Symptoms of a fever afflicting America’s culture

Symptoms of a fever afflicting America’s culture.

  1. Hollywood’s Hero Deficit“, James Bowman, July/August 2008
  2. Red Hoax Blue Hoax“, Ann Coulter, 29 October 2008 — About the plague of fake hate crimes.

Both are, each in their own way, serious symptoms of underlying weakness or even illness in America’s culture.  As usual, self-awareness is the first step to a cure.


Hollywood’s Hero Deficit“, James Bowman, July/August 2008 — This is just a snippet of a valauble article, which I strongly recommend reading in full.

American movies have forgotten how to portray heroism, while a large part of their disappearing audience still wants to see celluloid heroes. I mean real heroes, unqualified heroes, not those who have dominated American cinema over the past 30 years and who can be classified as one of three types: the whistle-blower hero, the victim hero, and the cartoon or superhero. The heroes of most of last year’s flopperoos belonged to one of the first two types, although, according to Scott, the only one that made any money, “The Kingdom,” starred “a team of superheroes” on the loose in Saudi Arabia. What kind of box office might have been done by a movie that offered up a real hero?

There’s no way of telling, because there haven’t been any real movie heroes for a generation. This fact has been disguised from us partly because of the popularity of the superhero but also because Hollywood has continued to make war movies and Westerns, the biggest generators of movie heroism, that are superficially similar to those of the past but different in ways that are undetectable to their mostly young audiences, who have no memory of anything else

… As a result of this increasingly influential cultural attitude, the movie hero was already beginning to become a more and more ambiguous figure in the immediate postwar period. The kind of clean-living, pious hero portrayed by Cooper in the pre-war “Sergeant York” (1941) – which celebrated an American hero of the First World War-gave way to the isolated and magnificent but dubious postwar figure of Cooper’s Marshal Will Kane in “High Noon.”

The heroics of Sergeant York were seen as having been performed on behalf of a community and a nation-two-thirds of the film is spent introducing us to his hometown of Pall Mall, Tennessee-which are as properly grateful to him as he is devoted to them. Kane’s deeds are performed in spite of and in opposition to the will of the community he serves and more to satisfy a personal standard of honor than a sense of duty to such a pack of ingrates. The film ends with his dropping his badge in the dust and leaving town for good.

… in the noir pictures there was always a sense-enforced to some extent by the Hays Code that aimed to uphold high moral standards and was still in force at the time-that however hated and resented the moral order enforced by the social and political powers-that-be, it was still a genuine moral order and not just the greed, viciousness, and violence of those who happened to hold power.

Though the antihero whose flowering we have seen in our own time was there in embryo, it still left open the possibility of goodness and decency, not just on the part of individuals but of a community. That’s what it took for Dan Evans in the 1957 version of “3:10 to Yuma” to be a hero: the idea that his courage was for the sake of a belief that “people should be able to live in peace and decency together.” Without this belief in a community where power is not antithetical to the good and the decent but the means of its advancement, neither the war films nor the Westerns of our own time will ever be able to give us any but a debased sort of heroism

Red Hoax Blue Hoax“, Ann Coulter, 29 October 2008 — Another in the seemingly endless stream of fake hate crimes that have appeared over the past few decades.  Not matter how often they are found to be fake, the next one receives exaggerated attention and belief.

As the case of Ashley Todd reminded us again last week, racial bias crimes are almost always hoaxes. Todd is the Republican volunteer who claimed that a black man in Pittsburgh had pummeled her and carved a “B” into her cheek after spotting the “McCain-Palin” bumper stickers on her car. A lot of people suspected the case was a hoax from the outset, including Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, who immediately said: “It could be bogus. I’m a little skeptical about this, but our duty … is to report everything to you.”

The claim was bogus, but on MSNBC, instead of citing the Todd case as further proof of the maxim “Never believe claims of racial bias until proved,” the hoax hate crime led to somber discussions of — you guessed it! — racism in America.

MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann histrionically described Todd’s hoax as “a narrative straight out of Reconstruction-era, race-based fear-mongering: a black man, 6-foot, 4-inches, attacking, sexually assaulting, fondling, mutilating a young white woman.” His expert pontificator on race was The Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson, who said the Pittsburgh hoax was “the blood libel against black men concerning the defilement of the flower of Caucasian womanhood. It’s been with us for hundreds of years and, apparently, is still with us.”

