Throughout history, societies have developed myths and legends of heroes and heroines. These heroes represent the values and beliefs that society admires most. From ancient Greek heroes to modern-day heroes depicted in movies, television and graphic novels, the public's desire for hero-worship remains undiminished.
Heroes possess qualities or strengths that are beyond those of ordinary people. Societies attribute the skills and traits that they admire most to these characters. Because the hero's capabilities are often beyond what is humanly possible, many of these characters are fictional.
Necessity of Heroes
"One must think like a hero to behave like a merely decent human being," writes poet May Sarton. This quote explains why societies continue to idolize the heroic and even create fictional characters if they cannot find real-life heroes. Heroes serve as models of the best in humanity. Poet Bertolt Brecht explains the consequences of society's existence without heroic characters, stating, "Unhappy is the land without heroes."
The Flawed Hero
Societies and cultures crave real-life heroes to intervene in their daily lives. As a result, firefighters, military personnel, surgeons and others who work in professions of life-saving are often referred to as heroes in public media. The meaning even extends to figures such as CEOs or athletes. Human heroes have human flaws, however. Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps is an example of an idolized athlete who tarnished his role-model/hero image when he was photographed smoking marijuana, showing how real-life as well as imagined heroes often are imperfect and flawed.
The hero has extraordinary skills, but his choices are not always simple. Literature includes examples of tragic heroes who made unfortunate choices, and modern media has similar examples. These characters in film, television and other media are called anti-heroes. Although they possess the prowess of heroes, their behavior is sometimes unheroic or overly self-centered. The anti-hero status may be the consequence of a complicated/controversial decision the character makes. The concept of an anti-hero also reflects society's struggle to balance compassion and justice with a desire for revenge and retribution.
- University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law: Thoughts About Heroes
- Psychology Today: "Anti-heroes: Can There Be a Goodness of Purpose?"; Brian Kinnaird; June 2010
- Santa Clara University: "Why Heroes Are Important"; Scott LaBarge; 2010
- Journal of Men's Studies: "Heroes, Metanarratives..."; Kevin Boon; 2005
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