We Need a Hero! | Teen Ink

We Need a Hero!

March 7, 2010
By Neha Kumar BRONZE, Memphis, Tennessee
Neha Kumar BRONZE, Memphis, Tennessee
4 articles 0 photos 0 comments

Would any reasonable society consider Angelina Jolie, renowned celebrity, to be a heroine, an inspiration to all? In our affluent society, any individual might suspect that the rest of his or her society would view this charming, influential, and rich woman as someone who could fit the criteria of a heroine; not only does she provide entertainment for all, but she has also spent a great deal of time and money aiding African orphans struggling with AIDS. Yet, one has to question: does simply doing good for other humans make someone--celebrity or not--a hero? Generally, people view heroes as individuals who accomplish extraordinary feats, accomplish things that no normal human could hope to do, such as singlehandedly bring justice to a group of people or helping to end poverty for a nation. Many ordinary people, not just celebrities, travel to impoverished countries and attempt to help the plight of people there; therefore, helping other humans is not a quality that only heroes possess. So why is it that society seems to view these celebrities as heroes? Some lament that society can no longer differentiate between a celebrity and a hero, as the “traditional hero” is now replaced by celebrities. Although I agree with this view up to a point, I cannot accept its overall conclusion that the traditional hero is dead, and is a faint memory in the minds of Americans. While Americans do admit to being fascinated with the rich, powerful, beautiful, and famous, society is still very much capable of distinguishing between those who can provide us with fleeting entertainment and those who create long-lasting political and social changes. Americans simply have different standards in judging the relative importance of a celebrity and hero to their lives; celebrities cause Americans to feel more idealistic and romantic while heroes prompt Americans to be more realistic and rational. People today have a tendency to use the words "celebrity" and "hero" interchangeably, but that does not mean that the general public cannot distinguish between the two. There exists an innate human instinct to look up to each other for guidance, applauding and envying those that exemplify the best character traits in man--in other words, we crave for heroes. Yet in today's cynical society, made so by the recent war in Iraq, terrorism, and most notably the struggling economy, people can no longer find a truly traditional "hero", such as Martin Luther King Jr. or Gandhi, and frantically turn to the easiest source--popular figures from the media. We might call celebrities our "heroes", praise them for their efforts in the world, but deep inside, we understand and can recognize a "true" hero, one not marked by fame and fortune. In other words, the traditional hero, far from being dead is still very much alive in the heads and hearts of Americans today.

Despite what some may believe, Americans understand what constitutes a hero, what constitutes a celebrity, and the vast differences between the two. Those who claim that American society is turning to celebrities as role models, arguing that, “We engage in the denigration of traditional heroes…we are now confronted with the fantasy world of entertainers, those ever present, ever glamorous, ever “on” figures—the celebrities” have evidently lost faith in the American people’s ability to understand that a celebrity is not a role model, even if he or she does perform generous acts (Drucker, Cathcart). Just because American society is becoming increasingly obsessed on the media does not mean that people are dubbing celebrities the new heroes of the twenty-first century; perhaps there are other reasons as to why certain famous individuals are being dubbed as “heroes.” According to a recent study, people are able to identify the great discrepancy between people’s definitions of the words “celebrity” and “hero” (Shuart). Heroes are, according to this article, “distinguished persons, admired for their ability, bravery, or noble qualities and worthy of emulation.”; on the other hand, a celebrity is simply known as a “famous person.” (Shuart). Yet for understandable reasons, people tend to associate athletes with heroes rather than celebrities, even though athletes are rich and famous, as celebrities are, and do not usually make dramatic changes to better mankind as a whole as heroes frequently do. This could be due to the fact that athletes have struggled greatly, failed several times in their attempts to reach the top, and despite that have been able to reach an elite status—a process that almost every hero has gone through at one point or the other in his or her life. Americans tend to forget that almost everyone goes through a difficult process to reach the top in his or her life; that the media greatly publicizes and dramatizes the athlete’s life story helps the general public to firmly believe that the athlete is extraordinary for accomplishing their dreams. Thus, some Americans may associate athletes with traditional heroes. While some may argue that this, in and of itself, is proof that Americans mix heroes with celebrities, this view is not entirely correct. The differing definitions and the reasons why Americans look up to athletes actually reveal that the American public is not completely unaware of the importance of the hero in their lives, nor are they unable to articulate the differences between a hero and a celebrity. While people may associate athletes as heroes, they can clearly understand why any celebrity would not qualify as a hero; in many cases, individuals are also able to distinguish between a famous athlete and a hero.