Robinson was last heard from on the subject of race crimes in his famous April 25, 2006, Post column melodramatically saying of the Duke lacrosse rape case: “It’s impossible to avoid thinking of all the black women who were violated by drunken white men in the American South over the centuries. The master-slave relationship, the tradition of droit du seigneur, the use of sexual possession as an instrument of domination — all this ugliness floods the mind, unbidden, and refuses to leave.” … As is now well-known, the alleged gang rape of a black stripper by white lacrosse players never happened. At least Ashley Todd’s hoax didn’t almost ruin an actual person’s life.

Meanwhile, back at Hoax Interpretation Central, Olbermann spent most of October issuing blistering denunciations of John McCain and Sarah Palin based on the claim that someone had yelled “Kill him!” in reference to Obama at a Palin campaign rally. “There’s a fine line between a smear campaign and an incitement to violence,” Olbermann lectured. “If Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin have not previously crossed it this week, today even, they most certainly did.”

One of Olbermann’s many guest-hysterics was Newsweek’s Richard Wolffe. Equally excited, Wolffe said it was “no excuse” that McCain and Palin couldn’t hear what the crowd was shouting because “what you’re seeing here is a very conscious attempt to paint Obama as un-American, as unpatriotic and, yes, cohorting, consorting with what they call, ‘domestic terrorists.'” (Liberals indignantly reject the label “domestic terrorists” for former Weathermen, preferring to call them “future Cabinet members.”)

After beating the “Kill him!” story to death for a week, Olbermann delivered one of his comical “Special Comments” about the incident. “You, Sen. McCain,” he pompously announced, “are not only a fraud, sir, but you are tacitly inciting lunatics to violence.” Olbermann demanded that McCain cease campaigning: “Suspend your campaign now until you or somebody else gets some control over it. And it ceases to be a clear and present danger to the peace of this nation.”

… As has now been conclusively established, no one ever shouted “Kill him!” at a Palin campaign rally. The Secret Service undertook a full investigation — listening to tapes of the event, interviewing people who had attended the rally, and interrogating Secret Service and other law enforcement officers who were spread throughout the crowd.

As even an article on the crazy, left-wing, don’t-make-any-sudden-moves-around-them Salon site noted: “The Secret Service takes this sort of thing very, very seriously. If it says it doesn’t think anyone shouted ‘kill him,’ it’s a good bet that it didn’t happen.”

While we’re on the subject of massive deceptions, Olbermann regularly has Chris Kofinis on his show to talk about the sleaziness of Republican candidates. But why has Olbermann never asked this former communications director of John Edwards’ campaign about the hoax Edwards was pulling running for president as a family man with a sick wife while carrying on an extramarital affair? What were they planning to do if Edwards got the nomination? Claim that Rielle Hunter’s baby was fathered by a black man?

Having helped promote massive hoaxes that lasted for weeks in the case of “Kill him!” and years in the case of the Duke lacrosse case, you would think liberals would go easy on the crocodile tears over a 24-hour hoax by an obviously disturbed girl in Pittsburgh.

A note from the real world, as a true hero passes away

Our time on the world’s stage will be finished when American no longer produces men like this. God willing, that time has not yet come.

Vietnam War Hero John Ripley Dies at 69“, AP, 3 November 2008 — This provides an account of a real hero’s life. Well worth reading.

At the website of the US Naval Institute’s “Americans at war” program, you can see the video of this interview:

In this video Captain Ripley relates his heroic feat of singlehandedly stopping the enemy during a major offensive on Easter Sunday in 1972. His “tiny force” of South Vietnamese Marines was poised on one side of the Dong-Ha Bridge to take on the “enormous force” of North Vietnamese troops ready to attack from the other side. Undaunted, the determined Captain Ripley decided to take the situation in his own hands to bring down the bridge.


If you are new to this site, please glance at the archives below.  You may find answers to your questions in these.

