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Happily Ever Under
The Devolution of the Hero
In ancient times heroes were few and far between, and hence famous, rather than the anonymous American hero-victim. A hero was not necessarily good or patriotic, and might even be evil. Objectively, military heroes were good to their people and evil to the enemy. The first hero, Gilgamesh, was a rapist, murderer, and blasphemer. Think of the contentious gaggle of murderous gang leaders that makes up the cast of the Iliad. The word hero is Greek in origin and related to hiero [sacred].
What made a hero heroic was his striving against the world order, against the gods, against puny man and his hierarchies. At the end of the movie Troy, Sean Bean, speaking as Odysseus, states it well enough, that he and his companions will be remembered because they lived in the time of Hector, Breaker of Horses, in the time of Achilles. A hero took physical and spiritual risks, and was rewarded with nothing but renown, a limited kind of immortality with an indistinct expiration date. The modern athlete is the closest thing we have to a hero in our own risk-averse age.
Having written three books on ancient heroes, and having spent a lifetime reading about heroes of all ages, I find myself troubled when I look above the frozen food case I stock and sea those cases of paper towers with the wounded warrior foundation ads, dedicated to helping our military ‘heroes’. The military hero has been watered down in the past three decades to include every wounded or killed member of the armed forces. In World War I the U.S. had Sergeant York, in WWII Audie Murphy. Now, as our largely automated military machine slaughters Muslims in their sleep, at funerals, at weddings, and at the café, we generate heroes daily. Our heroes are mostly the passive victims of remote bombs, snipers, and assassins.
In a very real sense they are victims. Twenty years ago I spoke to a man who was wounded in Vietnam. He laughed and told me he got half of his ass blown off by a mine while he and his buddies [all rear echelon guys who spent most of their time drinking, getting high and whoring] were ‘headed down the road to get some warm PBR’ [Pabst Blue Ribbon beer]. I talked to a Vietnam Combat Vet who loved the war. He related tale after tale of idiot troopers killing themselves and others accidentally through the mishandling of equipment and their mindless trudging into booby traps. That at least was a war with few heroes. Everyone knew it was a rotten deal, something to survive, not something to be proud of.
The U.S. military is now so low risk due to our excellent technology, that during the first gulf war in 1991 we lost fewer personnel than during normal peacetime operations because nobody was drinking and driving in Saudi Arabia. Yet, every member of the 90+% noncombatant U.S. military is now a ‘warrior’. That must make Marine Recon, Navy Seals, Special Forces, and other highly trained offensive war-fighters a little bitter about the inclusion of masses of truck drivers, mechanics and dishwashers in their warrior ranks. I realize that part of this process stems from a conscious attempt by our military to build morale so as to avoid the ‘Vietnam Syndrome’ that was rampant in the 1970s.
The emasculation of the hero is much more than a military phenomenon, but rather part of the feminization of our cultural narrative. As we continue down this path to becoming a nation of 300 million heroes, every one of us a defiant Leonidia, with perfect C-cups and a tight waxed ass, facing off against 3 million Persian ninjas at Thermopylae, we might want to stop and consider how far our idea of a hero has diverged from the root.
Liver-Eating Johnson to Robert Redford
By ancient standards the most heroic man in U.S. history would have to be John ‘Liver-Eating’ ‘Crow-Killer’ Johnson, who ate the livers of hundreds of American Indians, killed a black cowboy, talked to his widow’s bones, hunted Black Feet Indians for Crazy Woman so she would have fresh heads to decorate the poles over the graves of her slain children, and once cut a living Black Foot warrior’s leg off and carried it out into a blizzard so he would have something to gnaw on and a club with which to beat back the wildlife. When a movie based on his biography was made into the Robert Redford movie Jeremiah Johnson [it is a good movie], he was portrayed as an all American boy who reluctantly breaks a Crow Indian burial ground taboo to save a wagon train, resulting in his wife being killed, who he then avenges very straightforwardly. In reality, a bunch of Crow teenagers just killed Johnson’s wife for kicks, and he turned into a cross between Hannibal Lector and Conan the Barbarian, using the entire tribe as his personal meat locker.
Real heroes are too complex for the infantile modern mind to fathom. We must have Ward Cleaver with a gun.
Charles Bronson & Yule Brenner to Jason Statham & Sly Stallone
The current Expendables franchise is the last in a long line of ‘band of heroes’ stories that traces its way back through The Magnificent Seven, Seven Samurai, and ultimately to Seven Against Thebes; 2,500 years of recycling the same tale of doomed heroes. Only now, the heroes are not doomed. They laugh and joke and every one of them lives [mostly unscathed] through a firestorm of ordinance that would have made U.S. Marines shit their pants 70 years ago. They will now also have female heroes among their invincible ranks.
