I am all for high aspirations and idealism. If given the choice between the easy low road and the craggy often treacherous high road I always prefer the latter. Modern society, however, encourages practicality, profit, and the work grind for the individual and the “greater good” for society. This has blurred the outline of the ideal hero and resulted in two kinds of hero that I think the world can really do without: the “dark” hero and the “Rambo” hero.
Striving to be a hero, especially for males in many cultures is something that is ingrained from a very young age. We see it in modern media and even in folklore. The stereotypical hero is a person who helps their people, often by overcoming great odds or challenges while also achieving great fame.
The hero type that brings me the greatest sadness is the Rambo wannabe. I have run in to this type of man in a few of the world’s less publicized war zones, but especially in Southeast Asia. Often younger combat veterans with severe PTSD, they seek out causes that they can feel good about and go right to the front line, guns blazing. In theory this is a selfless sacrifice and a quite understandable reaction to feeling used and betrayed in what is perceived as unjust and useless wars. In practice, it is a suicidal mania that often gets good men killed.
Especially in tribal environments, a foreign fighter (often falling into the new category of hybrid warrior ) is seen as an honored guest and letting said guest get killed is a great dishonor. There have been many a local fighter from Burma to Syria who have been killed trying to protect dumbass Americans and Brits especially who mount a one man charge against a battalion sized element. No body wins, and the civilian population that the Rambo wannabe is trying to protect is now much more vulnerable. Ultimately, the Rambo wannabe becomes no better than the foreign fighters in ISIS/DAESH or other terrorist groups around the world.
The “dark” hero really isn’t as bad. It is much harder to emulate these characters in real life, so you get less dark hero wannabes than Rambo wannabes. Nevertheless, as a father the position of dark heroes as sexier that idealistic heroes bothers me. I have incredibly strong feelings about the power of stories to impact the development of a child, and the development of society as a whole. Take Donald Trump, for example. I would say he is the Deadpool of politics. Not to pick on Deadpool too much because I think he’s a very entertaining character, but when upheld as a hero it sends the wrong message.
I would argue that the societal shift towards the dark hero is what has brought us from Teddy Roosevelt to Donald Trump. Theodore would have brought the Trump to tears with vigorous fisticuffs- but sadly he has moved on to greater endeavors. My hope is that we will turn again towards idealistic heroes as a nation so that we can guide our young people towards a better path than we have taken.