Please share your comments by posting below.  Please make them brief (250 words max), civil, and relevant to this post.  Or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

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To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar.  Article about this are found under…

Other FM posts about the American spirit, the American soul:

  1. Diagnosing the eagle, chapter IV – Alienation, 13 January 2008
  2. Americans, now a subservient people (listen to the Founders sigh in disappointment), 20 July 2008
  3. de Tocqueville warns us not to become weak and servile, 21 July 2008
  4. A philosphical basis for the Batman saga, 23 July 2008
  5. The American spirit speaks: “Baa, Baa, Baa”, 5 August 2008
  6. We’re Americans, hear us yell: “baa, baa, baa”, 6 August 2008
  7. The intelligentsia takes easy steps to abandoning America, 19 August 2008

26 thoughts on “Symptoms of a fever afflicting America’s culture”

  1. Why are you even bothering with Ann Coulter? She should be considered a source of entertainment for a particular segment of the population rather than a valid source of news and policy opinion.
    Fabius Maximus replies: I have zero interest in those ad hominum characterizations. In fact, I consider them to be 100% wrong, as insights are more often found on the fringes (both left and right, often crazy) — rather than among the moderates mindlessly muttering consensus platitudes.

  2. Fabius,

    I’m a little skeptical of the ‘Hero Deficit’ claim. One could argue that by the standards of heroic literature, 40’s and 50’s Hollywood was very abnormal. From the Iliad on, it’s pretty standard for the hero to be a flawed hero, to suffer greatly, and to ultimately fail in the end. According to Bowman, Achiles or Roland (or Jesus for that matter) would all be mere victim-heroes.
    Fabius Maximus replies: On what basis do you say that? Bowman considers heros as authentic/traditional, cool, victims, and cartoons (a hero can have elements of each).

    Victim heros demonstrate heroism not by their virtue or deeds, but by their suffering. Often psychological, due to internal conflicts. They are often the kind of guy that “women like to mother”, where “the emphasis is not on deeds, on the manly qualities of strength, courage or endurance, but on feelings, and the natural feminine sympathy” (source). None of this fits Achilles.

    In both history and mythology heros have flaws and do not always win, except (sometimes) in cartoons. Neither are defining characteristics of Bowman’s victim hero, just typical of life.

    Bowman does not probe into the basis or origins of the modern victim hero. Few cultural trends apppear without deep roots of some kind. Your analogy with Jesus — and the early Christian martyrs and saints — is interesting.

  3. Ok I got for you, “Walking Tall” It was about a Special forces soldier returning to his home town after his enlistment, to find that a boyhood friend has opened a Casino which is destroying the social fabric of the community. The hero becomes the sheriff with the help of the community and dismantles the the criminal underworld that has grown up around the Casino.

    The hero is no flawed man who needs mothering, he has a fierce sense of right and wrong, and loyalty to his community. Enjoyable flick actually. I think this conforms to 3’10’ to Yuma type.

    Personally I blame the beat/Hippy movement, its been down hill since then, I’m only half joking.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Note that there were two versions of this. From Wikipedia:

    First version: Walking Tall is a 1973 semi-biopic of Sheriff Buford Pusser, a former professional wrestler-turned-lawman in McNairy County, Tennessee. It starred Joe Don Baker as Pusser.

    Second: Walking Tall is a 2004 remake of the 1973 film of the same name. It stars The Rock and Johnny Knoxville. Like the original film, it was based on real-life Sheriff Buford Pusser, however, the main character’s name was changed to “Chris Vaughn”. The setting was changed from McNairy County, Tennessee to Kitsap County, Washington, USA.

    To closely follow the pattern James Bowman describes — see his review of the 2nd version of 3:10 to Yuma — the earlier movie should feature a traditional hero, the later a victim or cartoon here.

  4. Fabius, what’s your point? In the “hero” article, is the point that “moral relativism is decaying our collective clarity on right and wrong?” Movie critics might indicate that “hero movies” from “the old days” were simplistic and one-dimensional … I vividly recall the raving reviews of Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven,” comments about the “flawed hero” and “moral ambiguity” and how that made the movie great. Isn’t history written by “the winner?” If so, wouldn’t movies often be simplistic renderings of “history written by the winner?”

