Disappearance of Heroes – Perception or Reality?


About the author: Luke Hamilton is classically-trained, Shakespearean actor from Eugene, Oregon who happens to be a liberty-loving, right-wing, Christian constitutionalist. When not penning columns for JanMorganMedia.com, Hamilton spends his time astride the Illinois-Wisconsin border, leading bands of liberty-starve ... [read 's FULL BIO]


Our stories are changing. Wonder and Beauty slowly eke from our world, unnoticed and unmourned. I used to think it was a natural cessation from the Neverland of youth; a necessary immigration from the immature trappings of youthful imagination to the logical constraints of a moribund maturity. However I’ve found that this is not just my perspective, draining of imagination and wonder as I age. Our stories, our heroes are changing. Our children seem less prone to idealism, more immune to wonder; and this points to a tidal shift in the culture itself.

If you watch or read any contemporary fiction, often the hero of the story isn’t very heroic and the villain isn’t all that villainous. The hero might still be likeable and usually emerges victorious, but he’s a flawed and fallible creation, spawned by a culture growing terrified of morality. Instead of iron will and indomitable moral strength, our heroes are “complicated”. They dabble in addiction or are lovably lecherous. They have perverse sexual appetites or find themselves drawn to the “dark side” of humanity. Most often, they are weak and conflicted instead of strong and steadfast, as in times past.

Conversely, most villains are no longer depictions of the evil which exists in the dark recesses of our human capacity. They are usually more likeable than their whiny counterparts. Their immorality is mitigated by their snappy dialogue or the glimmers of morality we glimpse behind the unscrupulous behavior. Take Stannis Baratheon vs. Tyrion Lannister from Game of Thrones. Stannis’s draconian morality is upstaged by Tyrion’s charming debauchery. The author shows us that Stannis’s moral certitude was just a mask covering his unabashed lust. We find ourselves rooting for the immoral character because the author puts him in better packaging, causing us to question our own moral foundation. After all, we don’t want to be like Stannis, do we? The Imp is so much more fun…

If any character does demonstrate unbending moral fiber, he or she is usually the punch line, later in the story. Case in-point, Homer Wells in John Irving’s Cider House Rules. The book received hefty acclaim, with the film taking home 2 Oscars. In it, Homer is a pro-life orphan who sees the world through a morally-absolute perspective and speaks out against the horror of abortion, which he observes while assisting the orphanage’s doctor in his medical duties. As the story progresses, the author forces Homer to realize his “foolishness” through a series of contrived circumstances which ostensibly demonstrate that absolute morality is only for the naïve or sheltered and that his moral certitude should be tempered with a healthy dose of relativism.

What is happening here? Are we all just growing up and seeing the world more clearly through progressively mature eyes? Are we finally throwing off the chains of Victorian morality and embracing the hedonism seeded in the 60’s and 70’s? It is my contention that the forces at work in this world have decided to attack the concept of heroism itself. We have an enemy which seeks to sow confusion and despair whenever possible and the elimination of a hero accomplishes both. Much as the figure of the father is under assault in the social arena, the hero is a target in the realm of entertainment. Both objectives accomplish the same task: a mournful, truncated existence, spent wandering through a maze of moral confusion. If we have no heroes, then we have no higher plateau of achievement and accountability for which to strive.

To combat this phenomenon, it is important to hold tight to our heroes, cementing them in our minds. For me, that honor belongs to two groups – the hero of the Christian faith and the American soldier. Both are ready to pay the ultimate price for that which matters the most. Both are comprised of fallen, faulty mankind, but also share the purity of intention to give their life for another; the soldier for his brother beside him and his countrymen at home, the Christian martyr for his Savior who first shed His blood for all.

Not all of us are cut from the cloth of a hero, but we too serve an important purpose. A hero lives on in the stories told by generations following. This Veterans Day, let us take the time to remember and teach about a hero. Not the conflicted and worldly type of heroes so prevalent today, but the type who lives up to the billing and inspires all who hear their tale.

