Monday, March 16, 2009

Childhood Heroes Don't Exist Anymore

Gone are the days of the clean cut B-serial hero fighting evil and do gooding his way into our hearts. Good and Evil were once clearly defined from the opening scenes with heroes and villains appearing either Evil or Good right out of the gate. Mustaches and black hats and names like Black Bart or Snidley Whiplash left no doubt as to the roles these clowns would play. Our imagination was then left free to wander all the possible dastardly wicked things they might try to pull on the White Hat baby faced hero who would rather kiss his horse than Laura the buxom young maiden in distress.

Heroes were always patriotic. Heroes often gave their lives to uphold an ideal. Heroes were our notion of Ethics and Morality with the muscle to defeat the weaker sides of our more often than not villainous sides. Heroes told us what we should be, not what we really were.

I used to watch these cinematic heroes and read about my comic book heroes as a kid and often think about why we needed fake heroes when all we had to do was step up to the plate a little more often ourselves. With the child's mind it seemed simple to me.

Of course the black and white outlook of childhood tends to fade as we accumulate faults and imperfections over time. Life mutates from a literal world to a world of shades, dark corners, and subtle differences. We learn this on our own most of the time. It does not have to be taught to us. We outgrew the innocence our parents and other stewards tried to retain for us as long as possible. The ugly side of the Planet would catch up to us anyway, so why thrust us into it right out of the gate?

That attitude seems to have changed. The heroes of our children are darker now, more human like. They still fight evil for the most part, but the creators have decided to incorporate faults alongside the noble and true. So we end up with heroes like Watchmen or V. A group of heroes right out of an Ayn Rand novel. Heroes who end up doing good even if they did not intend to. Heroes who will not save ourselves from ourselves. They will often stand by while we destroy ourselves and only help those in our way.

And it is too bad in a way. Children now start on a diet of Barney and Tele Tubbies and move right into the ghettos of human experience. In grade school the reality that they see at home is often reinforced by the mass media onslaught of flawed do gooders who often miss the mark of true "Hero".

I suppose it could be looked at in a positive light though. Trying to deny some of the complexities that make up the Human Race and filling their heads with a Pollyanna overview might not prepare them for the reality that encroaches young lives at what seems a lower age every decade or so.

Sex at age ten. Carrying guns to school at age eleven. Substance abuse starting in third grade. Beauty pageants for five year olds. Plastic surgery by age eight. Children now have to grow up faster than I did. The world may revolve at the same speed it has for ages, but the pace at which we try to keep up has stepped up many notches. The time frame we allow our children to just be children without adult baggage has narrowed to the point where being a child is now more a case of being born a small adult and the only thing we let them do is change their clothing sizes.


(625 / 7070)


Demeur said...

There was a time when we were kids that TV had a code, the NAB code. It was the standard that prevented profanity, anything sexually provocative, nudity etc to be shown or said on TV. In that code the bad guy never won. Crime did not pay and was always punished in some manner. Somewhere along the line the code was abandoned. Criminals now win. Todays heros are at times portrayed in as nearly an evil way as the bad guys. That has set us up for the problems we now face. It seems that now the ends justify the means. It's a win at all cost mentality. Cheat if you must but get out there and win. If you get caught lie and demand evidence. We see it in sports as well as our financial and political systems.
Nope the real heros are long gone along with the standards we once lived by. Makes you wonder what it would be like fifty or so years from now.

Bill said...

Don't you think, though, that it was when we started growing that extra hair that we stopped worshiping our clean-cut heros?

Chef Cthulhu said...

Excellent points; I see the value in both the ideal and the reality-based hero, but you really need to be careful in how you allow your children to be exposed to them. I absolutely agree that Rorschach and The Comedian are absolutely not the right hero templates for kids...and anyone who would let their children read (never mind see) The Watchmen, or The Dark Knight etc is not being responsible.

