Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Desperate For Heroes?

I’ve been thinking a lot about hero-worship lately. I’ve always held to the idea that we create heroes to fill the void in ourselves. There’s a part of us that wants to believe that, faced with insurmountable odds, when all hope seems lost, we’d rise to the challenge. We’d risk life and limb to save the universe from Darth Vadar. Shame nobody saved us from Pokemon.*

I am going to need your help on this – this all builds to a question. So, bear with me.

Now, what has prompted me to comment on this today is the fact that apparently Justin Trudeau is going to take a run at federal politics.

A lot of you are probably thinking, Who?

This is the eldest son of former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau. He was our PM when I was a kid. All I really remember about him is that I knew adults who hated his guts and people used to say PetroCan stood for Pierre Elliot Trudeau Rips Off Canada. I actually have no idea why.

Speaking from experience, well, I don’t really have anything to say. I was 13 when he was leaving office, and knew precious little about politics at that point in my life.

So, you ask, what’s so special about Justin Trudeau?

Well, apparently he’s good-looking. Don’t ask me. I’ve heard the same said of many who hold no appeal for me whatsoever. Usually, the more universally “gorgeous” the more I don’t get it. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with his looks.

I actually didn’t realize Justin and I are the same age.

The reason Justin’s a stand-out? Only because the Trudeau’s are, to some people anyway, Canada’s answer to the Kennedy’s. To be quiet honest, I’m not sure why. My initial instinct on it is to say we’re copycats and were desperate to appoint someone we thought we worshipped.

It is true that the Trudeau family brought something to Ottawa that isn’t often there, our usual leaders being a fair bit older. The Trudeau’s had kids. And for some reason, being not only a Prime Minister but a parent makes you far more interesting. As though the country isn’t filled with parents.

So, I saw the headline about Justin Trudeau this morning and thought to myself, What’s he done to merit the attention? Of course, the answer is nothing special. Just by nature of being born a Trudeau he is, to many Canadians, a celebrity. Off-hand, I couldn’t even tell you if he has a job or what he does.

Why would he make a good MP? It’s clear to me that the people who want to see Trudeau in federal politics believe he can heal the Liberal Party and be the next great leader of Canada.

Me, I’m okay with the guy we’ve got right now. Who also has young kids.

I have nothing against Trudeau at all. But I don’t like the interest in his running, simply because it has that celebrity angle to it. It isn’t quite as over-the-top as it would be if Pamela Anderson ran, but it’s still bad enough. He represents some legacy…but he has no proven track record as a politician, a leader, an example.

He’s not my hero.

Now, that isn’t to say he wouldn’t make a good PM some day. (We all know that’s what some members of the Liberal party are anxious to groom him for. No wonder the current leader of the Liberal party isn’t too happy about Justin’s sudden interest in taking a run in the next federal election. But it is to say that when I decide how to vote, “celebrity” has nothing to do with it. Party record does. I belong to no political party, and I will weigh a number of factors each election. If I think a government is filled with lying bastards who’re defrauding Canadians of millions of dollars so that they can set their friends up for life, I’m not too damn likely to vote for them. Of course, surviving Bob Rae in Ontario has me fairly set in my decision to never vote NDP… And I haven’t really taken to the fringe parties just yet, but next time might be the time I vote Marijuana. Except I usually like a party to have more than one platform to run on.)

It’s just that this announcement contributed to things I was already thinking about… About why we seek heroes, about why we decide someone is a hero.

Someone’s a hero if they rescue a person from a burning building? In a manner of speaking. They have committed a heroic act. But are they a hero, forever worthy to wear the label? What if the person is also a drunk? What if he beats his wife at home? He still saved someone’s life…

In a few weeks I’ll be attending Left Coast Crime. I’ll be moderating a panel.

Guess what the panel is about?

DO WE READ THRILLERS BECAUSE WE WANT HEROES?
So often, the protagonists in a thriller is up against a conspiracy or an establishment and is all alone. Do we want him to succeed because of that - because we all want, or maybe even need heroes?

I’m curious to know what you guys think. Are we looking for heroes? To be honest, I think much of the time we’re looking for real, normal people who just happen to stand up and display some courage. I’m not sure if that makes them heroes. To me, the hero character is Luke Skywalker. And the real person is Han Solo.

