A random thought has just popped into my head about “heroes” — and specifically, on how rare they are these days in pop culture.
Somebody was tweeting a bunch of nonsense about Cameron being a great director, which in turn led me to the thought, “James Cameron: Master of manipulating cliché. If Republic Films was still making serials, he’d be IN!”
That in turn led me to memories of various serials I’ve watched, and related things such as radio adventure shows like “Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy” … and the stalwart, strong-jawed hero you just don’t see any more. Even Superman(!) is a deadbeat dad, if you go by the latest movie! The postmodern era really delivered the strong-jawed hero a punch to the vitals that he hasn’t ever recovered from. These days we’ve got the schlub who redeems himself, the brutal badass, or the well-meaning guy who screws it all up.
Thinking about characters who have had a lasting impact, I think Captain Kirk may have been the last great strong-jawed hero, and even he was twisted into something else courtesy of J.J. Abrams (who got Star Trek wrong, wrong SO VERY WRONG). Fortunately, the Abrams version of Trek will wither and die after one more movie and eventually be forgotten, but that doesn’t alter the fact that contemporary storytellers just don’t seem to know what to do with Good Guys.
“Is he strong? Then he must be an arrogant bully! Is he competent? Then he must be distant and cold! Does he have a moral center? Then he must be didactic and intolerant! Is he kind? Then he must be either naive or dull! Is he successful? Then he must have ruthlessly victimized others to get there!”
I don’t like what it says about our culture that we think this way. I don’t want every hero to be Dudley Do-Right, but the strong-jawed hero is a worthy archetype and something we should want to emulate, not tear down. If the ’60s and ’70s were a culture “growing up” and coming to grips with the fact that you can’t always trust your heroes to be infallible, then fine, that’s something that needed to be learned. But it doesn’t also follow that everybody is a crapsack all the time. Let’s retain a little perspective here. There are people who are just plain “good guys” (of either gender, please forgive the inclusive use of “guy” here), and it’s certainly not out of line to imagine that people like that sometimes go on exciting adventures.
And being a good guy also doesn’t inherently make somebody boring. Wit, artistry, originality, these can all coexist perfectly well within a strong, compassionate framework. Here’s hoping that maybe people can start to remember that again.