Our culture, as well as other worldly cultures, has always been enamored with heroes like Superman, Batman, Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk, Bionic Woman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Hercules, Robin Hood, The Lone Ranger, Bruce Lee, Indiana Jones and countless others, even Popeye and Jesus. Seeing them “materialized” on our screens has filled something within us that very few of us even have an understanding of let alone comprehend the implications of what is being answered deep within our psyches. In contrast to our own “mortal” perceived fears and believed inadequacies these heroes exhibit courage and, for many, super human powers. The intensity of their courage and powers are usually proportional to the human frailties we perceive within ourselves. So in areas of our lives that we feel small or inadequate we find heroes to admire who exhibit the strengths and qualities we believe that we ourselves lack. So for those of us who believe we lack physical strength or courage, we might admire Superman or Hercules. For those of us who feel we are not as smart as we would like to be, Sherlock Holmes or Albert Einstein may hold our efforts toward emulation. For those of us who feel we lack peace and calm in our lives people like Mahatma Gandhi, Buddha or Jesus might hold that position. The point I’m making is that the qualities we believe that we lack will attract us to the hero that exhibits them the most strongly. That being said, we can see the types of heroes that have evolved over the centuries based on the contemporary circumstances at the time that we believed we were unable or unwilling to handle. Heroes operate almost like the yin and yang relationship of our personal awareness and unconscious forming our Shadow. For those of you who have a limited understanding of what our Shadow is, suffice enough to say, it is the submerged parts of ourselves that we feel are unattractive to others or those that we are unable, fearful or unwilling to act on for fear of the unknown changes accepting them might evoke within us. While heroes may be a person representing our ideal self, they are also a needed compensation to tie up and account for or dismiss the “loose ends” in our lives.
When it comes to heroes, probably the most concise, authoritative and on target author is Joseph Campbell who has written extensively on the subject including “Hero with 1000 Faces” and “The Power of Myth.” His insights are extremely detailed and documented through his exposure of the historical stories, roles and scriptures we’ve taken up over the centuries showing the timelessness of our struggles.
When it comes to actually emulating heroes, we not only follow what we learn about them but almost always fall into the mythical patterns of attitude and experiences that reflect the quality and color of the hero’s life. What’s even more interesting is that we can find all these myths, on a smaller scale perhaps, in the family dynamics and scenarios we find in our own families. In most families, given enough participants, we can usually find those who are warriors, protectors, martyrs, rebels, saviors, villains, vampires, masterminds, scoundrels and many, many more. So, why then would we allow ourselves to fall into emulating the heroic roles we’re exposed to?
Second, we have to understand that our parents lead us to assume that if we follow their heroic behavior, we will receive the same rewards as they appear to enjoy.
Third, storytelling about heroes is the product of generational and family experiences and is used to encourage living the ideals and behavior fitting for perpetuating the culture and family structure that we’ve been born into.
Fourth, these stories ensure a continuity of the rapport between the members of a culture and insure the continuation of any culturally dynamic tradition. However, on a smaller scale, we can see the same thing occurring within the family structure, yet, as the child in us matures and seeks to find our own place and power consequently “de-pedestaling” our parents, there may no longer remain a hero within the family that we wish to emulate. As parents fall from the heroic pedestal, there now lies exposed to us a closed family power structure providing no position or “promotion” available for the child to participate and graduate into. Additionally, if the parents themselves are involved in their own power struggle with each other, we, as child, have no recourse but to either work at playing both parents against each other to get what we need from them or find a hero to emulate outside of the family who shows a potential path toward freedom and a promised opportunity for us to flex our wings and feel our own power.
Please understand that parents tell of their own experiences and those of their elders in order to encourage their offspring toward an expected behavior that will continue their current family dynamic and rapport whether it’s healthy or not for the entire family. So, in addition to us potentially finding no hero within the family to emulate, our family dynamic may also run at cross currents to what we may feel comfortable enduring or living within. But, even more difficult, what if the family dynamic presents us with abusive circumstances? Remember, once our parents fall from hero status we now left with perceiving ourselves as having no power or say in any parental decisions. Now, anything that might offer respite from our perception of our feeling of being trapped within a locked and perhaps hurtful family structure becomes an open avenue for our exploration. These open avenues used to originate from historical stories, myths and literature. This is where we looked toward Perseus, Hercules, Jesus and similar figures for direction and encouragement. As we’ve moved into more “modern” times, yet with the same underlying struggles but with a different landscape, our heroes morphed into characters that better reflect the times and tools like Robin Hood, The Three Musketeers, Superman, Indiana Jones, The Lone Ranger and characters still moving with our current belief systems professing to follow the traditional rules for sustaining our altruistically dominant culture. But as we perceive and believe that times are becoming harder and with materialism replacing older idealistic and simple spiritual values, we now perceive ourselves to be more oppressed by an openly aggressive and profit driven leadership. Justice, fairness and compassion seem to have fallen to the wayside and we are now left with the belief that if we want to survive, every man must fend for himself. Now, dawns a new hero; the vigilante.