Years ago I was talking with a friend about other friends, who they were dating. One had some very unrealistic expectations in a partner. Nobody measured up. I rather tactlessly said, “Gee, I want to marry someone at least a little bit sinful.” I remember the moment clear as day because everyone doubled over laughing at me. I never thought it was that funny, and when I was ultimately asked why, I said it was simple. Who wants to marry someone who’s perfect? You’re saying yourself they can never do anything wrong, and since I know I’m not perfect I’d be constantly reminded that I didn’t measure up, and who wants to be saddled with that?

Of course, the other thing is, if someone does the right thing to get accolades, can they really be considered heroic?

I’m finalizing my panel discussion questions, and still sifting through my thoughts on this. If you think you have any great questions, or examples, I’d appreciate the input. I guess that, with so much of what I read being police procedurals, I definitely don’t qualify as reading for heroes. I mean, cops are heroic. But Rebus, a hero? Not quite how I see him. And then the thrillers I do read, Simon Kernick’s books (particularly featuring Dennis Milne) are definitely not about a conventional hero. He’s an anti-hero if ever there was one. And it seems to me there are a lot of anti-heroes out there in fiction today.

I am looking forward to this panel. I’m with a great group of authors, and I only hope I measure up as moderator. (And we all know there isn't a single person on the planet I worship, right? So I definitely need some help with this topic.)

*Deletta, I bet you’re laughing and thinking what I’m thinking.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

I do think people are looking for heroes, but in recent years, I believe they want them mostly so they can love them for five minutes and then spend the next five years kicking them in the kidneys. Unless they REALLY love them, in which case they get elevated to Untouchable Deity status. And we love our royal dynasties.

So, as a result, we have this thing going on down here in Not Canadia where a legacy royal ass pimple got selected president. Now, these days, a lot of people really hate him, but a certain number of people desperately love him, to the point that they want to have you killed (seriously) if you criticize him. He's either a god or a devil, but more importantly, I think he'd be nothing more than a ne'er-do-well creeping into dotage except for being scion of one of America's royal lineages.

Back in 1999 he got hero-worshipped. Some people didn't like him, of course, the way some people don't like Brad or Jen, but the desperate hate produced by six years of imperial arrogance and crimes against humanity hadn't developed yet. Either he was loved as the wingnut answer to the Kennedys or he was written off as a dumb brat who rode his daddy's coattails to national prominence. Now we know for sure he's a dumb brat who breaks everything he touches, but he hero worship thing is so strong among certain folk that he's effectively divine to them. Tell that to all the people he killed adverturating in the Middle East, I guess.

I know nothing about the Trudeaus, but I do know that royal legacies are a really bad basis for democratic government. Justin Whosiswhatsis might be an effective leader, but it's doubtful that will have anything to do with whether or not he successful getting elected.

My analysis, when it comes to our "heroes", the collective human race is dumb as a box of rocks. But oh, do we pay for our folly.

Anonymous said...

I do think people are looking for heroes, but in recent years, I believe they want them mostly so they can love them for five minutes and then spend the next five years kicking them in the kidneys. Unless they REALLY love them, in which case they get elevated to Untouchable Deity status. And we love our royal dynasties.

So, as a result, we have this thing going on down here in Not Canadia where a legacy royal ass pimple got selected president. Now, these days, a lot of people really hate him, but a certain number of people desperately love him, to the point that they want to have you killed (seriously) if you criticize him. He's either a god or a devil, but more importantly, I think he'd be nothing more than a ne'er-do-well creeping into dotage except for being scion of one of America's royal lineages.

Back in 1999 he got hero-worshipped. Some people didn't like him, of course, the way some people don't like Brad or Jen, but the desperate hate produced by six years of imperial arrogance and crimes against humanity hadn't developed yet. Either he was loved as the wingnut answer to the Kennedys or he was written off as a dumb brat who rode his daddy's coattails to national prominence. Now we know for sure he's a dumb brat who breaks everything he touches, but he hero worship thing is so strong among certain folk that he's effectively divine to them. Tell that to all the people he killed adverturating in the Middle East, I guess.

I know nothing about the Trudeaus, but I do know that royal legacies are a really bad basis for democratic government. Justin Whosiswhatsis might be an effective leader, but it's doubtful that will have anything to do with whether or not he's successful getting elected.

My analysis, when it comes to our "heroes", the collective human race is dumb as a box of rocks. But oh, do we pay for our folly.

John McFetridge said...

