Saturday, December 6, 2008

Are Heroes a Fantasy?

A review of Hollywood productions and published fiction might lead the casual observer to believe that the traditional hero is dead. The antihero now reigns supreme, and even the antihero is moving further and further toward the dark side. (The flaws of James Bond, Batman, and Spiderman are etched more deeply in recent films.) Protagonists are increasingly nasty characters that you would seldom invite into your home. What gives? Are the publishing houses and movie studios just giving audiences what they want?

I don't think so. The public is still drawn to traditional heroes, despite the fact that the creative class has relegated them to fantasies. People flock to Harry Potter, Frodo Baggins, Luke Skywalker, and Superman. John Wayne's continuing popularity shows that traditional heroes endure across the years and generations. Hollywood and publishers attribute the popularity of fantasies and old style westerns to blind escapism. The filmmakers and publishers have come to believe that art must depict the mundane everyman or a sadly decayed society. Meanwhile, the public is forced to search out heroes where they can find them.

Are heroes a fantasy? No, they exist in real life and we admire them not just their deeds, but for their selflessness. Every civilization in ascendancy honors and depends on their heroes. And one way to honor heroes is with our stories, whether around the campfire, in print, or on celluloid. Good fiction lifts and inspires us.

Wouldn't it be great if everyone aspired to be heroic.