What is a hero? Why do we need heroes? Most of us just want to live our lives and be left alone. I also think most of us live our lives in worry, be it from paying bills to possibly losing our job, or worrying about a pain in our stomach. We respond automatically to people who seem to know what they’re doing. When Forrest Gump put on his running shoes and made out to run clear to the ocean on the other side of the country, eventually he attracted a great deal of attention. While running through a suburban neighborhood a young man flew out of his front yard, making a mad dash to catch up to Forrest. When he caught up with him he gasped, “It’s you! I can’t believe it’s really you. I mean, it was like an alarm went off in my head, you know. I said, here’s a guy that’s got his act together. Here’s somebody that’s got it all figured out. Here’s somebody who has the answer. I’ll follow you anywhere Mr. Gump.”
But perhaps the question we might ask ourselves is not why we need heroes, but why we find the idea of heroes appealing in the first place. Perhaps it stems from our capacity to be influenced by our surroundings. It is said that the six people we spend the majority of our time with begin to “rub off” on us. As social creatures, humans begin to exemplify the characteristics of those around them; mannerisms, phrases, memes, body language, even thoughts and ideologies begin to permeate our consciousness merely through proximity. For this same reason we are all influenced by advertising, even though most claim to simply tune them out. Though we may think we are tuning them out, they’re still influencing us, and to claim anything to the contrary is to submit to delusion. I won’t tell you that delusions are a bad thing, as they are a quite inescapable aspect of the human condition. But although human thoughts can potentially have profound influence upon the external reality, things like English grammar or stock prices do not exist outside of the human mind. Hence delusion.
So where do our thoughts come from? What influences the natural selection of one meme over another ? We all, of course, are influenced by everything we come into contact with to some degree. It is impossible not to be, and the more sensitive you are, the more full-spectrum energy you may be exposed to. Our parents/guardians teach us how to act through their actions. Their behavior is the very first of the programs to be installed into our hardware, and the earlier the program is installed the more it is hardwired. Our friends and neighbors also teach us what we should expect from the greater community. But how might this be especially true of fictional characters? How many times have you quoted something from a film in natural conversation? How about from television? From books? People adopt mannerisms, body language and even phrases and tones of voice from films and television. This is because characters often exemplify characteristics we wish we possessed within our selves and thus admire in those who express them. So naturally, we relate most of all to hero figures. Achilles, Sherlock Holmes, Indiana Jones, James Bond, Han Solo, Robin Hood, Superman, Zorro, King Leonidas, Batman. Everyone wants to be a hero, though I believe the term deserves additional specificity before we move on. What do I mean by the word hero? What are the qualifications for someone to be considered a hero? Would we chalk up words like idol or champion as appropriate synonyms to hero? When people say the word hero, do they more often than not actually mean protagonist?
Here’s the rub: when an audience gathers to hear a lecture or speech, a concert or a film, or a sporting event or television show, something very interesting is happening with the exertion of consciousness, that is, how people are using their powers of observation. Observation is not a spectator event. We know now from intersecting interpretations of quantum mechanical experimentation in particle accelerators, that the act of observing, itself influences the objects and events which are observed. Looking at objects involves interacting with them. Looking at the world changes the world. Or as was said in the Coen Brothers’ film The Man Who Wasn’t There, “Looking at something changes it.” Dave Barry joked in his book The Essential Guide To Guys that football game spectators often feel as though concern-rays are shooting out of their foreheads to influence how the ball moves through the air. Concern rays are decidedly a very apt term to describe this phenomena, because we know now that spectators actually do influence the world merely by observing it. We are always the observer but sometime we identify with the events so much so that we even lose the aspect of the observer. In other words, when we attend a concert and witness our favorite rock star on stage, we actually forget that we are our individual egos standing amongst the crowd. We merge our consciousness with the overmind of the hive. We focus our consciousness on the rock star and lose ourselves in whatever is on stage.
Perhaps here’s an even better example: say you’re walking down the street and on the opposing side of the road you witness someone whom you are intensely attracted to. So heterosexual male notices a beautiful female, let’s say. After admiring her from afar for several moments, he trips on a crack in the sidewalk and stumbles, taking all the “cool” out of his stride. Why did he trip? It isn’t enough to say he merely wasn’t paying sufficient attention. He identified with the pretty girl so much that he lost the aspect of observer, and actually exerted his consciousness into her for those few moments of distant admiration.
Perhaps Tyler Derden of Fight Club put it in another way we may find helpful:
“People do it every day. They talk to themselves. They see themselves as they’d like to be. They don’t have the courage you have to just run with it.” With regards to that final statement concerning courage, Tyler is referring to the fact that he, Tyler, is Jack’s alter-ego of his multiple-personality disorder. Having the courage to “run with it,” seems to be a take on the phenomena of being true to one’s self – “just be yourself.” That so often we succumb to society’s demands of what we should be or how it is appropriate to conduct ourselves within the confines of the cultural norms. In our culture, more often than not, appropriate conduct entails having a job and being a “productive member of society.” But as we quest to squeeze ourselves within the box of what we believe the collective demands of us, we forget who we are and what we truly want from life. This is a symptom of programming.
Rarely do we ever bat an eye at the phrase, “television programming,” since shows are colloquially referred to as programs. But the word choice here is hardly a coincidence, since we are susceptible to influences of all types. Television programs are exactly that – programs. They program into us both the culturally dictated behaviors while simultaneously discouraging undesirable characteristics by means of archetypes (i.e. the villain or the antagonist). Radio programs have a similar effect, though body language is deemphasized without the visual cues of handsome actors and pretty actresses.
Programming, like advertising, has profound influential effects on our behavior. I’m thinking specifically of an instance wherein my young father attended a gangster film with his mother and grandmother (my grandmother and great grandmother). The film was riddled with cursing, inundating the audience with f-bombs and profanity to the tune of two hours. When the film was finished, the three of them exited the theater, sat down in the car and began to make their drive home. Despite the fact that I’ve never heard either my grandmother nor my great grandmother say anything profane in my presence during the years that they were still alive, my father witnessed a new vocabulary from the two women during the drive home from that mobster flick. F-this and F-that that whole way home; the driver next to them was a fucker and the pothole they had to avoid was likewise referred to with use of extreme expletives. Point being, a short, two-hour film had actually programmed into them the vocabulary of the Mafioso protagonists.
When Alexander the Great stormed into battle, he was always leading his army – what a leader should be doing by definition. Legions of men and horses, and at the tip of the formation was Alexander. The Generals howl at the Lieutenants to make sure the leader doesn’t risk a scratch, and the Lieutenants scream louder at the Sergeants who bellow at the privates. And at the tip of it all is a man outrunning everyone, completely without fear. It’s natural to look up to those who are more skilled than us, or smarter, or faster. But we mustn’t lose sight of leading ourselves through our own lives. We mustn’t put all of our consciousness into those presented to us as the best of the best. Those we see on television today simply own the television; the most successful of the ruling class right now are those who have undermined the health of the planet, the future of our civilization, and the lifespan of our species. Through meditation, we can begin to see how literally we must unlearn what we have learned. Rewire your mind. Take control of your destiny. Remember that the matrix cannot tell you who you are.