“Not all of us can perform the deeds of heroes of the faith. But we can admire, love, and rejoice in them. We can battle unceasingly against the guile of oblivion that threatens the life of the hero. Mirrored in the love of the admirer, the deeds of the hero will appear even more beautiful than they were in reality. The admirer makes of the hero, who was also only human, a legend.” – Richard Wurmbrandt, Victorious Faith

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  • Robert S Moulds

    Of course the hero is flawed and the villain is not a monster in story. The public has demanded greater connection to reality and depth in the characters and story. If nothing else maybe the public will be more understanding of others failings and grow as people.

  • DocPrologue

    I’ve seen the downfall of heroes firsthand through reading 20th century comic books. Back in my father’s day, the heroes were moral and steadfast. I grew up reading these books, and despite how campy some of them were, the line between moral and immoral was clear. That line is blurred these days. And while I agree with you partly, I think it’s important to understand that realism and fantasy can rarely connect well. After all, think about the real, non-fictional heroes of our world. We know that they have conflict in their hearts. Firefighters, police officers, soldiers, and even common men who did the right thing are all prone to the “dark side of humanity” as you put it. What makes them different from the evil they fight against is that they fight against the evil that is inside them, rather than give in to it. So as we turn our minds to the realm of fiction, we see that heroes used to be unwavering in their morality. Sherlock Holmes kept a stiff upper lip at all times. Dick Tracy always triumphed over the criminal of the week. All-in-all, good naturally triumphed over evil. I agree with you, that our children are less idealistic nowadays, and that’s wrong. I believe they should grow up reading about the heroes that were idealistically good people, so that they can aspire to be like the unwavering heroes of years past. However, they will grow up one day. For me, it was 9/11 that made me realize that good doesn’t always triumph over evil. It was that day that my idealistic outlook on life was exposed to be based on fairytales. For the next generation, who knows? But eventually, there will come a time for them to read about more realistically-charactered heroes. Men who are flawed, conflicted, and struggling with the evil inside themselves. Because that generation will have to fight the evil that’s inside them as well. But if all they know are heroes are perfect, and villains are not perfect, then what will they think when they discover their heart is evil? Will they think to fight against their true nature if they’ve never seen others do so? Maybe. But it will certainly help if they heard stories of others fighting against human nature. What we need is a balance of “perfect” heroes that fight against evil people for the idealistic child, and imperfect heroes that fight against evil people-including themselves, to encourage the realistic adults.

  • Bighoss

    We need to recognize that there are individual actions that are truly heroic, even though such actions would not have occurred and would not have been necessary except for bad judgment and corrupt decisions on the part of those who created the circumstances that brought forth the heroism.

    Military personnel can show great valor even in wars waged without any rational legitimate basis. Iraq is one such case. There, a war premised on bad information and promoted by neoconservative warmongering ideologues created numerous situations on the battlefields where true heroism was displayed. Sad to say, those wars also resulted in many deaths and even more permanent and disfiguring disabilities, not to mention the waste of multiplied billions of dollars.

    Respect and honor the heroes, but remember that many of them died unjustifiably.
    Mistakes like our misadventure in Iraq should never be allowed to happen again!

    • Jim

      You must be forgetting that the liberal establishment was just as much for the action…… so its not all on the neoconservatives back …. Hilary and Bill both believed and supported the action on the same information .. as did Congressional Demorats ..

      • Bighoss

        And you must be forgetting that Hillary and Bill and General Colin Powell and many others would not have supported the action in Iraq had they not been deceived by the bogus reports that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, reports developed by lying weasel neoconservatives in the Bush administration, lead by the despicable warmongering oil man, D ick Cheney.

        • Jim

          You mean the information from the international sources that Liberals love so much and the CIA that Clinton gutted ??? So sorry .. it was not conservatives or even Republicans that came up and decided anyone .. but the minions of the left that did … Sorry .. nice try .. but won’t wash ..

          • Bighoss

            What “won’t wash” is your lame and irrelevant attempt to pass blame for the bogus WMD report to anyone except the Bushite propagandists.

          • Jim

            Sorry .. done wasting time on the stupid … Thanks for showing us how brain dead you are Bigass…. ooopps .. Bighoss..

          • Bighoss

            Good riddance; it is not my custom to suffer fools gladly.