Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Whatever Happened to Heroes?

Maybe it is just the incipient onset of old age, but it seems our heroes are becoming less heroic all the time. I watch a lot of TV and sometimes I find it hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys. Police lie to suspects, torture them, play fast and loose with the law and are excused for it. I've even seen a number of media "heroes" commit cold blooded murder out of revenge.

Admittedly in the past, media heroes were often unrealistically perfect. Believable heroes do need to have their flaws, but it seems lately that the flaws dominate over the heroism. Yes, I believe that heroes need to be human, but they should also be a bit better than the rest of us. Or at least better than the villains.

In Dante's Purgatorio, the souls travel through Purgatory between "goads" and "pricks." On one side they can see the Saints in heaven so they can emulate their good works. On the other side they see those irrevocably damned to hell to be warned not to fall back on the road to redemption. This is, of course, allegory and it is doubtful even Dante believed this expressed accurate theology. However, the principle is sound. There should always be some sort examples of moral excellence to motivate us to good works as well as examples of moral depravity to keep us from falling.

Fiction provides us with this type of allegorical vehicle to this day. By seeing fictional heroes struggling with their moral dilemmas and eventually overcoming them, by seeing a fictional character make a moral choice in an impossible situation, by seeing a hero or heroine make an "impractical" but moral choice, the reader is "goaded" to do the same in the day to day moral and ethical battles we face. When my main character chooses to do what's right rather than choosing to do what's expedient, that makes it just a little easier for the business executive to make a hard choice between profits and morality, for the student to avert his or her eyes away from the other student's exam during a test, for the spouse to bite his or her tongue before saying the hurtful thing.

Fiction can not only entertain, but can enoble it's readers. But it can only do that if we create, not perfect, but heroic characters.


Blogger Andrea Graham said...

What you said about heroes here is exactly what Adam is trying to do in Laser & Sword

June 23, 2008 at 2:40 PM  
Blogger Terri said...

I appreciate that Andrea. I just wish more people (even some Christian writers) would do more of it in all fiction and not just speculative fiction or superhero type fiction.

Perhaps the superheros are the only ones still around in the popular media that hold on to a moral compass and don't give in to the ends-justify-the-means-no-matter-how-dirty-the-means mentality.

I know it is a balancing act. There was a time when the heroes were too perfect and thus unbelievable. Now, they are more believable, but less inspiring. We need that balance.


June 24, 2008 at 10:49 AM  

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