Thursday, June 18, 2009
The Wounded Hero
Garden in front of the EPA
There's something wrong with everybody - right? It's a foundational part of my belief grid. The idea of a perfectly healthy minded, flawless, emotionally sound human being is hard to imagine. All I can see in my mind's eye is a wax figure, two dimensional, devoid of humanity. Though, that said I'll admit I've never met anyone who was perfectly healthy minded, flawless, emotionally sound, which is why I can't conjure up an image. Can you? ... maybe the Dalai Lama?
One cultural bastion of adult wholeness* - until recently - was the archetype of the hero. There are lots of stories of wise kings, chieftains, clergy, and others who are - if not perfect - at least as close as a human can ever get. In the old paradigm, heroes always behave appropriately. True, they seek revenge after bad guys hurt them, but in some way they are still portrayed as being pure; i.e. they do not act from their wounds, but from valour, because they must. In the old TV series Kung Fu, the hero never wanted to kick the bad guys' asses. He always did, of course, but not because he felt like it. A hero's revenge is righteous. King Arthur's best friend fell in love with his wife, but before that he was as good as good could be: ethical, fair, strong, grounded - beyond the temptation to use his power to satisfy his own ego.
But our stories around the archetype of the hero are changing, at least here in the U.S. All of a sudden, heroes are being portrayed very differently than they were even just a few years ago. I attribute this shift to the fact that we have entered the Age of Aquarius, but maybe it's more about the decline of our society, who knows?
Certainly our TV heroes are a mess. In particular detectives and doctors are now portrayed as extremely off balance - obsessive/compulsive, addicted to drugs, autistic, or displaying borderline personalities. Our TV heroes these days are brilliant but so damaged that they are incapable of "normal," healthy behavior. Compare the lovely 1970's TV detective Columbo, for instance (who was quirky but definitely not neurotic), with the character of Robert Goren on Law & Order's Criminal Intent. Whoa. Our ideas about heroes have definitely changed!
Superheroes in the movies have always had chips on their shoulders. But recently the way they are portrayed highlights their flawed psyches rather than focusing on their good deeds. Think about Batman. What a mess!
So what is happening in our collective unconscious? Are we now ready to admit that there is no such thing as perfection? That everyone has some kind of problem? Or is it that we've lost our ability to imagine that anyone can stand above the crowd? Has the Age of Heroics truly passed us by? What do you think?
*I think we still harbor fantasies about the purity of childhood. There is also a lingering idea of virginity as pure, whole, and healthy. Or am I making this up?