoot his guns into the plot-appropriate hole that magically destroys the entire Death Star. We hear plenty in real life from war supporters who say, hey “bomb them all to hell.” “Just nuke the place, that will solve all our problems.”

I used to think that we should restart a draft into American culture, because I used to believe that forcing Americans to serve in defense of their country would make them wisen up about risking so much in wars of choices. After all, interestingly, many of today’s leaders did NOT fight in Vietnam (Dick Cheney had five deferments for “other priorities” for example). But I now don’t think the problem with our rush to wars is lack of fighting by Americans. I think it is our worship of the hero, the warrior, the soldier. Ironically, the Army’s new slogan is an “Army of One.” Heh, it couldn’t be more fitting for our culture of hero worship.

This is not going to change soon. In fact, it will probably get worse before it gets better. Which is too bad, because we’re now in decline in the world around us. The risks were not neutralized, but instead materialized as we were warned. We’ve got many problems ahead of us.

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  1. When “Star Trek: The Next Generation” came around, I know that one of the fundamental changes they made to the way the ST universe of the future worked was in making sure that it wasn’t Captain Picard who personally beamed down to every planet to see to it that whatever problem had reared it ugly head in the episode was personally solved by him, because the writers knew that you don’t constantly put the guy in charge of the whole community at risk. The days of having Captain Kirk as a vital member of the “away team” was over.

    One of the reasons I’m enjoying about the current Harry Potter book (I’m only halfway through it at the moment, so mayby I’m operating on a certain level of ignorance for the present) and the latest movie right now is Harry’s refreshing take on “being the hero”; he makes it clear that when you’re in the thick of the action, you don’t really feel all that heroic, because everything is happening so fast, you don’t really have a clue as to what the heck is going on. He points out to the other “Order of the Phoenix” members that he considers it largely due to sheer luck that he’s still alive, and that he’s never really saved the day all on his own, because he has almost always had help of some kind (in “Goblet of Fire”, Harry always gets help in solving the puzzles he’s presented with in the Tri-Wizard Tournament). Ron and Hermione (and Dumbledore and Dumbledore’s phoenix) have constantly “saved his bacon”. While Harry may be the heroic figure, he certainly makes an attempt to downplay his heroism.

    Yes, I think our American tendency to worship heroes has not served us all that well. We seem to believe that since we’ve always been “the Good Guys” (which is questionable if you really want to examine history), we always will be, and that we don’t really have to think that hard about the morality of our choices. If we decide to do it, it must be right (which echoes Nixon’s old statement that “if the President decides to do something, that means it’s not illegal”, which most people instantly recognize as a load of BS), because we wouldn’t ever be capable of making a morally questionable or objectionable choice.

    Only now, some 5 years after the fact, are Americans starting to realize that the war in Iraq may not have been such a good idea after all; but there’s still no sense with most people (or such is my impressino, at least) that our being there has been all that morally wrong. I think the general viewpoint is that it was simply a mistake to have done it, not because it was morally wrong, but simply because it hasn’t quite turned out the way we hoped it would have (it’s seen more as a matter of costs and economics: the economic and human costs have been unexpectedly high, but the morality of it is almost never questioned). Most people still believe that deposing and killing Saddam Hussein was an entirely justifiable course of action (whereas I never believed it for a moment).

  2. I disagree. I think you’re talking about a cultural phenomenon that isn’t unique to the US and is definitely not a trend of late.

    I still think that a big reason the US jumps so fast to get involved in war is that its been 140+ years since there’s been a significant war on lower 48 soil.

  3. “Reality is that when the king leads the battle, the kingdom has a good chance of completely failing, of complete collapse.”

    That is why the Spartans were so genius to have 2 kings 🙂

  4. “Thus I am befuddled when I see for example this video of College Republicans who speak so easily of our cause against terrorism, but who they themselves do not wish to pick up a weapon and fight.”

    You are easily befuddled. I love your logic though. Look at it backwards. Only those who pick up a weapon and fight are allowed to support the war on terror… You are preaching violence!

    This next quote is a very good one.
    “And more importantly that action would somehow make all the orcs stop attacking to kill Aragorn”

    Look at it from this perspective… the hero is the suicide bomber, the orcs are the U.S. troops in Iraq. In this case the suicide attacks very well could have the effect of stopping the U.S presence in Iraq. The very thing you call “insane” is happening right now, and you fail to see it. You fail to see how our withdrawal from Iraq will create a fairy tale story in real life. The terrorists should not have a chance. History will not treat you nicely for being defeated with such an upperhand as we have.

  5. Mark,

    Yes, I think our American tendency to worship heroes has not served us all that well. We seem to believe that since we’ve always been “the Good Guys” (which is questionable if you really want to examine history), we always will be, and that we don’t really have to think that hard about the morality of our choices.

