Role of the Hero in Society: Enemies

Just as the hero is consistently representative of the dominant culture group, so too his enemies tend to have the same characteristics.  In the ancient past they were a rationalization of the conquered peoples.  The giants among the Norse, the Amazons among the Greeks, and the various little people of the British Isles were all the representations of the conquered in common memory.  Tiamat among the Mesopotamians and the Titans of Greek myth were symbols of the religions they had overthrown.  In all these cases, creating hero myths was a means of  simplifying conquests into a simple equation of good and evil for future generations.

At the dawn of the historical period the role of the hero was adjusted from a means of assuaging guilt into a tool for the development of nationalism.  As such, characters such as William Wallace, Yoshitsune, and Roland now fought real people that the culture group already viewed as enemies.  So, King Arthur may have fought only Britons in his lifetime, but with the rise of this new form of hero he became a British symbol in their fight against the English.  After 1136, the English adopted him as their hero and used him to demonstrate their superiority over all of Britain and the continent.

The newspaper became a powerful instrument in the development of nationalism with the widespread development of reading in the nineteenth century; Bismarck would employ it to unite all of Germany.  But it wasn’t long before the hero had transformed again.  Here in the United States that change came at the conclusion of the Civil War.  At the time, the nation’s pop culture revolved around three types of heroes – Indian fighters, outlaw gunfighters and the lawmen who fought them (and were often not much more legal than the outlaws).  These weren’t, in either case, figures of national importance or even individuals whose exploits were being used to foster a sense of nationalism.  They were instead indications of American’s state of mind.  Years of brainwashing had convinced our forefathers that the Indians were savages and so all activities surrounding them were clouded with that viewpoint.  Indian fighters represented our ability to tame America.  Likewise with the lawmen, whose purview was U.S. settlements.

And it was easy to associate many outlaws with a continuing rebellion against the north because several individuals, the James brothers among them, had fought for the south during the war.  Outlaws could be seen as a rebellion against the civilizing of the west as well in their attacks on the railroads, banks, and stagecoaches that embodied that expanding civilization.

But these types of heroes could only survive in a specific environment, and that environment disappeared with improvements in train travel and law enforcement.  And of course the people who had helped to “tame” the west got old.

In a way, the very tools that destroyed the environment became the new concerns.  The blatant use of power demonstrated by Rockefeller, Carnegie, and Morgan made the American public aware and fearful of the economically powerful.  The very machines that had made life easier were also seen for the first time as taking jobs – and their potential was limitless.  The highly intelligent people who were making these technological improvements had abilities beyond the imaginations of most people.  Concerns about where their inventions might lead were terrifying; the horrors of World War I (mustard gas, tanks, first major use of a practical machine gun) were a perfect justification for those fears.  And they took personified form in the Lex Luthors, the Jokers, and the Brainiacs of the newly forming comic book universe.  But what they are at their core is undeniable; our fears being beaten by our heroes.

The intelligent invent things like microelectronics and the Internet right along with bombs and smaller weapons, their contributions vary with the environment.  Machines are limited in morality and abilities by their creators.  And although the wealthy are capable of great evils in our world, they are not all evil.  

Personally, I would love to see a villain representing the real evils in our society; those controlling the progression of recycling and the use of environmentally-friendly fuels.  Or the people who pay for our politicians.  Someone not necessarily smart or evil, just self-centered and wealthy.

But, I don’t see that happening as long as we need our bad guys to wear all black and twirl their mustaches for us.  How about you?

About Cian Beirdd

I live with my kitty, and encourage his tuna and catnip addictions. I have a website as well;
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12 Responses to Role of the Hero in Society: Enemies

  1. I think the Marvel movies are beginning to head in an issue-centric direction. DC has been on that road for a long ime, to one degree or another since I was a kid (50+ years). The literature of fantasy heroes and heroines is surprisingly eco-friendly. Think Kevin Hearne and his Iron Druid, for example. All of these are significantly more earth-aware and anti-establishment than traditional ‘heroes.’

