Heroes, and the concept of heroes, have become an integral part of society. With so many heroes in history, not to mention the hundreds of superhero books and movies, it’s no wonder that society holds such a fascination for heroes. But this fascination is held mostly for the concept of heroes and what they represent. People care less about the person and more about what that person represents. People find an idea that they love, then rally behind the person or persons who represent that idea.
Examples of people only caring about what a hero represents is seen all throughout history. Howard Zinn points this out in his essay Unsung Heroes where he mentions a number of heroes in history that people often look to and points out people that would better fit the role of the hero. The essay has many great points about who people should actually be looking to as heroes, but many people will never take this essay to heart. People often times don’t care about their heroes as people, but as ideas. Abraham Lincoln for example, he had to be pushed by others to issue the Emancipation Proclamation and pass the amendments that were do help with racism. The fact that Lincoln was actually kind of racist is often over looked because he is the person that represents that start of civil rights. In the case of Lincoln, as well as many other heroes, the only part about them that matters is the part that people decide to remember and look to. While this essay points out the terrible traits of heroes, it doesn’t matter, because these heroes have ceased being people and have instead become an idea for people to look to.
An idea lives on much longer than a person ever could, so it’s important for heroes to represent ideas rather than a person. Sometimes they are represented as a changing person though. There are many superhero movies out there and in many films the superheroes are played by different actors. For example, many different people have played Spiderman, but, despite arguments over who is the best Spiderman, people will easily agree that they are all still Spiderman. It’s much harder for viewers to accept new actors in new roles, but it’s commonplace for superheroes. The characters in V for Vendetta also show how it’s the idea of a person that’s important. At the end of the graphic novel, V tells Finch “there is no flesh or blood in this cloak to kill. There’s only an idea” (236, Moore, Lloyd). Even after Finch kills the person who was behind the mask, he did not truly kill V because V was an idea. Different, mortal people could wear the mask, but V serves as an immortal symbol for people to look at for years. People then devote themselves to this idea.
When people rally behind their heroes though, and devote themselves to their ideas, they often find themselves giving something up. People find themselves dependent on heroes, devoid of their own thoughts and opinions. It’s a mindset that Fyodor Dostoevsky discussed in his book The Brothers Karamazov. Two brothers were having a conversation, when he eldest brother, Ivan, tells a story to his younger brother, Alyosha, of Jesus coming to earth and the Grand Inquisitor detains him so he can tell him all about how humans really act. With the Grand Inquisitor playing the role as the hero for his people, it’s accurate when he says that the people “have brought us their freedom and have laid it humbly at our feet”(289). The people gave up their freedom and yearned for someone else to lead and make decisions for them. People keep heroes so that they can look to them for guidance and eventual happiness. These heroes, again, then turn into an idea.
People do not look to heroes to see another person, but to see themselves. They wish to see their own goals and happiness achieved through this idea that is represented by a person. Heroes take an unassuming identity so that people can maintain a concept of a hero who may or may not deserve the position that they have received.