Good questions, Sandra, interesting stuff.

I think people react to Rebus for the same reason the "loner cop" has always been popular - he wants the truth and damn the consequences. Police forces are like any other large group of people - the ambitious, ass-kissers who play the best politics rise to the top - not the "best" people. We see it everyday in our regular jobs and maybe we'd all like to be a little more like Rebus. Except he reminds us of the consequences, he has no real family, not many real friends and not much of a life. His "career" has suffered. Does that make him heroic? It's often easier to be a hero to strangers than to family.

And yeah, there are a lot of anti-heroes these days, but they don't ever seem to suffer many consequences, either. I've always liked the central idea of Tony Soprano - he wants to be respected as a businessman and provider for his family, but he also likes the thug life. He's actually torn.

I've never liked the idea of hero worship. And sadly, I've started to think our political leaders really do reflect the mood, rather than lead it. That was the thing about Trudeau (you make me feel so old, sometimes), he tried to lead. "There's no place for the government in the bedrooms of Canadians," was a big deal at the time, very controversial and no "political advisor" would have wanted him to go there. It led to huge changes in people's lives and attitudes. Were those changes good or bad? I don't know.

Justin gave a pretty moving speech at his dad's funeral, that's where a lot of this started. Someone's got to PM, I always look for the guy I think will do the least damage.

Anonymous said...

People are suspicious of heroes because the media spotlight focuses intensely, and for a long time. Everybody slips up, or eventually does something not to all the public's taste.

Not that impressed with Justin Trudeau. At least with his someone stagey style of oratory. Wait 'til he gets older, and see if he can play that aquiline Roman Emperor thing properly.

Well, there are still a few Canadian athletes who have avoided being arrested.

Maybe it's better that our heroes stay fictional. Sherlock Holmes, now there's a guy with no hidden vices and whom we can all get behind! ;)

Anonymous said...

Jesus, I hate this new Blogger bullshit. I had a great comment about heroes vs. anti-heroes and the rise of Barak Obama in the US; and since you have to sign in with Google and then sign in with Blogger, the damn thing is lost. Sorry, just ranting. Just know that the comment was brilliant.

Keith said...

"Gorgeous" just means "noticeably younger than the competition." The same thing happens to young authors. I'm not gorgeous, but when my first couple of books came out, suddenly I got fawned over. I was just young, non-hideous, and published.

I think the kind of thriller heroes you described are popular for several reasons. For one, they let us feel, for a while, that impossible odds can be overcome if you're just Good. (This is not true in life.) For another, they provide predictability--they will most likely live. (This is not true in life.) And possibly most attractive, they have clearly defined goals and a linear, forceful approach to them in which the conventions of society can be ignored. Truth matters. (This is rarely true in life.)

Or I could be wrong.

As for marrying someone at least a little sinful... the alternative doen't exist.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Bill, I definitely agree with you about the basis of electing a democratic government. And since you're talking dynasty, does that mean you look forward to saluting Jenna one of these days?

John, I agree with you about Rebus. "Someone's got to PM, I always look for the guy I think will do the least damage." I also agree. Hence my no NDP position. They're good to have in the opposition, not as the official opposition. A good third party because they pay attention to social issues. But they have no sense of fiscal responsibilities and spend into debt in the provinces when they're elected. And very bad for business. And putting provinces into debt ultimately means more taxes for people, so all it does is kill the economy. Sorry. Off my rant now.

"Well, there are still a few Canadian athletes who have avoided being arrested." Jack, thanks for the big laugh of the morning!

Steve, I too hate the new blogger thing. Truly. Google is being a supreme pain in the ass.

Keith, excellent points. To a large degree, it's escapism, I think. Nothing wrong with seeking that in your fiction either. As Jack said, maybe it's safer that our heroes are fictional...

Anonymous said...

Heroes. You just don't pick the easy topics, do you? You realize this is only playing into my arrogant windbag compulsion, right?

Short answer, yes, I think people are looking for heroes in thrillers.

Long answer-

I don't think we have much in the way of heroes these days, at least not the way they're so often defined in the media. We have a lot of icons and archetypes, people who are worshipped not for what they have done, but for what they represent. Strenth and agility on the basketball court, success, fame and worship on the stage, the screen, or coming out of the stereo.

Notice how writers aren't on that list? When was the last time a Kansas ingenue came to Hollywood and blew the writer? Anyway, I digress.