    Regarding Anne Coulter, what she’s writing about is nothing more than a reflection of the divisions between subcultures. Recall the Tawana Brawley case? It had similar underpinnings to the Duke Lacrosse case. IMO it is a reflection of the deep distrust between blacks and whites.
    Fabius Maximus replies: I am not a fan of moral relativism. Bowman’s series, looking at presentations of hero’s since the 1930’s, disputes your assertion that hero’s in earlier times were “simplistic and one-dimensional.” As for “history written by winners”, much of western history is written with much sympathy — even admiration for the losers, who often gain moral stature because of their defeat. For more on this see Wolfang Schivelbusch’s great book “The Culture of Defeat.”

    The point of Coulter’s column is that this distrust often assumes pathological forms yet receives uncritical attention from the mainstream media. Not a good thing.

  5. I agree with DBake; Hollywood’s “hero” genre has always been nuanced. “Open Range” is another example, & I don’t know how it fared at the box office. Probably the purest example of movie heroism (not involving superheroes) in the last decade was “The 13th Warrior.” It’s true — and puzzling — that Hollywood has had a hard time creating heroes out of the present unpleasantness in Iraq, despite abundant evidence in military circles of courage and professionalism along with all the outward hoopla encouraging us to “support out troops” (conspicuous by its absence back in the Vietnam era).

  6. How about Band of Brothers?
    Fabius Maximus replies: Bowman does not use the words “never” and “aways”, so I do not believe he says that “no modern movies” protray traditional heros. He has no review of this movie on his site.

  7. Okay, I’ll have to think about Bowman’s thesis some. Based on his definition of victim-hero though I think he gets some of the cases wrong. The hero of Full Metal Jacket isn’t a victim-hero (Wikipedia), . A lot of people seem to misunderstand FMJ. Because it’s not a pro-war movie they assume it’s an anti-war movie, which it isn’t, at least not exactly. Anyway, Private Joker is the hero because he’s brave and a good soldier. He wouldn’t be a traditional hero because he’s not sure that his bravery and good soldiering are virtues, but that’s not the same as being a victim.

    So have we made genuine hero movies recently? How about Glory and Rob Roy? What I’ve heard about Master and Commander makes me think it would count too, but I haven’t seen it.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Not watching many modern movies, I cannot comment on this. However Bowman does not use the words “never” and “aways”, so I do not believe he says that “no modern movies” protray traditional heros. He does not review any of the movies you mention, except Master and Commander, which concludes wth …

    “But an old-fashioned action movie, which this so nearly resembles, can do without such an old-fashioned tribute to the brotherhood of arms, so long as the arm of its hero-captain is so mighty.”

  8. Commenters thus far have pulled down a hero archetype that is male and militant, and does not fit our modern life. Not that we have a modern hero archetype, however. But I would suggest that by the definition of hero that FM makes above, they are, in reality, plethora in media. I would suggest two for you here, both of which are female. First, the character Juno in the eponymous movie, who dealt with situations “way beyond her maturity level” and was accepted of her situation that required sacrifice. Her character was driven by truth in the form of finding the best course of action for herself. Secondly, Erin Brokovitch. Enough said. Self-sacrifice was the the context of both characters situations that was accepted, much as parenthood is accepted. How about “Silkwood”, for that matter – ? Good god, there are heroes everywhere I look, but they just don’t fit your model, your archetype. It seems that we still love the same old mythos (i.e., The Odyssey”)…

    If you see moral decay, I would suggest that you are looking in the wrong place. There may very well be moral decay, but not from where I am sitting. But I do not watch television regularly and I certainly don’t pay attention to demagogues including Coulter, O’Reilly, Limbaugh, and their ilk. They, in fact, are the opposite of heroes, are not capable of self-sacrifice, do not want what is best for our country, are the true moral relativists, and their message is distinctly un-American.

    “Moral relativism” – let’s leave that for another time…
    Fabius Maximus replies: Much rich material in this comment. Just to look at a few things…

    “Coulter, O’Reilly, Limbaugh, and their ilk. They, in fact, are the opposite of heroes, are not capable of self-sacrifice”

    Can only hero’s write about heros? That would greatly limit the ranks of historians and biographers! If we extend you apparent theory, perhaps only highly moral people should write about morality. That would greatly reduce the ranks of western philosophers. If there is a Hell, Rousseau is in it — that gentle apostle of enlightened romance, who dumped his children in an orphanage (see this for a discussion). The personal lives of many other philosophers and saints are similarly unpleasant.

