I just recently read Biill O'Reilly's review of the movie "True Grit", a remake of the John Wayne classic of the same name. I haven't seen the movie yet, but if O'Reilly's assessment is at all accurate, then we in America are suffering from a distinct shortage of heroic icons to look up to. Apparently the main lead, played by Wayne in the original and by Jeff Bridges in the remake, is a hard drinking U.S. Marshal who, despite his shortcomings, is able to uphold some semblance of law and order in the Wild West, and help a young girl avenge the death of her father at the hands of some gang of desperadoes. John Wayne was and still is a hero in the eyes of many people belonging to my parents' and grandparents' generations. He is even a hero in the eyes of some of my own generation. Those who appreciate the past, mostly, and can see beyond the idea that that person is "passe" because he starred in "old movies".
Yet where are our heroes today? The world today is far different than it was fifty years ago, as many belonging to previous generations can no doubt attest. Looking around, you could probably see the difference if you only looked hard enough. In fact, you need look no further than Hollywood to see how much the world (or at least the country) has changed since our parents were kids.
When they were young, they had a clear representation of who their heroes were. Whether it be their parents, another relative, a sports figure, or even a superhero like Superman or Green Hornet. Back in those days, Hollywood produced all manner of genuine heroes for kids to look up to, from the Lone Ranger to Bob Kane's Batman (adapted from the comics of the time), or the aforementioned Green Hornet, who did the right thing in spite of being labeled a criminal (unjustly) by the local law enforcement. As O'Reilly says in his article regarding the remake of True Grit, we as Americans had a clearer set of boundaries back then. It was easy to find heroes, because we just looked for people who tried to emphasize the good in life over the shortcomings. Not to mention, in those days, when the family wasn't under constant assault by those who would see it destroyed, children could simply look to their father or mother to find someone worthy of admiration.
Those people are harder to find today. Not impossible, but certainly harder to find. Today children have no real sense of who their heroes are, in my view, because so may of our traditional boundaries have been crossed, and the "outrageous" bar continues to rise higher and higher while other bars, such as the education and accomplishment bars, continue to be lowered. Comic books, for example, continue to become more "gritty" and "realistic" in order to appeal to an audience who wants things to be "believable". There is still, and always will be, an element of the fantastic to them, as there was in the Golden and Silver Ages of comics, but for the most part the gleaming "shining city on a hill" that heroes were in the past has given way to "heroes are no different than you or I."
This is not to say that one needs some sort of elaborate, physics defying superpower or a Domino mask to be a hero. As we saw in the aftermath of September 11th, the National Guard, as well as the New York Fire and Police departments, proved that heroes do still exist today, and risk their lives daily in service to others. My lament, however, comes from the idea that such examples are few and far between in today's world. Back to my earlier assessment involving Hollywood, it seems that what once defined a hero fifty years ago no longer does so in the eyes of the entertainment industry. We hear all day long about the shortcomings of so many of our Hollywood icons, like Lindsay Lohan, Charlie Sheen, and others, that we forget that it wasn't always this way. Once upon a time, I seem to remember Charlton Heston in a film telling the epic story of the Ten Commandments. What happened, I wonder, to that Hollywood, that has been replaced by a Hollywood that seems to focus now on making films that try to break as many Commandments as possible as quickly as possible, as many times as possible?
That being said, most of you probably think by now that I don't believe their ARE any real heroes in today's world, but that simply isn't true. I believe that heroes still exist, though like true heroes they don't seek recognition for what they do. The U.S. military, by and large, is full of people like that, as are the aforementioned police and fire departments. And let's not forget historical figures. Martin Luther King is a hero to may. Not just blacks, either, but people of all walks of life, because of his message of a color blind society, which I believe we have largely achieved since his death.
Ordinarily I'd go on and on about how the Founders were heroes as well. People who risked everything, their "lives, fortunes, and sacred honor" to live their own lives according to their own destiny, but to those who read this blog, that very likely goes without saying.
I suppose that the point I'm trying to make by rambling on like this is simply that heroes are not born. They're made. Heroes are people who have the strength to stand by their principals without regard for what others might think. In that context, there are heroes made every day. The American people attempting to stop the race toward socialism in this country is one such example of that kind of heroism, as future generations will likely come to believe.
So after all this, what is the answer to the question that makes up the title of this post? Quite simply, heroes haven't gone anywhere. It's simply the type of people who exhibit heroics that have changed. No more do we need to look toward someone in spandex tights and a cape to see true heroism, because it's all around us, if only we have the eyes to recognize it for what it is.