I think that these people are elevated to this status because it's what people are looking for. The value systems have changed, though maybe not that much. I think the foundation has always been "This person is something I wish to be."

I think you get a lot of people tagged with the hero label for being a good athlete or a popular singer because the ones doing the tagging are media outlets trying to drum up business in the easily manipulated 18-24 demographic. At no point in our history have we ever had this level of commoditized fame. It's in the best interest of the companies to build up icons and then take them down, because that sells copy, which in turn sells ads.

And they're simple. Easier to watch the destruction of a beloved icon than have to tease apart the complexities of tribal warfare in the Middle East and figure out how that relates to Halliburton and Exxon and Congressional appropriations. Which has been seen by more people? Paris Hilton's blowjob tape, or Syriana?

So, in short, yes, I think people are looking for heroes in thrillers. In books, movies and in the news. Everybody wants to deperately believe that there's a good (or at least better) guy out there. It's just that the definition of it is subjective.

In the U.S. the idea of the cowboy still reigns supreme. It may not look like it, but the romanticized pieces are still there. Lone wolf, does things his way, gets the job done, strong moral code that sometimes involves killing, etc.

How the hell else do you explain a Texan president?

I think you can tell a lot about what people (big generality, I know, but bear with me) look for in a hero by the fictional characters they gravitate toward. Just like how science fiction is so often a thinly veiled reference to current day events, I think successful thrillers show us the heroes we wish we had in our lives. How this works in light of Ken Bruen novels I have no idea. Maybe a desire of painful truth over glossed over fantasy?

We have identifiers for heroes. They're strong. They're intelligent. They have a strong moral compass, driven more by justice than pesky details like law. They get the bad guy. They're always right, or if they're not they make up for it by beating the crap out of the right guy at the right time. More often than not, they're good looking. Even if they're ugly.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Well Stephen, why would I want to make it easy? You know me - supremely difficult!

But thank you for the long, thoughtful answer...

All of you have given me a lot to think about in this panel prep.

And blogger no longer tells me when someone posts a comment. Oh, the joy that is blogger!

Anonymous said...

I can't add anything to what's already been said here, Sandra. I'll mention a couple of specific things re heros, and then a few things about the Trudeaus seeing as how my memory's longer. :)

We had two young men (21 and 22 yrs old) come upon a truck off the road deep in snow late at night between my home town and the next city. Lights were on, truck running, tank full, no one around. They searched the area then went into the city to the first gas station to see if anyone'd called for a tow truck. No one had. They called police who said it was out of their jurisdiction; to call next cop shop. They did, and met a single cop out there; started to search further out. Found a 77yr old man with a cane who couldn't stand up. Brought him back to truck and radioed for EMS etc. They took off at a run to look for his wife, plowing through snow and calling - found her lying down, hypothermic etc. Another half hr. and she would've died. She's 90 yrs old. We hear so much negative stuff about young people today, yet these two guys didn't give up, they knew something was wrong even when the cops couldn't care less, and they saved two elderly people who got scared and left their truck in the ditch when they should've stayed in the truck and stayed warm. It was -18 degrees out. These two are heroes. They're normal, everyday guys who had the moral courage not to give up when they knew something wasn't right. I think "we" all need these kinds of heroes in real life and in fiction. They remind us of our humanity and how we should behave.

My other example of a small act of heroism was on the news this a.m. Suzanne Sommers had her entire home and all her possessions burnt to the ground on Malibu Beach yesterday. Nothing left but ashes and a couple of burnt beams. Four houses were completely destroyed in this fire. And yet, she said to the reporter that it "was just a house" and they would rebuild, that no one had died and that would've been so much worse, and she believed that through these kinds of tragedies you had to grow spiritually and emotionally. I thought that was pretty heroic of her. She was completely dry-eyed. If it was me, I'd be wailing about my lost scrapbooks, my dead dog, etc. Her public persona has so often been that of a "ditzy blonde", but she was totally together and just talking about how it was only material things and how they'd come out of it all right. I was impressed with her "heroism" or demeanor - there's a TV star who's showing her personal side. Anyway, it was impressive to me. :)

