Heroes are a strange phenomenon and we exist in a moment in which the idea has become almost meaningless. I agree with Alan Moore’s assertion that the figure of the superhero is an infantile and ugly thing.
Leaving aside the blatant use of the figures of the Marvel Comics Universe as tools for military recruitment, there is a constant and execrable lionization of institutions like the CIA.
For instance, my ability to give a shit about Black Panther was ripped to shreds when I realized that I was watching a movie in which a CIA operative aided an African monarch in the assassination of a political militant. Fucking gross. And of course the film ends with the founding of a non-profit organization, which is too fitting a parallel with our actually existing reality.
These figures give us nothing to aspire to, except maybe violence. Wasn’t it satisfying when Tony Stark drank champagne while showing off a missile system? I wouldn’t have been surprised if he turned that mountain range into a second Mount Rushmore with a caption below reading “Fuck You, Brown People”.
I grew up reading superhero comics. Predictably, Wolverine was my favorite. He teaches kids a weird lesson, because his only real superpower is an ability to endure incredible pain without acknowledging that it hurts. Because he’s so pissed off all the time. As a kid I got it: If you want to be a man, never acknowledge that anything is wrong. Just wait for your x-gene to kick in and everything will get better.
The other alluring thing about Wolverine was that he didn’t know where he came from or who he was (despite endless treatments of this subject). That sounded fucking great. Forget who I am? Yes please.
We get older, and we drift away from these things. They’re fantasy and life is not a fantasy. But I could never get free of heroism.
I was raised on traditional Irish music which celebrated martyrdom as often as it mourned tragedy and I still get all choked up explaining the historical significance of a Christy Moore song (with the listener most likely stifling a yawn).
The adults around me always had a tendency to celebrate their ethnic identification with a place that their ancestors left a long time ago. The lineage that celebrated this most fervently were descended of Irish people, sure, but also of English and Scottish forebears.
Why this fixation on Ireland? I think it has to do with all those martyrs. It’s exciting to think you’re attached, at some point in history, to people who got wronged and who fought back. But a closer examination of literally anywhere in the world would provide a similar narrative.
We’re not unique. It’s just that our music is catchy. Or rather, the people who we identify with make catchy music. I haven’t heard any of my uncles sing or play a single chord on a guitar.
All of this gets converted into a weird and pointless nationalism directed at a place where none of us have ever been. And that’s one of the problems particular to this kind of identification. The beautiful instances of internationalist heroism get lost in a stew of thoughtless nostalgia. We could have risen to the task demanded by oppression around the world and starved ourselves to death, but instead we ate corned beef and shitty bread.
It would be easy for me to assert that we’re not living in an age of heroes, but this is patently incorrect. There are struggles by colonized and oppressed people occurring around the world and there are more martyrs everyday. Indigenous activists in South and Central America endure that particular form of torture that is intended to terrify, and then they get dumped somewhere where they’re sure to be found. People like Rachel Corey get ground under the treads of construction equipment. Heather Heyer gets mowed down in Charlottesville. The Peshmerga fight a two-fronted war against two shades of fascism.
I wish I could rise to the occasion and throw my body on the right kind of bullets, but I sit here in the United States waiting for the right kind of rupture, or catastrophe, or some kind of moment. But if that moment came, I think the evil of good intentions would have someone incorporating a non-profit organization to best manage the opportunity and deposit us back in a nice, normal world.
So beware, young and incipient heroes. There are endless techniques at play to kill you, or turn you into a bureaucrat, or turn you into a monster. Sharpen your distrust, forge your cynicism into a weapon, and keep your love chambered.