Jason Gardner comments on the need for heroes in a celebrity culture

Jason Gardner
Jason Gardner

I must admit that whenever I'm asked who my heroes are I struggle for a response. Of course the usual suspects from history pop up, 'Jesus,' 'Ghandi,' 'Martin Luther King' but I'm conscious that I'm also trying to stop myself blurting out fictional legends as well, 'Jack Bauer', 'Homer Simpson,' 'The Incredible Hulk!'

And when the question gets a little deeper: 'who do I choose as a role model?' I struggle even more. Sure it seems that Homer Simpson is the obvious choice, he's got it all, looks, well apart from the jaundice, an enviable cavalier attitude to taking risks, (or is that too dumb to know better), and a good family man apart from the odd attempt at infanticide when disciplining Bart.

The problem is that when it comes to choosing heroes we have simply too many options and that leaves us with too few options: a culture saturated by media presents us with thousands of potential heroes and heroines so we inevitably ending up 'narrowing' our choices down to a select canon of 'worthies'. It's a little bit like those naff list programmes on Channel four on a Saturday night, you know '100 greatest films,' '100 greatest film stars,' '100 greatest snacks the stars have had for lunch.' As these programmes are endlessly recycled we end up only selecting from a narrow list.

That's why 'Jaws' 'Star Wars' and 'The Godfather' will always be in the top ten of movie greats. That's why when anyone asks me who my heroes are, the chance is I'll always be tempted to recite the mantra 'Jesus' 'Ghandi' 'Martin Luther King.' The media does effectively choose the canon from which we select when it comes to picking heroes. It chooses our heroes for us.

OK so I'm exaggerating to make a point. Those of us who get our info from sources a little wider than 'Heat' magazine may very well have a unique little selection of role models from the annals of history. But for many young people, when asked the question what do they want to do when they grow up, the answer often comes back, 'pro-footballer' 'pop-diva' 'Hollywood starlet.' It's obvious that for so many success and satisfaction in life is equated with fame and yet more fame and that's just plain unhealthy.

In many areas so great is the pedestal we've placed celebrities on that it becomes a struggle to help young people aspire to be anything different. And when the reality sets in that not everyone can be Kylie or Robbie often a huge sense of dissatisfaction occurs when a career other than super stardom has to be settled for.

Is it any wonder that many young women want to take as easier path as is perceived possible to fame by becoming 'glamour' models? Jordan does have a lot to answer for. We need, somehow, to broaden the horizon of young people when it comes to people they wish to mimic.

And it would be helpful if the odd celebrity actually took responsibility for the role they play in shaping young people's lives. Stars often claim that they have no desire to be a role model but the fact is they don't have any choice either: being in the public eye makes them such. As American author Robert Fulgham once said 'Don't worry that children never listen to you. Worry that they are always watching you.'

Children are watching, listening and learning from celebrities 24/7 without any real critical awareness.

Time for a new 'canon' of heroes then, perhaps as families, communities, churches we need more readily to identify and celebrate not just legends of history but local heroes - the people without whom such communities would collapse; parents, vicars, shop owners, babysitters. The list of course is endless, because I'd like to think that although it's clichéd it is true that we're all heroes in someone's eyes. CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.