The other week in class, we were discussing what movies can reveal about a society and its values. We all realized that in the post-9/11 Hollywood world, two film genres had made a strong resurgence: horror movies, and superhero movies. My students were quick to conclude that the prevalence of these genres reveal that Americans were scared in the wake of 9/11 (for real-world evidence, see: threat levels at airports) and looking for heroes to save us (for real world evidence, see: Pat Tillman).
And now we have just elected a president that has taken on a heroic air to many. The Daily Show likes to quip about the Messiah-like effect Obama has had on so many Americans. There’s this image of Obama as Superman, with other visual representations of the Superman Obama all over the internet.
On a recent This American Life episode, Ira Glass issued the position of the editorial staff regarding Obama: he should not have to quit smoking cigarettes. His smoking habit is the one major tarnish in his armor, the obvious point of his fallibility, and as one of the producers said, since everyone has their weaknesses, I’d rather have a president whose weakness is cigarettes than one who lies about wars or else is unfaithful.
The point is well-taken, but I also think it sucks that Obama is a smoker. I wish he’d quit, even if it does take away his “human side,” as This American Life pointed out.
So my question is: what’s so bad with holding people in the public spotlight up to high standards, to truly be our heroes? I’m also thinking about this in the wake of the recent news that a) Michael Phelps had a picture taken of him taking a bong hit, and b) Alexander Rodriguez, arguably the best baseball player ever, just got blasted in the NYTimes for his connection to taking performance enhancing drugs in 2003.
When you’re president, you’re a role model, whether you like it or not. When you are the greatest swimmer in history, you’re a role model, whether you like it or not. And when you are incredible at baseball and are the most recognized figure on the most recognized team in the Major League, you are a role model, whether you like it or not. I’m disappointed these figures who live in an obviously public times, with every individual equipped with a cellphone with a camera, have not fully considered the weight of their presence in people’s lives.
I’ve heard the many defensive statements for guys like Phelps for smoking pot, especially living in San Francisco, where pot-smoking is extremely fashionable in the adult world. (Side note: I always thought that pot-smoking was a phase that teenagers go through to be rebellious, and never realized till living out here that adult drug use is extremely prevalent, defended, and intellectually and socially justified.) And by contrast, since I’m stuck here disagreeing with the uber-hip 20 somethings of the web, I look like the stodgy old spinsters who think that “they should know better.”
But who cares if that’s how I look. I think they should in fact know better. Of course swimmers throughout the world look up to Phelps, and a whole bunch of kids now have to What’s wrong with holding yourself to a high standard, the highest in fact, especially when you’re so obviously a hero to thousands, if not millions, of people? And why does my argument sound so square?
I think it’d be nice for kids and adults alike to be inspired in entirety by their heroes. I know that no ones perfect, but doesn’t it feel good to feel like you’ve found someone who actually is, to be able to look up to and relate to someone who really does epitomize “good?” If that makes me old fashioned, so be it. I guess for now, I’ll just have to resort to Hollywood movies like “The Dark Knight” and the upcoming “Watchmen” to wrestle with the issues of good and bad character in our heroes.