From the earliest mythologies to the modern movie, the hero archetype has dominated. The good guy battles an overwhelming force of evil, dragons, demons, aliens or an enemy army, and always stands victorious.
One of the biggest entertainment industries is based entirely on heroes. The DC and Marvel comic universe is littered with them – an alien fallen to earth complete with red cape, a geeky kid turned superhero due to spider-bite, a wealthy heir with a chip on his shoulder and scary-cool batsuit. Those born great, inherently superior to average man inspire awe but it’s the seemingly inferior guy made awesome by circumstance, the dark and twisted anti-hero overcoming his own demons to save the day, who perhaps more truly captures our imagination. There’s a potential hero in average Joe – or so said Mariah Carey, we just have to look inside ourselves, perhaps some harder than others.
But who are the real heroes? Surely not men and women clad in figure enhancing spandex. Is the modern hero a political figure like Barack Obama, do-gooder celebrities like Bono and Angelina Jolie or just the average guy who overcame profound calamity?
I’d like to go with the latter. Take Aron Ralston for example, a happy-go-lucky guy and avid mountain climber. One day he got trapped in a canyon, a rock pinning his arm. For six days he waited to be rescued before finally making the decision to save himself. He cut off his own arm with a blunt pen knife, an incredible story as told in the upcoming film 127 Hours.
Ralston continues to climb today with aspirations of conquering Everest. Consider the one-legged swimmer, Natalie du Toit, who competes in able-bodied races, determined not to let her injury disable her. Now they are heroes, illustrating that the human spirit is indeed an all-conquering force.
While I too wish I could shoot sticky webs from my hands or laser beams from my eyes, it’s comforting to know that normal people have a chance at being heroic too. Not to forget the men and women who risk their lives on a daily basis serving society as cops, firemen and soldiers.
One might aspire to be a Green Lantern or an Avenger, but I hope the younger generations also look to real people as role models. Not glamour encrusted celebrities but those ordinary folk who have triumphed over misfortune, because we could all learn something from these stoic individuals.
Suzanne van Rooyen
The writer is a master’s student of Music, Mind and Technology.