Right now the best thing I can do for my own is to limit what they see and, as much as possible, be that "old-style hero" while still helping them understand that even heroes have trouble and make mistakes...

PipeTobacco said...


My own development somehow differed in that I never developed much of an interest or passion for any of the comic book / movie superheros. I am not exactly sure why, but for me, I always have found the superpower/fantasy genre of comics/books/films to not keep my interest. Yet, I am an avid reader of the science fiction genre that does not involve "fantasy".

That may at first seem an oxymoron, but what I mean is that I have always been much more drawn to science fiction (and fiction, books, comics in general) that had the characters obey the laws of the natural universe (at least as I understood it). So, for me this left out the various realms and situations:

1. Books with fire breathing dragons and the like.

2. Comics with Superheros that could fly etc.

3. Mythical creatures with magical powers.

4. Other similar "hocus-pocus" type situations.

5. Lord of the Rings style works.

Instead, what I read/watched/dreamed about as a kid were all the various science fiction ideas of space travel, how to cope with new life, how to survive in times of danger, etc.

Please do not get me wrong, I *wish* I had more of an inclination to like the fantasy world of superheros. It just never seemed to resonate with me in any way that would keep my interest.

And, I guess that leads to my overall point in this comment... I think I view much of life in this same way. The Obama Presidency falls into sort of the same boat. As a long-standing liberal, I was quite annoyed/aggrivated last Spring/Summer/Fall about the Obama campaign. Not because I did not want him to win over McCain (I voted for him and was glad he won), but I was rather annoyed because there was SO MUCH rhetoric during that time about the "magic and fantasy" such a "superhero/rockstar" president could have. There was so much over-the-top press about him that it seemed that many thought he would put Washington/Jefferson/both Roosevelts/M L King/Kennedy/Ghandi and every other significant leader of the past to shame with his awe and grace.

Now that a few months have passed, I am happily relieved that the vast majority of the overdone hoopla/magic/fantasy of the Obama campaign has dissipated and there is little of the "superhero/rockstar" attitude by most people towards Obama himself.

To me, his new, more realistic, human portrayal of the last month or so has actually positiviely invigorated my opinion of his presidency and I am now VERY HAPPILY looking forward to him being able to accomplish wonderful political goals for our nation. Now that the Superhero veneer has worn mostly off, I like him, his goals, his work ethic, and his agenda FAR FAR more today.

To me now, I now believe he WILL become a GREAT president and leader of our nation... namely because NOW he is a real, breathing, normal person... and not a Superhero/Rockstar.

I am not sure if that makes a helluva lot of sense. But it does represent what I thought about from reading your essay.

Thank you!


Kulkuri said...

Bob Steele was my favorite Black Hat in the movies. Boston Blackie was one that was thought to be bad and had to outsmart the cops to prove he didn't do the crime. I liked when movies started to become more realistic, but now they have swung too far to the dark side. Eventually it will come back, but not all the way back to what it was back when movie making was young.

MRMacrum said...

Demeur - I agree that the NAB code had it's influence. But that can be both good and bad. It ended up giving the 1950s a much better reputation than the decade deserved. In my mind, the NAB represented what was wrong about that decade. I would place some blame on it and the following backlash that resulted as part of the reason our culture has gone so far the other way. Good guys could have been portrayed in a more realistic light. Sex could have been admitted to. Violence could have been treated realistically instead of glorified. No in my opinion, the NAB did more damage than good.

Bill - Absolutely it was. But given the hypocrisy of the preceding 15 to 20 years, an understandable reaction. Only problem it ended up being an overreaction. I include myself when I say we just got too out of control there for a few years. Did our own kind of damage in the meantime.

Chef Cthulhu - As it always has been, it is the parents/caregivers who need to guide the kids through the myriad of choices they are inundated with now. I do not envy a parent now days. There is just wat too much to try and filter. I feel for you Chef.

