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?

30 comments:

IntangibleArts said...

...poor old Silver Surfer, so misunderstood...

Reya Mellicker said...

I LOVED the Silver Surfer!

Elizabeth said...

One really loves one's hero/heroines flawed!
makes them more approachable and loveable.

Perfection is DEADLY DULL
see Byron on Donna Inez
will find the quote in a minute as so funny!

Joanne said...

I'm not sure what the reason, but I definitely see this decline. Not just in our "heroes" but in many every day observations too. I hope it's just a temporary thing that we'll ride out.

Elizabeth said...

Herewith a quote to warn women not to be perfect --needless to say from a philandering male (Byron):

O, she was perfect, past all parallel
Of any modern female saint's comparison;
So far above the cunning powers of hell
Her guardian angel had given up his garrison;
Even her minutest motions went as well
As those of the best time-piece made by Harrison,

In virtues nothing earthly could surpass her
Save thine 'incomparable oil,' Macassar.
Perfect she was, but as perfection is
Insipid in this naughty world of ours,—
Don Jose like a lineal son of Eve
Went plucking various fruits without her leave


(only literary geeks will find this funny......!)

Bee said...

Lots of food for thought here. I definitely think we are more open/upfront about admitting to our flaws . . . but are heroes actually less honorable than they used to be?

I do think there has been a cultural shift towards selfishness . . . being selfless, and delaying or doing without self-gratification, seems to be a heroic quality of old.

mum said...

This is interesting to me as I'm presently working on a story dealing with this very theme.

I see the wounded hero (or heroin) as a wider gyre in the spiral. To me, the two-dimensional one corresponds to an important stage in our development: Snow White and the Evil Stepmother, Good on one side, Evil on the other. As children we need those stereotypes. They create a sort of basic ethical grammar: This is how to behave, this is what you must not do.

Inevitably, sooner or later, we fall from grace and discover our heros are flawed, just as we are. In my opinion, that's when the real Hero's Journey begins - when a man or woman is confronted with the weaknesses or flaws that are his or hers to deal with and must use them as creatively as possible.

Being great from your strengths is the easy part. Being great from your weaknesses? That's the Master Class. I bet you need at least a full lifetime to even come close (unless you're the Dalai Lama, but then, I've never spent a rainy weekend in a leaky tent with the Dalai Lama) :-)

thanks for giving me the opportunity to expound (at length, as usual...)
best

mum said...

um...excuse me, that's 'heroine', obviously...

lakeviewer said...

Reya, you are on to something here; a dissertation, perhaps? WE are tired of Disney-type heroes and heroines, all cartoon like, all this and that. We know better. Besides, wars and famine will always mess us up. After each major world conflict we remake our heroes to match the action needed.

About virginity, that's a whole other conversation.

Reya Mellicker said...

Maybe we can adjust our expectations to fit the shifting paradigm - do you think we could learn not to be so disappointed when we find out that, for instance, the president has had an affair?

Maybe it is a time of maturing expectations - cool thought.

Star said...

Interesting post. I know that when Princess Diana died, I could not understand why there was so much heroine worship for someone who had so many 'flaws' in her personality. To me it was over the top. I think it was because Princess Diana was so human. She had faults like all of the rest of us and the people loved her for it! She had many, many good qualities too, of course. There has definitely been a shift towards a more 'real' hero on TV and in the films. Someone who we can identify with, faults and all is now the more acceptable norm. However, for me, I prefer the James Bond type of hero. I want someone I can aspire to be like, not someone who is faulty, just like me. Just my opinion.
Blessings, Star

Dani said...

The idea of the *tragic hero* is not a new thing- they make some error that leads to their downfall- they are not perfect. (Shakespeare, Euripides, Goethe...)

I think what you posited is that the *Wounded Hero* is different than the *Tragic Hero*. -- Have you ever seen "Dexter"? Now he is definitely a wounded hero!

