Alternatives to Heroes

Here in Britain we’re enjoying seeing a new TV series that’s all about ‘Heroes’. The story seems to be similar to the ‘X-Men’ series, in that ordinary people are discovering that they possess strange new powers and are able to do something great, like fly or make themselves invisible. However, it’s all a bit strange. Once again, the majority of ordinary people are just that, ordinary, and it’s only this few, this special few, that demonstrate exotic powers. They are unique, different, perhaps a development of the ‘normal’ person, and they are struggling to adjust to all the implications of finding themselves with these new powers. What about the rest of us? We don’t struggle, apparently. We just carry on as we are.

Is that what we want? Do we, the ordinary people of the world, want to sit and simply watch as those with exotic powers go about their super-business? Is that how we feel? We are just second-rate, average, day-to-day, while some – a tiny few – are able to do wonderful things, things that the rest of us can only look on and admire? Well, yes, if recent history is anything to go by. In fact, it might seem as if the whole of Western culture (and most television) is based around the idea that to be in the majority is to be OK, but nothing special. Meanwhile there a few lucky people who stand out. They are the men who get the girl; the girls who get Number One records; the people who get rich, win awards, climb mountains and appear on TV. That’s it, isn’t it? That’s life?

Actually, it can’t be. I live in Salford, England, and round here people are very proud of a young man called Russell Watson. My sister, who lives in the south of England, came to visit me recently and wanted to go and see the area where he was born. He’s recently achieved fame and fortune. He’s a singer. He has a rather good tenor voice and manages to sing some of the classics and a lot of modern songs very well. Pavarotti has just died and maybe there’s a vacancy for a new tenor on the scene. Russell Watson was booked in to perform at the Oscars this year, or something similar, so they’re going to see him in Beverley Hills too. He’s still fairly young, he’s quite good looking and he’s a lot more slim than his Italian counterpart. Maybe he will rise up the ladder and become world famous shortly.

So he’s a ‘hero’, right? Well, no. Actually he’s rather an ordinary person. He was born in a part of Salford called Little Hulton, went to school locally and worked for many years in a factory nearby. Everyone told him he had a good voice and he should do something with it, so he took part in a few competitions, got noticed, landed a recording contract and has now sold a lot of records. A lot. So, good for him. I’m not criticising the guy. He’s done well for himself, and I’m happy to see that. But nobody, nobody, can pretend that he has ‘special’ powers. He has a good voice, yes, but then, so have a lot of people. He’s been in the public eye and he’s very popular, so he’s ‘lucky’, right? No, not even that. It took him a while to establish himself and he’s had his share of setbacks.

What am I getting at? That trying to pretend that this guy is special is nothing more than a rather poor kind of excuse for the rest of us. Why aren’t we selling records? Why aren’t we making money? Why aren’t we getting promoted, living in a big house, marrying the person of our dreams, and so on? Why, it must be because the people who do that are different from us. They are ‘special’. Maybe they’re ‘heroes’. Sorry, it won’t wash. Russell Watson proves the opposite. He’s just a normal person too. He has a talent, but then, most of us have, in one form or another. He’s just managed to focus on it, work with it, and raise himself to a good place. But he isn’t special, or a hero.

The fact is that picking on one or two ordinary people and calling them ‘heroes’ is a pretty good excuse for the rest of us. It means we don’t have to bother. It acts as a reason that ‘explains everything’ and yet, is beyond our control. ‘How did they succeed? They’re special’. Actually, we can’t face the truth. They worked hard to get to be where they are, but then, we all could do that. They have talent, yes, but most of us have something that would mark us out, we just can’t be bothered to do anything with it. Or take the time it would need to practice, (damn, it’s boring, isn’t it?) No, no, far simpler to pretend that those who achieve something with their lives are somehow ‘superhuman’. That way, why, there’s no point in us bothering then, is there? We’ll never get to where they are, will we? Or will we? It isn’t comfortable to think about it, is it? Maybe the real reason that’s the way of the world is not that they have some unearthly power. It’s just that they bothered. Most of us don’t.