Sunday, September 17, 2017


As children, we have heroes.  As young adults, we learn they have flaws. They all have flaws. Sometimes we then reject them, sometimes we keep them in more complicated fashion. Over the years they drift one way or the other in our minds.  We decide that their flaws are too great to ignore and move them to the rejection pile (though we might continue to admire a particular aspect), or we decide that their flaws are not that important in the long run and we continue our admiration. We also acquire people to admire who we never thought we would. This can only occur when we have had to face the disillusionment of our childhood heroes. From those wounded figures we learn to look beyond to core character, in a real context.  This is a cultural cliche in how we later look at teachers or parents, gaining a respect for them that we did not believe they deserved when we were young.

Years and years ago, shortly after I had children of my own, I read something about black actors in the movies and in vaudeville, who played stereotypical and demeaning roles and were now coming under criticism from younger African-Americans for their lack of standards.  The author - I think it was a book, though it may have just been a long magazine article - had become much more sympathetic and forgiving. As I recall it (which may be wildly divergent at this point from what was written) he quoted an older black actor who spoke with some heat "I had a family to feed.  None of you know what it was like." Working in a low-status, poorly-paid job at the time, with two young sons, I got it immediately.  Some heroes come in by the back door but they settle down to live in your house and become family.

By that point, we don't really need heroes to get on with our lives.

Yet we did need them once. I worry very much about the rage* to unmask heroes to children.  It seems to draw a lot of energy from those who are young enough to be disillusioned themselves but not old enough to have made their peace with an ambiguous world.  Sophomores teaching freshmen is dangerous.

*I just noticed in proofreading that there is a second meaning to rage, and it is likely not accidental.  "All the rage" is a positive, though a bit condescending.  Rage in its other meaning is not.


james said...

I like the line "sophomores teaching freshmen," and plan to steal it.

Sam L. said...

Sounds to me like you read about Stepin Fetchit. has quite a lot about him.