Greek mythic heroes died.
Most real heroes die in battle.
Our propaganda heroes thrive, living gods dancing with death with less anxiety than a three-year-old navigating his cozy coup. They must be gods, for we are all heroes. It was not always so. Through the 1960s there were plenty of dark and gray doomed hero movies.
The Dirty Dozen, all played by name actors, died virtually to a man.
The Magnificent Seven was shot to shreds by Mexican bandits using lever action carbines. In The Expendables modern Latin American troops expending a Stalingrad factory battle worth of ammo can’t even wing Sly and Jason.
If The Great Escape was made today, none of the Allied POWs would die, and only Steve McQueen would get captured, but then released through incompetent Nazi bumbling, as the multicultural U.S. Army Airforce Personnel were reunited with their multicultural British sweethearts, who were just single girls to begin with, not lonely sluts settling for a Yank because their old man bought it in Tunisia.
I recently viewed the first two Charles Bronson Death Wish movies from the 1970s for the first time since my childhood. The man could not act. The films are dated. However, the hero, Paul Kersey, knows doubt, fear, defeat, humiliation. He is not magically lawyered out of trouble by secret government do-gooders, but suspected by the cops. He lies to those closest to him. The viewer sees the downside of heroism, and the dark side as well. [You have to watch Death Wish Two just to see a teenage Lawrence Fishburn trying to hide behind a boom-box during a gunfight!]
In the Bronson Movie Hard Times [his best role] he does not walk off into the sunset with his girl even though she was played by his actual wife!
In the Mechanic the Bronson character is killed by his assassin understudy. That makes the fact that the understudy is then posthumously killed by Bronson’s character so cool. Of course, since Statham can act, and is young and good looking, he cannot be killed, because he brought the ladies to the theatre. You see, without the women coming along to the movie, most of the guys would just assume wait for it on DVD and watch it in their mancave. You have to write movies for women unless you want them to go straight to DVD. This imperative has rippled all the way back through the literary community, who all have their eye on having their story optioned for a script. Since women want the same thing that the U.S. Government wants us to want—secure happy endings at all cost—every fiction writer in the nation has essentially been recruited by the Hollyorwell Propaganda Ministry.
Vincent Price to Charlton Heston, to Will Smith
I have viewed all three movies based on the 1950s Richard Matheson novel I Am Legend.
The first movie, Last Man on Earth, starring Price, was very dark. The hero is a hunter of vampires, very much a Johnson type hero, only as a geek rather than a brute. He dies bitterly, cursing the infected vampire plague saviors as ‘freaks’.
The second movie, Omega Man, starring Heston, had better acting and better production values, with the story watered down a bit, and a racial diversity lesson inserted. The hero is more of a materialistic survivor. He does die defiantly, trying to redeem himself.
The third version, I Am legend, starring Will Smith, had excellent acting and production values, and the story appealed to women more than men, whereas the first two versions were hardly viewed by females. This hero is a savior of mankind who dies in the most heroic way possible, assuring a happily ever after ending for the remaining humans. Matheson’s hero has gone from being a murderous legend, a hunter of a diseased population, a cleanser of enemies, to being Jesus Christ.
Romanceaganda
Romanceaganda is the writing of male action heroes to appeal to the modern American woman, coupling her belief in edifying social justice, her deep desire for material comfort, her need for absolute security, and her desire for sacrificial masculine monogamy, with her unrequited yearning for an invincibly virtuous piece of smoking hot ass who will never die until he starts looking like James Garner. The end result, if not the aim, is to cloak the commander in chief of this hero nation in a moral patina, as he explains away the killing of women and children in their beds by computer console operators a half a world away from danger, as the acts of heroes.
The ideal of the American hero has devolved. There was once the horror inspired among frontier mothers over the savage face-to-face vengeance of Liver-Eater Johnson in 1848 for the killing of his wife and child. Today our mothers—at once entertained and put at ease by the unkillable Hollywood hero—are at ease with our never ending war and the 2% accurate extrajudicial remote killings that explosively shred wives and children with appalling regularity, at the hands of a domestic video gamer who very possibly risks a blister on his thumb, and never looks into the eyes of his victim. This is not a stretch. The American film industry has promoted ever major American military action other than Vietnam. Today’s filmmakers are just better at cloaking the militant message in fantasy.
In the end Liver-Eater Johnson remembered that his enemies were human, that they had positive qualities, and finally gave up his vendetta. The enemies of today’s American heroes have no names, no faces; no human qualities. What reason then, will there be for our state-owned heroes to give up our vendetta?
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