    “their message is distinctly un-American.”

    I find this a singularly unpleasant charge, unless levied at nazi’s or such. Almost self-refuting — in the sense of “when you point a finger, three fingers point back at you.”

    “Secondly, Erin Brockovitch” as a hero.”

    Bowman deals with this on two levels. First with his typically excellent review (captures my own reaction to this movie perfectly). Second, in the section of the aricle we’re discussing about “whistle-blowers” as heros.

    Seeing “Juno” as a hero is extending the concept to the pont of meaninglessness, IMO. Here is Bowman’s plot summary (frm his review;I have not seen the movie). This is the leftie equivalent of right-wing talk radio, where every caller is greated as “a great American.”

    “Sixteen-year-old Juno MacGuff gets pregnant by her clueless high school boyfriend, Paulie Bleeker, decides to have the child and give it up for adoption, herself picks the childless couple, Mark and Vanessa, to whom she intends to offer it and thereafter finds herself ‘dealing with things way beyond my maturity level.'”

  9. Certainly on some level there is some value in rather primitive cultures using examples to motivate people to do good by imitation. But this leverages an essentially primate compulsion and does not produce unmitigated good. What is ‘heroic’ is situational and not objective. It is not necessarily exciting or entertaining. People esteemed as heroic are often not actually thus, or have flaws whether tragic or comic that are not suitable for emulation. If humanity is in crisis it says here imitation is more part of the problem than it is of any solution.

    The Coulter diatribe, while entertaining, is specious. No doubt many ‘hate crimes’ are hoaxes, because people will do just about anything to get attention. On the other hand, there have been things like lynchings and the like in this culture. The McCain campaign did attempt to exploit that pathetic young woman. What John Edwards did was certainly hypocritical and immoral, but irrelevant to the topic at hand except in that one rather odd writer’s mind. Whatever Coulter’s strong suit is… provocation, most likely… coherence is not it.

    The assumption, unexamined and assumed, that even morally there was some golden age in the past when people were superior and have now generated… begs the question, is that so? We simply do not have statistics and information that would tell us, for example, how our revered ‘heroes’ of the past behaved for example in their treatment of the weak, women and children, and so forth. We do not have statistics on their private behaviors in any realm. It would seem fairly obvious that many historical figures would, today, be vilified or disqualified from holding their former positions because of violations of norms that existed then and exist now, but are enforced due to the mechanisms of publicity and scandal. As one glaring example, George Washington was a hero in any dimension. And he had two medical marijuana prescriptions, one for lack of appetite, another for insomnia. Nowadays he’d have to lie about inhaling, or be utterly disqualified from office, if not drummed out of the Army for failing a drug test.

    The pretense is that people have somehow changed and are not as lofty as they were in the good old days. The real situation is that people have not changed enough and are for the most part as bad as they have always been.
    Fabius Maximus replies: This comment brutally and grossly misinterprets almost every point made in the post and referenced articles.

    The key point of Couter’s article was the media’s uncritical acceptance of fake hate-crimes, not their occurrence (which is probably background noise). The point of post is that our culture has almost abandoned the concept of heroism, or is moving in that direction, and this is probably not a good thing.

    “The assumption, unexamined and assumed, that even morally there was some golden age in the past when people were superior and have now generated… ”

    On what basis do you extract this assumption? Given its absurdity, I hope this is not a straw man you imagine to discredit the authors cited.

  10. I am surprised that nobody has mentioned how the role of true hero is almost exclusively a female role in modern TV and movies.

    Buffy the Vampite Slayer, Sara Pezzini (Witchblade), Warrant Officer Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) in the Alien movie series, Sarah Connor in the Terminator movies and TV show, the two in “My Super Ex-Girlfriend“, etc. By comparison with them, most male heros in our media are clods or clowns.

    These women are our true heros. Usually omnicompetent, often without major flaw, seldom internally conflicted (except by the burden of their responsibilities). This is IMO the real revolution in our concept of heroism.

