Monday, 3 March 2008

Media Monday: I Need a Hero

Just once I would like to see someone who's been involved in some sort of dramatic event--a battle, a hostage situation, a plane crash--say, "Yeah, I guess I am a hero." Would the newspaper headlines announce: "'I Am a Hero' Says Bus Plunge Saviour"?

We certainly see the polar opposite often enough. The latest person not to be a hero is Prince Harry, third in line to the British crown and just back from Afghanistan. The BBC reports that Harry thinks he's not a hero. The News of the World, on the other hand, insists that he is. So is "every British soldier fighting out in Afghanistan," says the NOTW. The Sun can't resist the alliterative possibility--nay, the duty--inherent in the prince's name. For the Sun, he will always by "Hero Harry."

Who else isn't a hero? There's Wesley Aubrey, the New York City man who last year jumped onto the subway track to pull a man from the path of an oncoming train. (“I’m still saying I’m not a hero ... 'cause I believe all New Yorkers should get into that type of mode,” said Aubrey.) Also not-a-hero is Ken Hammond, a Utah police officer who saved shoppers from a mall shooter. (He hedges his bets a bit, saying "I don't necessarily feel like a hero.") Nathan Oakshaw isn't a hero, even though the Welsh man dove into a freezing river in an unsuccessful bid to save a man from drowning. Thirteen-year-old Brittney Bohbot of Nebraska rescued her sisters from a fire, but she says she's not a hero, either. Neither is University of Hawaii professor Albert Britt Robillard. He's disabled and the mere act of being in a wheelchair has caused people to call him a hero. Which he says he's not.

All of these examples are arguably "heroic." And some of these people do seem to qualify. I mean, jumping in front of a train to save a person? That's hero-stuff. I think that Prince Harry is right to deny the hero label. It's just the idiotic media that feels compelled to ask that question: Do you feel like a hero? It's one more info-blip that we can slot into our stories. We know the answer before we even pose the question. The result, I think, is the wholesale degradation of the word "hero." The media applies it at the drop of a hat, only to see those it's applied to reject the label.

At a time when everyone's a hero, no one is.

Wild About Harry
Should the press have kept mum for the last 10 weeks? I'm inclined to think it was okay to abide by the terms of the embargo. The media wouldn't divulge operational details or publish information that would endanger any other specific person. Peter Wilby, in today's Guardian, disagrees. "To my mind, this was propaganda for a war of dubious legitimacy and declining public popularity," he writes.

The surprise is that the embargo lasted as long as it did.


mark from alexandria said...

Regarding heroic people, my dad was a real life hero, having saved a man's life during a terrible industrial accident. His actions nearly cost my father his own life at the time and hastened an early death. But he never even wanted the incident spoken about.

I can't believe there are people out there who would favor endangering Harry and his comrades in arms, beyond the huge danger that they were already in. As Harry stated, he is a bullet magnet if his location is known. And from what I've seen this weekend (really horrible stuff on some Islamist extemist websites), the embargo was well justified. I know its a different world, but I wonder how the WWII service of FDR's sons was handled by the media back then.

Candadai Tirumalai said...

Emerson, who wrote in the age of "heroes and hero-worship," as RWE's friend Carlyle entitled one of his books, thought history the lengthened shadows of great men. Since then traditional heroism has fallen under suspicion, and victims of various kinds have been treated as heroes, sometimes to their disapproval.
I do not doubt that Mark's dad was a hero.

feckless man said...

I think "hero" should be reserved for ordinary people who do extraordinarily brave things -- such as Mark's dad. The word has been devalued as it has become applied to celebrities such as athletes (steroids or no steroids, what did Roger Clemens ever do to warrant being a hero?). I'm also sickened by use of the word "courage" to describe a writer broaching certain subject matter, an actor taking on a role that is seemingly against type, or an athlete playing when was slightly ill the night before.

Ken said...

did you see Adrian Monck on the Aussie mag that broke it?

John Kelly said...

Here's a link to the Adrian Monck item that discusses the website that REALLY broke the story:

I hadn't even thought about the tarnishing of "hero" when it's applied to sports stars, but that is common these days. A hero? For plaing a game?