CultureMichael Hansen

Who Are Our Heroes?

CultureMichael Hansen

So the new year has begun and with that a new expedition through the bible. This is the second year that I am planning to read through the bible in a year. This year I have chosen to read through the bible following a chronological reading plan. What I mean by this is that I will read the bible as it was written, or as it happened historically. (One example is that I will be reading the psalms that David wrote as I read the actual life events that prompted those psalms from David's life.) I am doing my reading out of the ESV Study Bible which is in my opinion far and away the best study bible there is and would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a good study bible. This being said it should come to no surprise to most of you that I have begun reading the book of Genesis the past few days. One of the cool things about the ESV Study Bible is that it contains large introductions to each book of the bible that introduce the reader to the different aspects of the books. (History, Geography, Theology, Literary and more!) As I have been reading through Genesis I have been reading its introduction and was particularly drawn to the literary aspects that are found in Genesis. (Big surprise, I'm an english major ;-))

What the article pointed out is that Genesis, in large part, is a collection of Hero stories. Hero stories are episodic tales that focus on a central character to whom the reader is to sympathize. The author of the article pointed out that the literary concept of a hero has three central principles:

  1. The image of a hero is always achieved by the a selection and distillation of items drawn from a larger body of information about a person; (in other words heroes are created by a selection of key events and traits that they either experience or possess not every detail of their person.)
  2. Cultures celebrate their heroes as a way of codifying their own ideals, values, and  virtues; and
  3. Literary heroes are representative of the culture producing them and, in some ways, of people universally.

When I read this literary definition of a hero I began to dwell especially on the second principle above that describes the relationship between cultures and their heroes. That is: that cultures celebrate their heroes as a way of codifying their own ideals, values, and virtues. To me this is a very powerful statement. What it is saying is that the people that we exult in the popular culture are those whom we see as carrying the ideals, values, and virtues of the society.

My question is who are the heroes in our culture. When I look to many media outlets I unfortunately see the exaltation of those individuals whose lives promote carelessness, irresponsibility, thoughtlessness,  and excess. Are these individuals the heroes of our culture? Are the ideals, values, and virtues of Lady Gaga really those that we desire to codify the ideals, values, and virtues of our culture? According to the literary definition of a hero the answer is yes and that is a scary thing for our society.

I am not advocating that we should only approve of perfect people, not even heros are perfect, every hero in the book of Genesis had serious flaws. That is not the point. The point is that the main things that heros represent is often an indiction of the main things that a culture is shaped by. Therefore if the careless nature of a hero is emphasized, one may deduce that the culture in which the hero exists is either a culture that endorses carelessness or is strongly impacted by is.

My hope is that, as a culture, we would begin to see that there really are consequences to ideas that we permit or approve of. More than anything I would love to see more inquisition from our culture. To often ideas and actions come and go without any thought of their consequences. Much of this has to do with the fast past, impatient nature of our society. It is important and helpful to slow down and give thought to important things that impact the world we live in. Don't simply allow others to do the thinking for you.

Until Next Time


Michael lives with his wife (Caroline) and dog (Beau) in Athens, GA where he teaches history and economics to high schoolers. Michael enjoys reading, watching soccer, drinking bourbon, and taking walks with his wife and dog.