Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Real American Hero, or, "Let's Roll..."

Some people say heroes don't exist anymore, but they are all around us. They go uncelebrated because they don't wear capes, or fly, or shoot lasers from their eyes. Others say heroes aren't possible, because human beings, by nature, are flawed (and then proceed to find any dirt on the person as proof that heroes don't exist.) Still, others allow for the existence of heroes, but change the definition so that ANYONE can be considered a hero, for any deed. (This usually means devaluing the strong to make way for the less-than-heroic.) Heroism has become loosely defined, along the lines of "someone you look up to or inspires you." But the real criterion for a hero is a "protector" or "defender."


 When heroic people are depicted in fiction and comics, it's often treated as an escape, or a fairy tale. And indeed, many people confine heroics to fiction. I take a different view, that hero tales are meant to inspire heroism in real life. The difference is, I don't get caught up in the "details." Meaning, I don't think heroism means blasting aliens with ray guns, capturing bad guys, or leaping from tall buildings. I do believe that more "everyday" problems can provide instances of heroism. A doctor who dedicates his life to eradicating disease, scientists who invent life-saving devices, philosophers who provide meaning and reason to our lives, they all act to defend and protect in their own way. What is important is the abstraction, that achievement is possible, that one has a right to a life without coercion, that life has value, and that those values are worth protecting. 

And yet, there does come a time when real-life heroes are called on to act in ways that are normally reserved for the comics and movies. The downside is that there is no script, no stuntmen, no rising score to rally the hero towards the climax. There is no vicarious thrill for the bystander. Welcome to the "theater of the real..." 

A hero doesn't have to have superpowers, or super-detective skills, or a military arsenal. What is necessary is courage. It's been said that courage is not the absence of fear, but the willingness to face that fear. It is also said that what makes a hero look more courageous is the value of the threat. Batman and G.I. Joe were "regular" guys whose villains were not only evil, they looked the part. 

With that said, I'd like to present and pay tribute to a real-life hero, Todd Beamer. 

Beamer, of course, was a passenger on the fated Flight 93 hijacked by terrorists during the events of 9/11. Beamer was said to have led the passenger revolt on that plane, and though the plane did crash, it did not hit its intended target. (I want to add that I consider the other passengers involved with the plan no less heroic, and it is sad that their names aren't as well-known.) In a day and age where we are told not to fight back, to turn the other cheek, or to even let "the authorities" handle things, the passenger's actions were nothing less than truly heroic. They must have known fear; to them, the threat of terrorism was most likely a distant event not connected to their everyday lives...combined with the added terror of being thousands of feet in the air, with no "authorities" to intervene. Yet that did not stop them. They did not know if they would win, or live, but they did not leave it to fate; they took action. They knew their lives were in danger, but valued the freedom that makes life worth living. (I don't believe in altruism, and I would hate to think that their actions were "self-sacrificial out of duty to others only, but that they did it for themselves as well. That said, I give extra thanks for the lives that were saved by their actions.) They did not give in to terror, did not negotiate with terrorists, they made a stand. They did not debate the meaning of heroism, they lived it. In a world that said heroes don't exist, they proved the opposite. Most importantly, they did not WAIT for someone else to do the "dirty work." They were not movie characters with stunt doubles, they were flesh-and-blood. 

These heroes took action, but not "mindless action." It wasn't a reflexive motion; there was time for deliberation, however brief; there was time to let fear take over. The heroism comes in the act of making a choice to act. But I have to wonder if there was something, if not "instinctive," but maybe "subconscious" or "ingrained." These were American people, who, despite a culture that increasingly discourages individual heroism, still had influences such as Superman, G.I. Joe, and countless other characters who taught us to stand up for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is the intention of SUPERHERO BABYLON to defend the best of those influences, so that they can continue their purpose: to inspire real heroes when they are called upon. Art is the technology of the soul, after all...and heroic fiction is useless unless it gives meaning to real-life events.

On 9/11, let us not forget that heroes do exist, and may their good deeds, to reverse an increasingly disturbing phrase, go "unpunished."


Landon Erp said...


Bosch Fawstin said...

Beamer and his soldiers were the first of the new kind of heroes in this post 9/11, fighting for life to the bitter end, regardless of the chances. It's a story for the ages and it must be told again and again, for every generation, in all forms.

Bosch Fawstin said...

Apologize for the missed words here and in another post today, pulled an all-nighter. Here's to the heroes of 9/11.

Joe Maurone said...

On a day like today, I think spelling eras and sleeplessness can be forgiven...