    Nonetheless, I’m skeptical (cynical may be more apt), wondering if we far too late in addressing the damage we’ve done to our world.

    I just don’t see progress. Fracking isn’t progress. Oil spills have devastated so much and there will be more because the barges are unregulated (unregulatable?). We keep building, destroying habitats in the name of progress, damming rivers, cutting down forests. It’s as if no one gets the connection between forests and the oxygen we breathe.

    Every predator larger than a raccoon is endangered. World wide, every land animal that might compete with human herds or trample someone’s vegetable patch — or for that matter, flower garden — is near extinction. I look around me and I don’t see things getting better, not even a little better.

    I’m glad I won’t be around for the series closer of the human being show.

    • Cian Beirdd says:

      Wow! I obviously agree to much of what you wrote (hard not to). My initial response though is too how much you will love the Age of Obsidian” series as it develops. Think people never aging, being raised by a woman who survived the tail end of the ice age, hiding as the world became more aggressive with the growth of deserts, but all the while developing Eco-friendly tech. Atlanteans, super powered martial artists who have no desire to hurt. You may really get a kick out of it.

      • It sounds like my kind of story. Especially important because so many of the writers I’ve been following are ending their series’ and having stated forward on new ones yet. I need a fantasy fix REAL bad. Reality doesn’t do the job for me at ALL!! Let me know when I can get a look. I’m hungry for magic šŸ™‚

  2. Cian Beirdd says:, look up author Cian Beirdd or the story “Kediak of the Biainili”, and purchase. Type in coupon code SS34D and it is a free purchase. I tried it under my real name already to make sure it is.

  3. jcalberta says:

    We see an interesting (disturbing?) evolution in modern movies. The perceived need to ‘raise the bar’ from movie to movie has also raised the violence; the special effects; the sound volume – and the blood and gore. is this proof that a ‘desensitization’ is indeed taking place? – as what impacted us previously now has little effect? In the recent Lone Ranger movie, for instance, we see the bad guy rip the heart out of a Ranger and munch on it. (I never heard a peep from anyone about this scene) Strangely, they baulked at directly showing it – seen as a reflection – yet the obvious impact is still there. Made all the more potent due to the contrast with what we have known as the Lone Ranger in the past. And we wonder in future edits (a Directors Cut? – if you’ll excuse the expression), whether if this will not be completely shown … ???
    Yes the images of our Heroes? do change with time.
    Marvel though, is interesting, in that most of their Heroes are a throw back to the age of the Iconic Hero/good guy – clean, virtuous, brave, honourable, ethical, etc. … whereas we see many other depictions of our Heroes in modern film as either flawed – or anti-heroes = real/human. Is the obvious popularity of the comic book movies a testament that people yearn for the high ideals of yesteryear …??
    I don’t know.
    Hi Yo Silver … Away !!!

    • And maybe that at least partly accounts for the amazing popularity of DC and Marvel heroes. Garry and I are both fans, even though neither of us has looked at a comic book for at least 40 years, maybe more. I think we are throwbacks too. We like heroes that are solidly on the side of good. I like a clear line in the sand vis-a-vis right and wrong. Definitely old fashioned. Apparently we are in good company.

      I refuse to see the “new” Long Ranger. Nope, not going there.

      • Cian Beirdd says:

        The blood and gore is a product of our society’s weakening; you can see that in any culture as it passes its zenith. And I know that I like my characters black and white as well, but grays make them deeper, for the most part. For instance Arthur and Kediak are gray characters (Iron Man/Thor/Loki), they are interesting and deep, whereas the black and white characters such as Xia or Danae (Captain America) are clearly good and therefore seemingly shallow. I can tell you from experience, creating a clearly black or white character and making them seem real (let alone interesting) is extremely difficult.

      • Cian Beirdd says:

        I like Lone Ranger. Tanto actually had a personality and was not a stereotype. The plot was better than the older versions. Depp had his funny moments, but he knew when to cool it for the movie’s benefit. After Silverado and High Noon, my favorite Western.

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