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21.2.13

Weaponizing Heroes

Whatever happened to the hero?  This word 'hero' and the idea it represents have been so watered down as to be not only meaningless, but to have even negative connotations.

Joseph Campbell probably best summarized the classic hero in his book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces:
"A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man."
The hero was an individual to be admired and emulated in spirit.  The hero overcomes personal limitations and supernatural forces to achieve some goal that benefits the rest of us at great personal cost the hero.

In our age, the hero has been destroyed in what appears to be a deliberate and systematic manner.  The media and cultural gatekeepers throughout the 20th century and into the 21st have continually set up 'heroes', only to turn around and shoot them down.  There is an agenda to destroy the classic hero to prevent us from striving for great achievements.

One ubiquitous method of destroying the classic hero is the media-induced worship of sports figures.  These figures are constantly marched out in front of us and we are encouraged to emulate them.  Then they are shot down and their public images trashed.  This, in turn, causes those who grant these individuals hero status to question themselves and to be increasingly wary of all heroes.

In Pavlovian style,  we are trained repeatedly to reject heroes and  deride them for their personal short-comings.  In fact, the classic heroes were in part admired because they overcame their personal faults to achieve greatness.  Eventually, we are trained that humans are incapable of becoming heroes and that we should just wallow in our weaknesses and forget the idea of rising above our natures.

Three prime examples from recent pop culture are O. J. Simpson, Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong.  First of all, none of them achieved anything approaching the classical hero status.  They did not enter supernatural realms, did not achieve amazing victories, and nothing they did gave them a special power to grant favors or blessings on others.

All three were instead set up as modern heroes by our media culture based solely on their genetic dispositions that gave them physical prowess.  After being set up, though, they were summarily trashed sending a psychological shock through those who held them in high esteem. 

Simpson was brought down by murder charges and he was shown in dramatic fashion on global TeeVee to be a coward.  His reputation as an athletic hero who braved grave physical harm to bring victory to his team was shown to be false as he ran from his greatest challenge.  Even though he was acquitted, no one would believe his innocence after that, since he showed his cowardice so publically via the media.

Woods was hardly an athlete.  Golf is not exactly the most demanding of physical activities, especially when someone else carries your bag and you use a cart to zip from one arena to the next.  Nevertheless, he was built up to hero status primarily for being a black competitor in a sport dominated by white upper-class executives.  His very public downfall was based simply on his extramarital dalliances, something hardly shocking in any age with people of wealth and influence.  Again, the same media that had created his hero status turned and devoured him.

Armstrong was another media darling.  His hero status was created not only by his prowess as a bicycler, but by his personal fight against cancer and eventual 'resurrection' to be a strong competitor once again.  Almost as fast as the media 'resurrected' him, they ate him alive for doing what any strong competitor would do: seek an edge over the competition.  This sort of thing goes on in every level of society, yet Armstrong was brought down by it.

All three of these cases highlight a pattern.  It is easy to see an agenda within the media to build up these modern heroes and then crush them as a means of implanting psychological defeatism in the minds of those who buy into this form of worship.  It is done repeatedly with athletes, movie stars, business and political leaders, and military heroes.  We are enticed to emulate then castigate these individuals over and over again.

The long-term effect of this pattern is to destroy the hero as an inspiration to achieve great deeds.  Either we are made to hopeless or to fear our impulse to rise above ourselves in altruistic fashion. 

We know this pattern exists because we can also see its opposite in the same media.  President Franklin Roosevelt was wheelchair-bound due to childhood polio, yet the media went out of their way, then and now, to hide the fact in order to not reduce the man's hero status.  President Kennedy's extramarital dalliances are somewhat legendary, though there is no attempt to bring down the man because of them.  Why?

Because it serves a greater psychological purpose to build up these men to hero status.  In FDR's case, because the media do not want to tarnish in any way the socialist reforms introduced by that administration.  In the case of JFK, it is because of the psychological shock value of assassinating a hero.  All of these cases spotlight a deeper agenda in the media's ability to create and destroy heroes.

Furthermore, we can ask how much of a role did media adulation play in creating the stresses that led to the hero's downfall?  Would Armstrong have felt the need to use steroids to gain a competitive edge if the media had not placed so much pressure on him to achieve?  Would Woods have felt empowered enough to seek the extramarital company of high-profile women without his special status?  Would Simpson have felt compelled to run if he didn't have a privileged status to protect?  Did the media attention itself actually pressure these men, or give them license, to create their own downfall?

In any case, it seems fairly obvious that there is an agenda to destroy cultural icons in order to undermine the strength and cohesiveness of social bonds.  According to Campbell, there is an understood contract between heroes and their societies that bestows benefits on everyone through the process of heroism.  These psychological benefits are severely undermined by destroying the hero.  It takes away our collective strength and feelings of goodness and righteousness.

When the hero is destroyed by his own humanity, then we all feel as if there is no point to strive for greatness.  Instead of trying to rise above our mundane existence, we instead wallow in our hopelessness.  And what could better serve the agendas of controlling elites than to take the moral high ground out from under society at large?  There would be no call to rise against injustice if we believe that our reputations would only be destroyed in the end by some personal foible.

Hero worship of any kind is a precarious thing in any case, but it is especially dangerous when the heroes are selected for us, and then destroyed in front of us, by a voracious and deeply manipulated media.  Those who control the media are able to manipulate cultural archetypes at the most profound levels of our individual and collective subconscious.

Efforts to debase the hero image, undermine the father figure, masculinize the female figure, and any number of similar exercises can be repeatedly demonstrated, especially since the dawn of TeeVee.  In destroying our cultural archetypes, the media masters destabilize society and allow them to replace the time-tested underpinnings of our civilization with those of their own creation.  Ultimately, we end up at the mercy of these manipulators without every knowing why, or even that it was done to us.

The power and subtlty of media is the reason why we must be defensive in our consumption of them, and also why we must push to maintain as much diversity in media ownership as possible.  As the media fall into closer and closer hands, so too does the power of the media.

As long as we continue to buy into the false culture created by the powerful media conglomerates, we will continue to be prey to forces most of us hardly understand.  It is up to us to recognize what is being done, how it is being done, and what we can do to counter it.  We must become our own gatekeepers and carefully guard access to our subconscious minds.