This past weekend I watched a new episode of Doctor Who, “Robot of Sherwood”. In the story, the Doctor travels back in time with his companion, Clara because she wants to meet Robin Hood. The Doctor assures her Robin Hood never existed. I will not spoil the show, but suffice it so say they meet someone who claims to be the real Robin Hood in 1190 A. D. — ish.
The entire episode is about heroes. Who are they? How do they become our heroes? Are our memories of these heroes real? Or, do we embellish those memories and raise our heroes to the status of legend? If we were to meet some distant, now long dead hero would that person match the hero we have internalized?
In our postmodern culture, we have taken to deconstructing “heroes”. Over the past few decades our founding fathers have become something less than the idealistic men and women portrayed in our history books. Why do we do this? It is because in postmodernism, all authority is questioned. There is no absolute authority; no absolute at all. Thus, these men and women must have been flawed and we cannot trust what is written about them. In fact, all written or recorded words and events must be discounted.
Is it any wonder that in our current time, our heroes are taken from comic books? Our heroes are fictional? After all, fictional heroes can’t be deconstructed. They are created and the creator of these characters has written only so many words about them. There are no secrets to be discovered outside the mind of the writer.
As a child growing up in the deep pine woods of Northern Louisiana, my heroes were fictional. Someone would ask: Bruce, wasn’t your father your hero? I have written about my father many times on this website. I loved him and he loved me. But, he was never a hero to me. Why? Because in my mind, heroes were larger than life; powerful and brilliant; super powered, in fact. My father was ordinary and I wanted to be anything BUT ordinary!
Doc Savage, Iron Man, Superman, Captain America and the like were my heroes. Yes, I grew up in the golden age of comics when Jack Kirby and John Buscema were crafting and creating characters like the Silver Surfer and Adam Warlock (the first Marvel comic I read in 1967 was Fantastic Four comic where we meet Adam Warlock in his cocoon for the first time.)
In contrast today our heroes are dark and flawed. We cannot embrace idealism anymore. Even Superman, once the ideal hero — “Truth, justice, and the American way” has become darker and morose. What has happened to idealism? When did our heroes aspire to be ordinary?
The only hero to escape this cynical deconstruction has been Captain America. The movies have managed to preserve his idealistic attitude about right and wrong by making those values “safely” anachronistic and nostalgic. But, is it any wonder that Cap’s latest movie is considered by many to be the best movie of the year? (Guardians of the Galaxy notwithstanding). Could it be we are craving just a little bit of idealism in our lives? Could it be we sense that absolutes do exist and that there is such a thing as right and wrong? Could we be longing; striving; hungering for a world that is not postmodern but firm and real and providing a true foundation for our lives?
Maybe our heroes should be ordinary men and women who still have the spark of this idealism within their everyday thinking. These men and women long to help, to aid, to fight against wrong, to try and make the world a better place than they found it. These men and women are our soldiers, our law enforcement agents, our nurses, our doctors, our school teachers, our missionaries — anyone who is willing to risk life and limb to better a person’s life. They are out there surrounding us and meeting our needs everyday.
Now that I pause and think about it, maybe I never considered my father to be my hero. But, rest assured he SHOULD be my hero even as I hope to be a hero to my own children. I will never pass into legend. The Doctor will never bring his companion to visit me. But, I resist a dark, cynical world that tells me I must dwell on flaws and shifting morality. I must reach into the shadows and find that gleaming ray of Light that shines out and illuminates Truth and make sure that someone; at least one sees the Light of goodness.
Who are/were your heroes?
Very few people have heard of Doc Savage. Back in the 1930’s with the Great Depression covering the land with a dusty veil of hopelessness, magazines with serial stories provided an escape from reality. Long before Adolf Hitler procured the concept for his strategy of producing his master race, the idea that humanity could improve itself through eugenics promised a glowing future. Eugene Sandow considered the father of bodybuilding was a popular figure around the turn of the century. And, the hopes that through heredity, the human condition could be improved to the level of this astounding physical specimen lay behind the formation of many heroic figures in fiction at the time. This idea would later be called the “trans-human” effort to produce a superior human being.
History tells us how well that effort turned out! The pursuit of the eugenically perfect “super man” led to the Nazi holocausts and the horrors of World War II. But, long before the descent into darkness, the ability to perfect the human body fascinated the public. In response to Eugene Sandow’s popularity as the father of bodybuilding and this idea that perhaps the perfect human being could pull the world out of the Great Depression, a new fictional hero was born.
Publisher Henry W. Ralston and editor John L. Nanovic at Street and Smith Publications introduced the world to Doc Savage in March 1933. The series main writer, Lester Dent (under the pseudonym, Kenneth Robeson), wrote most of the 181 stories. Doc Savage’s real name was Clark Savage, Jr. and he was a physician, surgeon, scientist, adventurer, inventor, explorer, researcher, and a musician.