Pipe Tobacco - I don't know exactly what branch of the scientific world you swing from, but given where you ended up, I am not surprised with your proclivities for fiction as a child. Reality based fiction does not mean a kid has no imagination, just one that has a need to see connections to where they are in the real world. Don't be envious of those of us who can suspend our slim grip on reality and embrace completely whacky ideas. Instead be thankful for what you have in your own mind. It surely seems to have served you well. We all have to find out own way.

And yeah your comment made sense. And thanks for it. I strive to instigate thoughts and conversation. And you just honored me with yours.

MRMacrum said...

Kukiri - You snuck in here while I was replying to the others. I have to say my favorite old movies about bad guys and good guys were the ones that gave humanity to both. Edgar G Robinson, Bogart, both guys who could make you feel some small bit of sympathy for them even as they blasted their way out of the Big House. Today, I think you are right. There is too much glorification of the darker side in Mainstream lit and movies. But as it always has been, one only needs to do a little searching to find small gems of either medium to enjoy as realistic celebrations of Life.

Demeur said...

Crum - Did Pipe Tobacco miss something here? I thought the topic was social norms as they relate to heros in movies and TV. It sounds as if Pipe is purely scientific/mathmatical person never looking at the moral esthetic here.
As for the political campaign this past year you need to remember that such things have been packaged by Madison Ave since JFK.

PipeTobacco said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
PipeTobacco said...

(Note... the above deleted comment was my own that I removed because of significant typographical errors. Here is an improved version of what was there.)

To Demeur:

Demeur stated..."Is Pipe Tobacco missing something here? I thought the topic was social norms as they relate to heros in movies and TV."

My reply... No, I *do* understand the essay was about changes in social norms. But I was more strongly struck by the thoughts of "Superheros" in general and replied to where my thoughts meandered on that topic.

Demeur stated... "It sounds as if Pipe is purely scientific/mathmatical person never looking at the moral esthetic here."

My reply... I apologize if my comment guided you to think I do not ever venture into esthetics, for I can assure you that while I am scientific at one level, I also *do* delve deeply into moral, philosophical, and social esthetics in my thoughts. I tend to view moral ambiguity in "Superheros" as acceptable and useful for learning *if* these ambiguities are not "over-the-top" and excessive beyond typical reality. To me, a version of this "over-the-top" idea in current mythology is displayed by Heath Ledger's character in the Batman film.

His character is not a "Superhero" of course, but a villain. But for this argument the idea is the same...his character is the rough equivalent for the "Villain" and his (in my opinion) character's failings (and perhaps graces) were TOO OVER THE TOP to be remotely enjoyable or believable in a villain.

Demeur stated... "As for the political campaign this past year you need to remember that such things have been packaged by Madison Ave since JFK."

My reply... Yes, I agree with you that much of the campaign was packaged by Madison Avenue. Yet, I think this sort of packaging has been the norm far before JFK. I think the influence of Madison Avenue is impossible to avoid.

In my comment, I was trying to state that the Fall's ethos to make Obama into a saint/god who is destined to be the world's savior was a distasteful form of packaging in my opinion. His new portrayal is much more in keeping with the "natural world/real" esthetic I prefer.

Perhaps all this means is that I like my "heros" super or otherwise to be NATURAL and REALISTIC and not extreme. And in comparing the 50's hero and the current crop... both are EXTREME in ways I am not overly fond of.

So, Demeur, I hope that explains a bit better what it was I was thinking.


Gary ("Old Dude") said...

in the 50's ,and of course earlier, "yes virginia there is a Santa Clause---" formed the basis of much of the presentation of good guys and bad guys, since then----hell no Virginia, no santa clause just perverts, druggies, and gang bangers----but hey look none of them are all bad----is the current mode of presentation. I myself enjoyed the escapism of super heros, that could fly, I liked the clear contrast of the white hats vs the black hats, and thrived on how the two tangled, ending in truth, justice and the American way----but I never confused it with reality.