  11. As I read the comments, I was actually thinking the same time about the relationship between women and heroes, and then I read the 11th comment.

    So then, following that train of thought, how long until we become disillusioned with women as heroes and abandon them as such, relegating all humans universally to lower states of heroism?

    Or maybe women can be perceived as heroes precisely because our present-day society does not acknowledge them as such. The disappearance of male hero figures is symptomatic of a dysfunctional society that can no longer identify with them. In turn, females can now fill that role because in real life they seldom appear to take on those heroic functions.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Bowman attributes the increased number of women action heros (if I correctly understand him) to the re-classification of heros (the action sense, not moral heros) as cartoon or fantasy figures. In this sense we see the large number of women duking it out with men — often anorexic actresses with their thin arms decking far larger men with a single punch. And of course movies teach us that all girls are taught to use guns by their dads, or can acquire competence in minutes.

    Also interesting, if unrelated, is the increased frequency of women hitting men (or girls hitting boys) in movies and TV. Often for trivial reasons, like Hermione hitting Malfoy in Harry Potter 3. Of course, the guy almost never hits back. Centuries of cultural conditioning to make hitting women unacceptable, and our culture thoughtlessly throws this away. The result will not be pretty.

  12. A note from the real world, as a true hero passes away

    Our time on the world’s stage will be finished when American no longer produces men like this. God willing, that time has not yet come.

    Vietnam War Hero John Ripley Dies at 69“, AP, 3 November 2008 — This provides an account of a real hero’s life. Well worth reading.

    At the website of the US Naval Institute’s “Americans at war” program, you can see the video of this interview:

    In this video Captain Ripley relates his heroic feat of singlehandedly stopping the enemy during a major offensive on Easter Sunday in 1972. His “tiny force” of South Vietnamese Marines was poised on one side of the Dong-Ha Bridge to take on the “enormous force” of North Vietnamese troops ready to attack from the other side. Undaunted, the determined Captain Ripley decided to take the situation in his own hands to bring down the bridge.

  13. To experience true horror, stay away from the movies with the label attached, and instead watch children’s television and movies targeted at that demographic with a critical eye for the messages being sent and interpersonal dynamics being displayed.

    “The Spiderwick Chronicles”, when picked apart, scene by scene and line by line is probably among the most frightening; and the casting of Ron Perleman (of City of Lost Children fame) makes it perfect.

  14. “I am surprised that nobody has mentioned how the role of true hero is almost exclusively a female role in modern TV and movies.”

    You beat me to the punch…

    Perhaps the atomization of our society since the 1950’s has made service to the greater good a more ambigious deed, we may bemoan the disappearence of the classic hero epitomised by the golden age of westerns, but perhaps thats because modern Americans find there struggles too remote from their daily lives. Perhaps the modern hero, epitomised by the Whistle Blower, A person who refuses to go with the flow and sink into anonimity, better reflects the realities of our time.

    We dont live in the wild west anymore, the moral conundrums that those people faced and the ww2 generation faced dont really concern us anymore. Espically post Vietnam we are aware that state service is frought with moral compromises, a war where the best of intentions were subverted, that this had a lasting effect on how the public is not to be denied. Those heros who committed evil in the service of the state and community were castigated on there return, not lauded, as was the case in earlier wars. Those facts can’t be willed away with a wish to return to an earlier way of thinking.

    The Classic John Wayne character died in Vietnam, out of his ashes was born John Rambo, the lone killer motivated by his betrayal, loyal only to his uncorruptible code of honor and the men let behind.

    Check out “Crouching Dragon leaping Tiger” this chinese movie is a good example of a socity that still stresses sacrifice of personal needs to the needs of the community. It contrasts two women, one who will let nothing stand in the way of her ambition and loses her soul in the process, and one who puts aside her need for love and peace to safeguard the community and hopefully steer the anti hero back to the path.
    What will be intersting to see if the drumbeat of corruption and and state sponsored lies will in the end subvert this impulse.

  15. I’m certainly hungry for good American white male heroes, realistically flawed but acting heroically and trying to live, implicitly as: trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, reverent. (Rats!, I had to look it up here, 1911 )

    While Vietnam put nails on the coffin of Boy Scout Heroism, the whole 60s was a set of semi-heroes who failed at one or more of the above, and almost always were not reverent.