Reya Mellicker said...

Good point, Dani. They make a mistake but at their core they are not neurotic, fussy, compulsive, nor are they addicted to drugs or alcohol. By wounded I mean seriously neurotic, in need of psychotherapy.

poietes said...

Reya,
I think that our heroes are flawed because we as humans are flawed. Remember, evey Odysseus was flawed.

It is to hard to hold up perfection and expect people to be able to relate.

Yes, House is extremely flawed, but he is a genius nonetheless, and I love him for that. Marcus Welby was too perfect, but he was also a reflection of society at that time. There was too much upheaval going on in society, so Welby was a calming figure.

Now, though, we are all jaded because we have witnessed so much lying, deceit, hatred and evil. We live in a society in which part of our population is throw away (the homeless), our death rate for infants is up there with undeveloped countries, and our "heroes" (athletic, movie stars) are on drugs, cheat, steal, and lie.

Goren uses his perverse sense of reality to enter the minds of the criminals he catches. But isn't this the same thing that Sherlock Holmes did?

We are jaded: our heroes reflect the state of our society. I don't expect this to change any time soon as it would be impossible to go back to the 50's, a time in which everything was perfect and father knew best.

Steve said...

Well, as a culture we've become much more interested in psychology and psychotherapy in recent decades. That makes us more open to and curious about flaws in ourselves and in others, I think.

Our age is more cynical, too, so the qualities that would have been praised in a hero -- righteousness, strength, sobriety, intelligence -- might even be ridiculed by today's snarky observers.

Amy said...

I'm down with the philosophy that heroes are for the young. As we age and begin to see the world through older and wiser eyes, we see that the armor of our heroes that looked so brilliant and shiny in our youth, actually sparkles because of hundreds of tiny chinks.

Tom said...

i remember my folks talking about people, saying 'they're different'...only to find out later in life: everybody is different; you're quite probably the most different(ie unique) person i've ever known. After all these years i've learned that's a good thing!

Reya Mellicker said...

Steve you are so smart!

That goes for the rest of you, too. Thanks - as always - for your thoughtful and provocative comments.

Wow.

Reya Mellicker said...

Tom, you mean me, personally? Thank you, I think!

Though if you met me in real life, I wouldn't seem so different.

If that's what you meant.

Reya Mellicker said...

I've tried to watch House a few times. I despise his character. He's so awful. So maybe I am "unique." Give me Marcus Welby any day - puh-lease!

Lover of Life said...

I'm still repeating your words over and over - "we're beginning the Age of Aquarius"... hope springs eternal.

Human beings are flawed, but there sure seems to be a glut of hypocrites lately. Maybe it's time for humans to really think about what they are, and what they really want to be.

steven said...

hey reya, have you ever journalled or even meditated on the long list of heroes or heroines in your life. somewhere in the threads of their existence and certainly your knowing of their existence is something of your own tapestry. as a post fifty year-old man i have gravitated towards musicians particularly those for whom spiritual work is front and centre in their work. flaws? hmmm i like brian eno's idea to honour your error as a hidden intention!!! steven

Ronda Laveen said...

Akkk! Blogger ate my homework. This morning I posted right after Dani and came back to read the thread of this interesting post. Okay, I'll try again.

You mentioned Bat Man and Intangible mention Silver Surfer. He was so misunderstood and alone.

I have read and collected comics for years. One of the reasons is that all of the heros I can think of in that genre are not heroes by choice. They are ususally forced into it by circumstances and have to over come pain, hardship, injury and loss. They are ordinary people in extraordinary roles. They step above the crowd for the sake of the greater good of the whole and hold out on the side of good for humanity.

Even the living Masters on the planet, including the Dalai Lama, teach that until we ascend, we are all just doing the "work" of ascension.

Great discussio thread.

Ronda Laveen said...

Oops, should read "discussion."

Reya Mellicker said...