The vigilante is a very different breed of hero. Our first was Charles Bronson in “Death Wish” and then Clint Eastwood in “Dirty Harry.” Their active dynamic is very different. They didn’t follow the rules as the generations before them did. They didn’t solicit or expect help from the public nor did they believe that the public was capable of providing it. Both became romanticized by the public as being the “Tough Guy” and the “Lone Wolf.” Feelings were now seen as an inherent weakness incapacitating heroic action. Saving the world through love and compassion had fallen from the ideal and was replaced with winning for our own clan and family at any cost. Both these attitudes stem from a growing and expected hopeless in our receiving justice and support from the powers that be; the belief that our cultural system has become so corrupt that no help or validation can be expected from our leaders.
Once the profit oriented media took hold, the fear incessantly generated by our governmental administrations, the greed fueling our corporations and vigilante heroism became married together in violent doomsday adventures where only “one man can save the world” because only he or she has the extraordinary powers required to unseat the evil and financially corrupt oligarchs. Psychologically, the violence we now seen on the screen is a pale salve to the depth of the frustration we all feel relative to our inhumanity to each other. It serves as a vehicle for catharsis to vent some of our unconsciously repressed angers and pressures. Our heroes have now taken on a dark and macabre coloring reflecting the depth of the hopeless many of us feel. The progressiveness of that violence is simply a reflection of the intensity with which we feel that hopelessness. We can see these feelings seeping out in the screaming and emotionally charged ranting at sports events. Essentially, they’re venting and sublimating the unconscious violence felt toward those who actually create the social pressures and frustrations we repress within ourselves. Our race issues are a much more visible example of our cultural frustrations as they have been exploding in response to their dealings with our established “cultural norms” and prejudices. As they have escalated, minorities have been pushed way past what the majority of the population has needed to be able to keep it repressed and compensate for. The issues with gun control are now a stark example and only the tip of the iceberg exposing the feelings of fear and violence that have metastasized within our culture.
Whom you select as your hero has everything to do with the level of frustration you feel that you must repress and shows the training and support you’ve received in dealing with the same kinds of frustrations within your family. The dissolving family structure has had the effect of incapacitating many of the emotional safeguards we might have developed had we been raised within a more extended and sharing family structure. But contemporary pressures toward emphasizing personal independence have cut us off at the knees where family support might have compensated for the understanding and elder wisdom which would have helped us immensely through hearing the stories of how and why our elders did what they did. But we moved out and we missed it. One of the age old ways of subjugating a population is to divide and conquer.
Fortunately, there is a movement, mostly underground but slowly surfacing, that has been actively working toward restoring honesty, prosperity and providing a family unity but on a much wider scale than simply as a nuclear family or clan. Here, the heroes are much less defined, and exist more in a common feeling that any one image that can be crystallized and then defeated. We probably learned this “tactic” from participating and observing the actions in Vietnam where guerrilla warfare was born. What’s even more fortunate is that this movement, like Vietnam tactics, has no leader that can be beheaded leaving its followers adrift. Once we become accountable, “spiritually mature” and listen to our heart, we all know what must be done. But it takes personal courage and resources. Our largest stumbling block is the materialism that seduces many of us with the promise of personal comfort, power and advantage but which must inevitably be shared in order to sustain the survival of our humanity.
So, don’t make me your hero. Don’t make someone else your hero. Be your own hero. You can find them all within yourself; that part of you that makes you shudder when you think of putting it into action. That part of you that makes you teeter on the edge of danger and excitement but with the potential to put you in a place where you can finally provide your own peace and a haven for others who step within your light. Remember, the Cowardly Lion already had courage. The Scarecrow already had intelligence. The Tin Man already had a heart...and Dorothy never really left home. Look within. Your hero is there. Just let him out…