    A huge number of modern heroes, like Lech Walesa, are God-fearing reverent, but Hollywood seems quite anti-Christian in terms of heroism.

    The mocking of ‘good little boy scouts’ is a symptom and cause of the hero-deficit.

    In movies about recent wars (post WW II), especially, Hollywood refuses to attempt to show patriotic American heroes battling evil anti-American, anti-Freedom enemies. Even the cartoon hero Iron Man, battling terrorists, finds the terrorists are funded by his own US military-industrial company rival (rather than Russia or oil rich Islamic sheiks).

    But the real American hero is the adult Boy Scout who lives the code (imperfectly), and fights for Good, for a good but imperfect America.

  16. I have been saying for quite sometime that Hollywood needs to find the a new Bruce Willis. He for the past 20 years or so has been really the only person to play the rather conventional hero in a lot of his movies. In the die hard series he’s a cop and the first one of the series the bad guy even has his ex-wife (they are just separated at that point) and he still has to save the day. Most guys I know that are divorced would let the bad guy keep her. There are also a couple of other movies he’s been in that weren’t the best movies, but they were movies where he definitely portrayed the kind of hero that we don’t see too much in the movies anymore.

  17. For some reason we are permitted to consider the Westerns of the 19th century past past but are arbitrarily forbidden from considering the 22nd century future, therefore Star Trek is out ( with the possible exception of the episode where they were transported back to the Showdown at the OK Coral?? )

    Anyhow, there have been some movies based upon Louis Lamour’s The Sacketts.

    And how about A Beautiful Mind. The triumph over mental illness is at least as heroic as shooting bad guys.

    And if Jimmy Stewart is out prototypical hero, then how about Elwood P. Dowd in Harvey? Who says that heroes have got to be so damn serious?
    Fabius Maximus replies: Consideration of “Star Trek” (at least the original series) is always in order on this site, in any context.

    Most of the movies based on The Sackett novels were quasi-commedy, I suspect as a way for the makers to distance themselves from the distasteful heroic elements of the stories. For example, “The Shadow Riders” – a deadly serious attempt to rescrue women from slavers, which the Hollydrones saw fit to remake with oddly injected commedy sections.

    The same was true of the 1970’s “Superman” movies, to the extent that by #3 it dominated the film and killed the franchise.

    As for stories of “heroic” struggles against life, like Nash’s mental illness, that is a different use of the word from the sense used in this discussion. It stretches the concept to the point of meaninglessness. If so, where is the line? Does my struggle to reduce my cholesterol count as “heroic”?

  18. As for stories of “heroic” struggles against life, like Nash’s mental illness, that is a different use of the word from the sense used in this discussion. It stretches the concept to the point of meaninglessness.

    My goodness, man. Eastern Orthodox and Coptic mystics, who view their souls as microcosms of the universe’s macrocosm, view their inner spiritual struggles as necessary to help preserve the existence of the outer universe.

    Likewise, I believe that Jewish mystics believe that every generation has thirty unknown worthy men, but for the sake of whom God would destroy the world.

    Given modern chaos theory, which posits that a butterfly’s flapping its wings could set off a hurricane, likewise my helping a little old lady across the street could have mamouth implications.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Can anyone explain what this comment means?

  19. Around the hero everything turns into a tragedy, around the demigod, a satyr-play, and around God—what? perhaps a “world”?
    — Friedrich Nietzsche, “Beyond Good and Evil”

    I’m not a big fan of tragedies.

  20. Fabius Maximus replies: Can anyone explain what this comment means?

    Read Unseen Warfare: The Spiritual Combat and Path to Paradise of Lorenzo Scupoli (Paperback)

    This classic was first written by a Renaissance Ventian priest, but was subsequently revised by Orthodox monks. Read the reviews, but its title should indicate how it might relate to a discussion of heroism.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Thank you for the detailed explanation! I still believe we are speaking of different concepts which unfortunately (as so often in English) share the same label. Here is some background about this…

    Wikipedia bio: Lorenzo (Lawrence) Scupoli (c. 1530 – 28 November 1610) was the author of Il combattimento spirituale (The Spiritual Combat), one of the most important works of Catholic spirituality.

