You can learn a great deal about someone by asking what he or she admires in a person, and what heroic figure occupies his or her heart. Having grown up with few heroes and even fewer celebrity idols, this subject has for me the thrill of novelty. As long as I can remember, the having of heroes has seemed risky – equal parts wishful thinking and flirting with inevitable disappointment. Growing up and out of an intensely religious community also makes one wary of gazing too closely in worship: few ideologies and fewer lives stand up to scrutiny from all angles. In particular, the broad, uncritical adoration of mortals unnerves me because it seems to tempt fate. It is like saying: “Behold, this is more than a person in mine eyes! On this person, I build my Self.” I have intense memories from childhood in which authority figures were suddenly compromised or revealed to be vulnerable. These memories are accompanied by the sensation of the ground shifting out from underneath me; there is the sickening sensation of weightlessness. How do children re-orient themselves when those they take to be the earth and stars fail them?
Then again, refraining entirely from the admiration of others seems equally, if not more pathological. Hero-worship is just as much about nurturing a capacity for love, admiration, and enthusiasm; do away with that, and you’re left with narcissism and apathy. Is there such a thing as a true nerd without a hero? How can we know what we believe if it is based only in abstraction, and there is no one to model ourselves after? Perhaps the safest route is to take one’s heroes as necessarily imperfect and limited in scope. The figures on pedestals ought to be starting points from which we conduct further calibrations. The postmodern generation no longer expects to value - much less imitate - every quirk of a hero’s character. If anything, cultural developments of recent decades have shown that anti-heroes’ flaws make our wary affection for them more poignant. We like our protagonists awkward, our superheroes beset by moral ambiguities. This is a revisionist age: every fairy tale is ripe for retelling and comic book paradigms beg to be subverted. Revision entails taking another look, re-assessing initial regard, or even to look from an alternate angle. When it comes to heroes, perspective is everything. Wouldn’t a multi-angle close-up be more informative than the view from far below?