Re Justin Trudeau - He was born on Christmas Day so he's famous just for that alone. I don't remember what he does for a living, but I know he didn't go into law as his dad wanted him to. He and his wife just had a baby boy yesterday but haven't named him yet. His youngest brother Michel was killed in an avalanche skiing about four or five years ago. His mother Margaret was physically abused by Pierre to the point of the "famous" black eye picture that he couldn't keep out of the paper. She has bipolar disorder and has been outspoken about it in support of educating people about it since her second marriage. Justin has been playing cat and mouse with the Liberals over running for about 5 years and I agree, it makes you gag when all of Ottawa knows that his dad always wanted him to follow in his footsteps and become PM someday. Ben Mulroney, son of Brian Mulroney, also a former PM, at least followed his own path and went into TV - although I'm sure he didn't have a problem getting a job there when I know it's practically impossible to do that unless you know someone who knows someone. So his family name got him his career too. Justin will undoubtedly be elected on his name alone. Stephane Dion is right to be worried. It's unfortunate, but as a society we do hold up certain families as our "royalty" like the Kennedy's, or any Presidential family, or any outstanding Prime Ministerial family. I don't think we've done that since the Trudeaus, and that was because Pierre was such an outspoken, in-your-face, character. I can't think of any PM before or since him who would've had the guts to invoke the War Measures Act when we had the FLQ crisis in Quebec. So in that sense, he was a hero. A leader, flawed, but taking risks, action, decisive, responsibility, doing what had to be done and what everyone else was afraid to do. He was somewhat of a lone wolf too.

So we may not have as many Canadian lineages as Bill mentions, but you're right, will Justin be a good leader just because of his genes? His mother being bipolar, and the disorder being inherited through the mother, it would be interesting to know whether or not he or his other brother (who you hear nothing about) Sascha (also born on Christmas Day two years later) have inherited it. What would the voters think then? :)

Sandra Ruttan said...

Laurie, what a story about those two guys. Amazing. See, I think I agree that they are heroes. In the very least, heroic.

A friend of mine from high school was in a boating incident. The vessel capsized and he was in frigid water with his father-in-law. He treaded water and held his father-in-law above water until they were rescued, and it was for quite a length of time, I don't recall exactly how long. Of course, I also know the person to be a genuine sweetheart. Rob was always a class act and a great person.

I heard about Suzanne's home yesterday. I was actually more impressed by what happened at one of the other homes, not that what you recount here isn't impressive. I would have been a wreck.

But one of her neighbours was also away, and they'd hired a dog sitter to look after the family pets - 4 as I recall. The dog sitter wasn't there when the fire broke out. She rushed to the house and rescued two of the dogs. And she was sobbing when she spoke to the media, because as she said, the dogs were like those people's children and the other two were missing.

She was so upset about those dogs and she risked her life...and they weren't even hers.

You do know far more about the Trudeau's than I do. Of course, my own mother being bipolar, I could get into a very lengthy discussion about that alone. I knew about the brother dying because it happened near here.

Didn't they also want to rename Mt. Logan Mt. Trudeau?

It's embarrassing I don't know more about them, in a way.

This ended up being an interesting discussion, though. Lots of interesting points to consider and things to make me think.

gimbol said...

Seeing the adulation having more to do with filling a void than a living example of good behaviour isn't really about heroics is it.

What your noticing isn't hero worship, its tabloidism. Its the type of adulation that gives reality shows good ratings.

Heroism is self-sacrifice, emphasis on the sacrifice.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Gimbol, good points. Perhaps that's part of the problem. And I find myself wondering how many protags in thrillers really are heroic... or if they're just out for their own brand of justice.

Anonymous said...

We read thrillers for the heroes in them because we have so little control over our own lives. Our governments, our companies, our bosses, even our partners and families all have a huge say in the things that we can and cannot do.

A hero in a thriller is a chance for us to escape into a world where we can do what we think is right, where our opinion is the only one that counts because we don't give a damn about what anyone else thinks. And while in the real world we are far too aware of the consequences of our actions, if a hero suffers from his decisions, we may read about the consequences, but we certainly don't have to go through them ourselves.

That all sounds somewhat gloomy, but the flipside is that reading about heroes can teach us ways to be heroes in our own lives.

Maybe we don't have to infiltrate a terrorist camp and kill every bad guy with our bare hands and teeth, but we can find smaller ways. Could be that we stand up to our bosses and complain about the quality of the biscuits in the tea-room, or the air-conditioning, or the fact that we use far too much paper.

Escapism and inspiration. That's what it comes down to for me.