While American society has a slight obsession with the rich and famous, they have not forgotten the meaning and importance of the hero and replaced the hero’s role with the celebrity. Many have made valid points that claim that the American society is no longer in touch with heroes; celebrities have become a bigger part of our daily lives and have united our country together. Some are even fearful that celebrities will begin dictating the social norms in America if they have not already done so, stating, “Celebrities not only amuse us; they tell us what to think and how to live…they became spokesmen, enlightening us about war, sex, and drugs, and telling us what is wrong with America” (Gibbon) These people assume that instead of looking towards one hero in common, Americans share things such as shopping, sports, and celebrities. While I must agree with this argument that celebrities do have a profound impact on society, perhaps causing some to look to them for advice, I believe that people do not necessarily listen to these celebrities; on the contrary, society has found their “advice” to be either common knowledge or unbelievable. A qualitative study, which attempted to determine how the general public distinguishes heroes from celebrities reveals that “Western participants may be more likely to demonstrate emotional involvement with their heroes, and some element of disdain toward their favorite celebrities” (North, Bland, Ellis). The study goes on to affirm that people in general see heroes and celebrities coming from very different fields of achievement stating, “it seems the very nature of certain fields of endeavor…have the longer-term, wider-ranging implications for society associated with greatness, whereas the nature of other fields is…although enjoyable, unlikely to be of long-term, wide-ranging cultural significance” (North, Bland, Ellis). Clearly then, while Americans are easily captivated by the charming celebrities, they know fully well that these celebrities are only meant to amuse them, and instead turn to their heroes to provide beneficial change in their lives.

Clearly, people see heroes and celebrities as providing two different needs for them; heroes are needed to inspire people and to change life for the benefit of everyone, while celebrities are simply there to provide amusement and are a diversion from boredom. Just because some may hail these celebrities as our “heroes”, studies have clearly proven that people feel a psychological, emotional connection to these heroes. This is perhaps due to the fact that while people admire how cartoon heroes such as SpongeBob “defies the established custom and instead of being punished is rewarded”, they cannot relate to them as another human being (Miller). People feel this emotional connection with heroes because they empathize with the heroes’ obstacles, tangibly feel the determination and passion that the hero has in order to make the world a better place, and thus can fully celebrate with the hero when he or she achieves his or her goals. Some may argue that Americans actually look up to modern-day heroes such as SpongeBob and the Terminator, but that is incorrect—Americans envy these heroes and wish they could be like them in that they could avoid facing consequences, but ultimately they look towards a realistic hero that can feel emotions such as pain, humiliation, and loss as they do—emotions that “heroes” such as SpongeBob and the Terminator will never be able to feel (Miller). These modern-day “heroes” are then more like celebrities in that they are famous, and are seemingly distant, on a level that no human can really relate to or touch. This is perhaps the key reason as to why society will always recognize a true hero and will instinctively understand the importance of a hero in today’s society, as opposed to the celebrity.

While American society greatly appreciates the efforts of celebrities, such as Angelina Jolie, in aiding African orphans suffering of AIDS, they are well-aware of the fact that any such action taken by a celebrity does not automatically elevate him or her to “hero” status. A hero is an individual that defies the odds and does not merely help a few individuals, or even a society—they change the way of life for hundreds of thousands of people, and remain a fond memory in the hearts of people worldwide. Heroes are not concerned with fame, fortune, or wealth; they give wholeheartedly to their cause because they believe that their efforts can make the world a better place. Unquestionably then, no “normal” human, no athlete, not even a celebrity, could ever hope to be categorized as a “hero.” Despite what some may insist, the American public is not blind to the truth of the matter—traditional heroes are not dying, nor are they being replaced by sports heroes or celebrities. A celebrity or an athlete can be envied and admired, but nobody actually expects these people to directly impact their lives. People may be frustrated with their lives, but remembering what someone such as Nelson Mandela had to undergo on a daily basis can help to strengthen an individual’s resolve and press them to continue, even if the road ahead seems difficult. This, precisely, is what the role of a hero has been, is, and will forever be, proving that the traditional hero and not the celebrity hero is indeed well and alive in today’s society.

The author's comments:
Instead of lamenting the "death" of the traditional hero...we need to find the hero in each and every one of us.

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This article has 2 comments.

cbmarin said...
on Apr. 25 2011 at 8:13 pm
Beautifully written!  Thank you, Neha!  I am a schoolteacher teaching a unit on heroes, and this helped quite a bit.  So many children are confused about athletes and celebrities being people they admire, but who are really not heroes in the true sense of the word.  Heroes are those who aspire to make the world a better place and inspire us to do the same.

on Feb. 1 2011 at 11:53 am
JohnnyTheSilverAngel GOLD, Los Angeles, California
14 articles 0 photos 11 comments

Favorite Quote:
“I have learned that to be with those I like is enough.” By W.W

"If God gave you the will to start something,You have to have the courage to finish it." by J.V

For once...I'd like to see a regular joe be on T.V other than celeberties.I,for the most part,don't see a heroe now a day.Yeah sure celeberaties help people that are in poverty but that's not going to end poverty.A hero is a person who does something so good that it impacts not just one,ten,a hundred,a thousand.It affects everyone single one of us.Not saying that it's easy as pie but it is possible.The guy who invented the cure to polio didn't give a patent to his medicine,you want to know why?Because he knew not everyone was going to be able to buy it so he pretty much gave it out for free (not sure about this but if i'm wrong please correct me)See,heroes do exist...but they come once in a while though.