Monday, December 07, 2009

"Where Have All Papa's Heroes Gone?"

-is what David Bowie sung in “Young Americans” after his fictional heroine in the first choruses is the victim of a crime.

It’s a strange song as its lyrics express a nostalgia for an era that, at the time of the song’s debut, had not yet passed into memory. He asks if people remember their President Nixon among other rhetorical questions about the times and mood… as if anybody in America could ever forget Watergate. Bowie seemed to be singing about how American lives “blow by” in some respects, urged by panic, national tragedy, failed expectations, the dashing of grand but personal hopes and the day-to-day pressure of making ends meet in a country where freedom is ironically mitigated and qualified by how much money you have. In this Bowie has something in common with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s sad understanding of life in America.

"Where have all Papa's heroes gone?" is a question I mull over in my head from time to time. David Bowie was not singing about anybody’s “papa” in particular of course, not mine, not yours, nor his. The implication seems to be that heroes always belong to another generation, and that maybe we can’t see them clearly or feel their significance until they’re gone. Maybe that’s one of the reasons we Americans try to rush out of the present so damn fast… so we can get a look and some much needed distance to appreciate things in scale, -unblinded by our proximity to greatness.

“Hero” is a word that gets thrown around a lot. As a born skeptic, rewarded early in life by disappointments in people and things, it’s not a word I’ve ever used to describe anybody, except characters in fiction. Maybe I don’t feel I have the right to bestow it. It’s no small thing to call someone a hero. You are imparting a responsibility as well as conferring an honor… maybe that’s why we often wait until they’re dead?

Clearly, firemen, and our military are heroic people. They are heroes beyond understanding as they do things for hourly wages that most people would not do for any amount of money in the world; running into burning houses, patrolling streets where armed adversaries lie in wait, but those are, for the most part anonymous groups.

While it may be “jaded” to say: “there are no heroes,” it is certainly false to say so.

A more appropriate question to ask is may be: -Where have they gone?
In this age where entertainers, celebrities, professional athletes and political demagogues so easily capture our imaginations; our attention once held by accomplished persons, scholars, civic leaders, inventors, artists, writers, doctors, healers, and yes Presidents, is diffused and scattered -where are those individuals we would call heroes without embarrassment, qualification or excuses?

Who can I name without feeling like some silly thoughtless flatterer in search of someone to worship?

-And that’s the real truth isn’t it?

It feels weak, even juvenile to name someone a hero today. Perhaps, in our modern insistence on sober equanimity and self-reliance we just can’t afford them anymore.



MadMike said...

Geez SJ. You are making me think and it is painful. I can't think of any real life heroes either. I think I should be sad about that, but I am already sad about everything else. I don't think I need another thing to be sad about. Great post!!!

TRUTH 101 said...

I don't know if anyone here follows baseball but there is a true hero in that sense right now. Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals. He is our generation's Joe DiMaggio.

And I'm a White Sox fan first so I am unbiased in this subject.

SJ said...

I guess Elizabeth Warren might be one I can name. Congressman Richard Grayson in Florida is another I'd jot down.
It's not that I don't think they're out there, but it's a bit of a conundrum.
I guess the question I'm ultimately asking is: -does it diminish us to call somebody a hero?
It gets thrown around a lot, sometimes at people who don't deserve it today just because of their celebrity or fame, we tend to lower the bar.
The people today at this present time never measure up to people of yesterday, as our selective memories soften any hard and unwelcome edges to anybody's character with the passage of enough time.
Maybe we'll know who today's heroes were tomorrow?

SJ said...

Pujols is a machine. And I mean that as a compliment.

SJ said...

btw guys,

I wrote a related post on Popeye, and the legacy of superheroes (today's EC Segar's birthday)
at sister blog Random Robot, check it out:


Gwendolyn H. Barry said...

I can tell you that this post has reminded me of the true Heroes that surround me... everyday. They are there in all our lives. Heck, the UPS man just left a package tHat I didn't have the cash for and told me to get him when I could...??!!! He's on the Christmas party list. But really, there's the old Haitian lady a few blocks down who watches the children leaving the school everyday and has stopped trucks and cars from hitting kids who walk without any parent. I mean, there are heroes all around.

Big time? That's my point, we need to put our values in order. It is, after all, time for Clarence to make his yearly appearance and for George Bailey to discover what the world would be like without him. Right? PS... George Bailey is my all time hero. Clarence too. :-)

Great Post.

SJ said...

Thanks for sharing those names and impressions Gwen.
I may actualy sit and watch "It's a Wonderful Life" again this year. It's been far too long since I've seen it.

Jack Jodell said...

Heroes don't have to be superhuman figures or do superhuman deeds. I would say anyone who has the heart and guts to extend him or herself on behalf of others less fortunate, or stands up for the betterment of humanity overall qualifies as a hero. That would mean people like Cheney, Dubya, Bachmann, Palin, Beck, Limbaugh, Malkin, and those types are NOT heroes. But it would mean people like Sen. Ron Wyden, Sen. Sherrod Brown, Rep. Dennis Kucinich, Rep. Barney Frank, Rep. Alan Grayson, and a host of other activists and bloggers, including YOURSELF, ARE all modern-day heroes. It's a question of heart, brains and character. Some have it, but many don't.

SJ said...

I'm beyond flattered, and it's not just humility that makes me say I'm not deserving.

I've never had to wear a bullet proof vest like Dennis Kusinich did for doing something expedient that was almost uniformly unpopular.

Thanks for the reminders, particularly Sherrod Brown.

Beach Bum said...

Beside the cops, doctors, and people serving in the military I'd have to add Michael Oher and the Tuohy family who adopted him.

I don't know how many of y'all have seen "The Blind Side" or even know what its about but as simply as I can put Michael Oher was an African-American kid who by the usual common wisdom concerning poor black kids should had been another sad statistic.

The Touhy family by the usual common wisdom should have been the typical rich, white family living the good life giving less than a damn about other people except during some Junior League charity event.

But after a chance encounter where Michael ended up sleeping on their couch on a cold rainy night they each found the strength, courage, and wisdom to look beyond what is usually expected of black and white people in this country.

You ask for heroes, well in my book they are the real McCoy’s.

Believe it or not I didn't want to see the movie at first.

Gwendolyn H. Barry said...

you give (out of six now) the finest recommend for The Blind Side. Having spent the season watching Friday Night Lights for real down here with my nephew, I'm all up with the love of a football hero story... so I'll be making it my holiday trip. They say it's Bullock's best performance. True?

SJ said...

And the list keeps growing.
Good stories all.

...This morning's news about the changes to the Health Care Bill was certainly a let down of huge proportions.