The Futility of Heroism

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The idea of the Hero is a misunderstood notion occluded with a hidden deception – a power and revenge fantasy that requires one to hope and wait for the arrival of a savior to solve one’s problems. Thus the arrival of a hero implies and reinforces the enslavement and powerlessness of the saved – instead of one requiring to take self-directed action to assist and support one’s self.

Have you noticed Hollywood’s endless dedication to the superhero blockbuster movie over the past 20 years? Time for another Avengers movie. Soon, Star Wars and a Superman – Batman film coming down the pike. It seems the continuous recycling of cinematic renditions of  extraordinary beings is perhaps the safest bet for making a huge profit in the movie industry today, in so much that it has successfully tapped into the mass psychology of the American public, who generally feel more disempowered, alienated  and disconnected from having to exist within a world of constant existential anxiety. The meaning of the superhero offers much cathartic relief, if for a moment.

I voraciously consumed comic book and their stories of superheroes as a child, although as I became older, I found myself more fascinated by the various artists like Neal Adams, Gil Kane and Jim Aparo who drew the comics than being fascinated by the exploits of the superheroes themselves. Being a comic book artist at one time seemed like a fun and interesting way to make a living, so I thought at the time. When the first superhero movies began to appear in major Hollywood blockbuster fashion such as the Superman, Batman and Spider-Man movies of the past 20 years or so, I saw that there existed definite problems in translating the genre into film. The ideas of grown men donning these costumes and using violence against others to solve problems were… it must be said, kinda silly.

However, all people have an ancient, built-in tuner for a good story. Especially if it features a good hero-figure. From Gilgamesh to Krishna to Hercules to Jesus Christ, the tale of the hero always seems to satisfy that emptiness inside us that we desperately want to fill in with the hope that things will turn out okay for us. Or at least that someone, something or somehow or someway – things will work out. The hero is the anthropomorphic stand-in for our hopes and dreams being fulfilled by something that must always exist outside of us. But this embodied figure of hope – as typified as the “hero,” is based on the cruelest of self-delusions, because to give into such a fantasy, one has to abandon the center of power within one’s self. One has to become enslaved to the idea of being saved by a savior.

The Hero can be described as a figure who swoops in unexpectedly armed with the ability to solve another’s problem. Some believe that the Hero is a figure that possesses supernal qualities or gifts that normal people don’t possess. In ancient Greece, ancestral worship may have given rise to the phenomenon of the hero cult. The Athenian legislator Draco (c. 600 BCE) introduced a written code of laws to replace the tradition of oral law to be used in court. Due to the severe and harsh nature of the laws he authored, for instance, the theft of a single head of cabbage could result in death penalty for the thief) the term “draconian” has been passed down to us to describe such unforgiving and extremely punitive legal qualities. However, one of Draco’s strictures was the official establishment of hero-cult worship in Athens. The most important thing about the hero was not so much of how he or she lived, but rather in the hero’s death. Thus ancient hero shrines were erected that were venerated and thought to provide supernatural protection to the local community of worshippers. There is a reason why this fascination of the hero exists: people have no faith within themselves to face life and overcome challenges that confront them.  They would rather wait and hope for deliverance from another.

Not all challenges are created equal, however. Most people in the world believe that all they have to hold onto is a belief and a hope for something better will come along, or that somehow “things will work out” on their own, or someone or some God will deliver them out of their problems. It is certainly understandable. And it is certainly understandable that most people in the world have suffer at such an unbearable level of pain, despair and anxiety that even all hope for something better is driven out of them. But for those who are stable enough to carry on, the lure of the arrival of the hero is an intoxicating delusion that only fuels self-suppression and fantasies of revenge.

This fantasy of revenge is seen very clearly in religious dramas and doctrine. I had a hard time understanding why it was so easy for modern-day African Americans to continue to follow the Christian religion, which according to my sensibilities is the official religion of the legacy of White European slave trade. The answer came to me while reading Flannery O’Connor’s novella Wise Blood, where the protagonist Hazel Motes in public preaching display of defiance in his utter rejection of his traumatic Christian upbringing , repeatedly spits out this scornful declaration: “Jesus is just a trick on niggers.” It is an extremely cultural loaded throwaway line that at first glance sounds like racist nihilism, but reveals the genius of O’Connor’s understanding of the demented religious ethos of the Southern gothic, for within it there exists the key in understanding the religious methodology of one race subjugating another via Christian mind control by instilling a hopeless revenge fantasy of divine proportions, endless versions which I heard repeatedly as a child through endless Sunday sermons –  how “the first will be the last” and how God’s Justice will descend on the evil-doers (code for the White man generally) and reward His faithful followers (and servants). It is telling that despite the precipitous decline of religious affiliation in America (as reported by the latest Pew study), Christianity still enjoys a strong and consistent support among African-Americans. It isn’t surprising. Historically, preaching the Gospel was one of a few occupations African-American men were allowed to have.

In this reading, God is the Ultimate “Hero.” But in order to accept the savior, first you have to accept your suffering, enslavement, powerlessness and repression indefinitely in this life before you can attain cosmic, Heavenly peace in the after-life. You have to die first before you can be redeemed. One must always await the arrival of the Hero (Christians have been waiting in vain for over 2000 years) – which is to say – one must always seek first the Kingdom of Righteousness and Glory in one’s powerlessness,  suppression and death. Jesus is considered a hero because as a God, he sacrificed himself and became a martyr, which is a form of senseless suicide.

Of course, it is difficult to attain the realization that such a self-delusion that can only exist within the deceptions and meaninglessness of one’s imagination – because no real solution to anyone’s problem can be “fixed” by another – and certainly no solution can exist where there is no self-realization, or self-responsibility, or self-honesty, or self-movement, or self-direction or self-acceptance inside one’s self. One has to be an active participant within all that or give in to further enslavement, abuse and deception. 

Can it be that one’s successful triumph over one’s own self-limitations is the only heroic act possible? Attempting to place one’s self in a mental flowery bed that “feels good” or the seeking of “happiness” leads down the path of self-deception, separation and enslavement.

Handle with care anyone who presents themselves to you as a hero. They don’t really want to save you. What they really want is to take you for a ride.

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