They step above the crowd for the sake of the greater good of the whole and hold out on the side of good for humanity.

YES. The heroes of old, while not perfect, do not act out of their wounds. They are valiant and able to see the bigger picture, to act for the greater good.

Recent heroes do what they do because they are so psychologically damaged, there isn't much else they can do. They are idiot savants - like Monk, Goren, House, Bones (examples from TV). They are no longer ordinary people called into service. They're too damaged to be ordinary.

It's a really different archetype than it once was just a few years ago and I'm so curious about it. I like what Steve said, that we've become entranced by psychology. That rings true for me.

Steven, I am a double Aquarius and I guess that's why I don't have any heroes. There are people I admire, like the Dalai lama for instance, but he is not my hero. If my job was to meditate on compassion for twelve hours a day, I would be fairly ascended, too!

Mrsupole said...

I try to never judge my heroes, and I like heroes who have some depth to them. They can have something wrong with theirselves, but they overcome their problems and become heros in spite of them.

I think that when someone who is an average person in an average life rises to the occasion to become a hero, are the best hero, because it shows people that anyone can become a hero. This gives hope to little girls and boys that when they grow up they can become a hero someday. And most mem and women who have a little child, they are the hero for that child, as long as you work, do your work duties at home, and if you are ever required upon to help someone do something when needed then you become the hero. A man who takes care of his family and if necessary he takes two jobs, then comes home and helps to do things around the house, helps the wife take care of the kids, he helps to teach the kids their values in life, he teaches then about their spiritual believes and practices these belifes too. And he might also go out and help coach games for his kids and other kids. The man who will carry a hurt child to an area of safety and help to fix what is hurt or take the child to the doctors.

These men are the real heroes. No one is more special than they are.

Oh okay, I do have to admit there is one man who is a better hero than all the rest (not the ones I was just writing about)of the superheros on TV. There is no one like the MONK. I love the Monk show. He is the most abnormal hero that you will ever find on TV, but he is the best hero, that thinks he is not a hero. That is why is is the MONK. Plus it is a quirky show.

Yes heroes that are flawed, make the best heros today. But as a child I did like the Prince who was going to save the Princess. The cowboy who would kill the other bad guy. John Wayne was the best. And now Monk is the best.
And mostly, Dad's, Brothers, Uncles, Grandpa's, Cousin's, Moms, Sisters, Aunts, Grandma's, friends, these are the real heros.

My hats off to them all and God bless. I love them all.

Reya Mellicker said...

Mrsupole? That is a totally Age of Aquarius point of view. I agree completely! Bravo!

lettuce said...

I'm sure you are right Reya - and I think its related to how representations of angels have changed too - flawed or sick angels (John Travolta, Pullman, Skellig) or angels who want to be human (rather than the other way around) (Wings of Desire)

I'm not sure the heroes being flawed makes them less heroic. It could make them more heroic in a way...

California Girl said...

I'm not sure what you mean about the "purity of childhood" but I truly believe children are, in a sense, born pure. By that I mean they come into the world without knowledge and knowledge is perceived differently by all but the most common ideas of knowledge are: "knowledge is power"; the Tree of Knowledge which bestowed the concept of good and evil upon man, and so forth. As for heroes, we all need them. Why not, after all? Escape can be healthy and it can be instructive. My heroes range from Robert Redford a gorgeous man and wonderful conservationist to Madame Curie, an independent woman of brilliance and wisdom way before women were given much creedence. I guess your point is, we all have flaws no matter what we would like to think. I guess I'm just feeling philosophical.

Reya Mellicker said...

Even newborns don't strike me as "pure." They are complicated beings from the first moment of life. Complicated is not the same as flawed, though you could look at it that way.

Cool thoughts on the angels, Lettuce. Wow. Yeah.

I'm going to post again about heroes, not right now, not right here. Thanks, though, California Girl. You wax philosophic or any other way you want to any time you feel like it. OK?