    That’s a great point to make. If we are “good guys” then all our actions would be good. I don’t think many Americans realize that bad actions turn us into bad people.

    Sherpa,

    I disagree. I think you’re talking about a cultural phenomenon that isn’t unique to the US and is definitely not a trend of late.

    I didn’t say this was unique to the US. I was just pointing out how this has clouded rational judgment. And it most certainly is a trend of late, over these past 20 years or so.

    Templar,

    In this case the suicide attacks very well could have the effect of stopping the U.S presence in Iraq. The very thing you call “insane” is happening right now, and you fail to see it.

    Um, no. Nice try though.

  6. Dan, no it isn’t. Look at dime store novels, westerns, movies of the past 100 years…it definitely isn’t a trend of late. At all. Sorry to blow your theory out of the water, but if you look at what people were watching and reading in the past 100 years you’ll see that this definitely isn’t a new cultural phenomena.

  7. Dan, I meant US-Western literature and movies which is obviously what you’re talking about. Anyway, I think this theory of yours doesn’t hold a whole lot of water. The single hero has been a fixture of American folklore for at least 150 years–not 20. Just look at westerns. Han Solo is just a modern retelling of the cowboy. Yes, he’s just a space cowboy.

  8. Sherpa,

    I’m saying that it has gotten to a point that it has clouded our judgment. And I’m sorry to say that it has gotten progressively worse these past 20 years. True enough the singular “hero” has been a story for a long while now. But it definitely is stronger now than ever before. Perhaps it is the video game world, which really flourished from the 80s onward.

  9. Dan, I disagree. I think its an interesting, but fairly simplistic point you’re making. Think how much the cowboy and westerns were beloved in the early to mid part of this century in this country. This singular hero you speak of was as much of culture in the 40s,50s and 60s as it is now.

  10. well Sherpa, something’s changed because we’re no longer rational thinkers here.

  11. And to many people, the words “John Wayne” embodies the point you’re trying to make. Trouble is, John Wayne died in 1979. 😉

    Anyway, culture, media influences us. There’s no coincidence that our current president wears a cowboy hat–the cowboy is a icon that is ingrained in this culture and has been for over a century. The “singular hero” mentality does influence, but not to the extent you’re making. There’s other cultural factors that come into play. Its sort of like when you said “the REAL reason” gas prices are so high—its one reason, but not the only reason.

    This piece is interesting in one aspect. In the past 40 years, there’s been a decline of hero-worship of contemporaries-of real contemporaries I should say.

    I know of quite a few people who are part of the “gun” culture that thrives in America. Of them, I can count of 5 people that I know out here in VA (big gun culture out here–) who are neither police officers or former military, swat members etc etc who carry a concealed weapon. Of these, I’ve heard three boast of their abilities to gun down a criminal in a situation. The thing is, they’ve never been in that situation, and I find it ironic because those I know who have been in that situation never talk about it and hope they never have to be in that situation. Is it the singular hero mentality that influences the boasters I know? Perhaps. But it may be because they’ve never been in that situation. It may be naivete. It also may be a bunch of other reasons. I don’t think the singular hero culture phenomena is the sole or main reason. However, I agree to disagree with you0–since I think you are describing a real phenomena, we just disagree in degrees. I feel its been a big factor in the past 100+ years in culture, but it may be feeding the fact that we haven’t had a war in the lower 48 for 140+years. There’s probably several reasons that aren’t mutually exclusive but working together.

    Anyway, I don’t think there’s any one right answer when it comes to the phenomena you’re trying to explain–you’re explanation is probably on the right track, but there’s probably several reasons we rush to war.

  12. something’s changed because we’re no longer rational thinkers here.

    Dan, I’m surrounded by rational thinkers where I’m at. I’m not sure where you are, but where I’m at there here.

    Hmm, was the McCarthy scare a product of rational thinking? How about the treatment of minorities and religious groups? Its been less than 50 years where african americans and caucasians could marry each other in the state I live.

  13. Sherpa,

    something’s changed because we’re no longer rational thinkers here.

    Dan, I’m surrounded by rational thinkers where I’m at. I’m not sure where you are, but where I’m at there here.

    I was generalizing about our American culture.

    As to the rest, I am now curious if there has been any study done on the influence and impact of video games on our society.

  14. I was generalizing about our American culture.

    Now that wasn’t obvious (I’m being sweetly sarcastic, as I was in the reply you were responding too. It was obvious what you were referring. 😉

    I think there’s already been more specific studies done that would apply. I don’t have access to literary journals anymore, but I bet you do. 😉


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