    Full text is available online here.

    Summary (source):

    The Spiritual Combat (1589) is a famous classic on the strategy for achieving spiritual perfection and salvation. Vigorous, realistic and full of keen insight into human nature, it consists of 66 short chapters based on the maxim that in the spiritual life one must either ‘Fight or die.’ It shows the Christian how to combat his passions and vices with an intelligent method, in order to arrive at victory, rather than running around blindly beating the air. Father Scupoli explains how to concentrate one’s energies in order to make constant progress in acquiring virtue, with particularly specific advice for overcoming the vices of impurity and sloth.”

    The Spiritual Combat is a book of time-tested strategy for achieving spiritual victory; it is a great guide on which to form one’s soul and launch it firmly on the way of solid virtue. It is one of the all-time greatest and best-known classics on the spiritual life and is a book that will inspire and instruct today just as it has for over 400 years.”

  21. Fabius Maximus replies: Thank you for the detailed explanation! I still believe we are speaking of different concepts which unfortunately (as so often in English) share the same label. Here is some background about this…

    Another book that you might want to read is Merton & Hesychasm: The Prayer of the Heart & the Eastern Church

    A general discussion of Thomas Merton’s relationship with the Eastern Church, it includes a discussion of his personal ties with Boris Pasternak as well as his views of Dr. Zhivago, whom you might consider to be a hero in some meaningful sense.

  22. Bowman has difficulty finding an example of “real…unqualified heroes” because he rules out the “whistle-blower”, “victim” and “superhero” for consideration. His assertion that “the point of all three kinds of hero in which Hollywood has specialized over the last 35 years has been to make sure that heroism can continue to exist only on a plane removed from the daily lives of the audience” disregards the intertwined beliefs in technological advancement and human potential that lies at the heart of many superhero stories and that many people see these things as a way out of a “public and communal sphere universally supposed to be cruel and corrupt”.

    I don’t know why given the supposition that the communal sphere is corrupt that Bowman concludes that real heroism for filmmakers and/or audiences is “therefore…no longer possible, and even, perhaps desirable.”

    The belief in technological advancement leading to a growth in human potential is related to the concern over peak oil fueling the search for alternative energy and fears of global warming. In the ideals of utopias and singularities “power is not antithetical to the good and the decent but the means of its advancement.” These days this sought after power is technology. Possibly this explains some of the reasons for a renewed interest in superheroes.

    Also, the 4 categories of heroes Bowman gives are (somewhat arbitrary) generalizations with much overlap (as his example of Bourne shows), so it might have been more useful for him to look for a real hero within one of the 3 other categories. Perhaps the larger point isn’t that filmmakers are averse “to suggesting to the audience that real-life heroism was something to which it, too, could aspire”, but that the audience is all too willing to let Batman or Bruce Willis save them even after the movie has let out.

    BTW, I like your far-ranging approach which “sees cultural trends as providing for a window into the inner workings of a society”, and thank you for your blog – I find it useful, informative and entertaining.
    Fabius Maximus replies: There perhaps is an element of personal perspective also at work in these things. While most Greeks thought that Achilles was the embodiment of male heroic virtue, there wre probably a few who thought he was a loon. Similarly, while many of us find much inspiration in the stories of Peter Parker, Bruce Wayne, and Reed Richards — others (like Bowman) find these stories not worth reading (or watching).

  23. I think you’re right – I feel the same way about John Wayne, his unbelievable ability to drink notwithstanding.

  24. Update: news about more hate crimes — hoaxes and real.

    (1) Another fake: “Campus Climate Dialogue Continues“, The Tripod, 4 November 2008 — “Town Hall Meeting Hosted After Anonymous Poster is Revealed.” Needless to say, none of the measures taken in reponse to this “hate crime” (not known to be fake) will be reversed.

    (2) Real: “Three Quinnipiac students arrested for making threats on campus“, NBC Connecticut News, 30 October 2008 — Does the 3rd participant look African-American in her picture?

    (3) Real: “4 students confess to racist incident“, Christian News NorthWest, no date.

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