What does it mean to be a hero?
Ask ten different people, and you’ll probably end up with a handful of different answers. Every bookworm and movie junkie is well-acquainted with that small word: hero. But down in the dust, dirt, and toil of Storyville, what does this mean?
I love poking fun at clichés. Yesterday, the blog post on my site dealt with the defining features of a hero. An appropriate title could have been, “To Be Hero or Cliché? That Is the Question.”
Any time stories are present, clichés—great or small, intentional or accidental—are present. It’s unavoidable. The question is, how will the author, filmmaker, screenwriter add some zest?
Taking the hero stereotype off the wall and examining it reveals that heroes are particularly vulnerable to assaults by the Cliché Monster. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the modern film industry, where we’ve been inundated with a specific type of hero that elevates unimportant qualities over the elements that truly determine one’s level of heroism.
From my perspective, there are two sides of a hero. The external and the internal. Which is more important? Which traits contribute more to the person’s qualifications of hero? Let’s examine both.
The External Hero
Say “hero” and what happens? A slew of the most handsome, muscular, attractive men in existence pop out of thin air, complete with the requisite cape and “I Am Hero” logo emblazoned across the front of their skin-tight gym shirt—which displays every rise and contour of their muscles like a topographical map.
Yes, that was sarcastic and exaggerated. However, the point remains. What has become of the hero archetype? Hollywood would have us believe it’s comprised in large part of physical appearance. The “WOW, Hugh Jackman is ripped” factor.
I’m not saying this is a bad thing. Some guys can’t help it if they’re well built, and in unique cases—thinking of Captain America here—their impressive physique is part of their identity as a hero.
Yet that only tells half the tale. It only shows us one side of the coin.
If our definition of a hero is someone who will make the ladies swoon, who can be buried beneath a collapsing high-rise and live to tell the tale, whose torso and arms would make excellent training ground for BMX bikers, then we’re sadly mistaken.
External features are important, but they’re the icing on the chocolate cake, not the flour and cocoa that make the cake a cake.
Which brings us to the other side of the coin.
The Internal Hero
Awhile back, I wrote a SpecFaith article titled Strength In Weakness: A Tale of Hobbits and Heroes.
One of the main points was the fact that true strength is found within. Don’t look at the biceps, the haircut, the loads of money, the million-dollar smile to determine the true character of a hero. Look inside.
- Love of others
These are some of the attributes of heroes, and they’re infinitely more important than the outward presentation of physical prowess.
Above all, these are the qualities that make a character worthy of the title hero.
Modern culture insists upon appearances as the standard for judging one’s value. Unfortunately, that misses the mark by a disturbing margin. Now there’s nothing wrong with the Thors and Wolverines of the world, who are gifted both with impressively ripped bodies and the internal traits needed to be a hero.
Yet we should never forget or pass off as second-rate those whose claim to heroism is their internal characteristics. The Frodos and Harrys of the world.
At the end of the day, remove the external bells and whistles, and you still have the makings of a hero. But remove the vital internal qualities, and you have at best a buff dude who’s impartial and at worst a deadly villain.
Hollywood is wrong. What makes a hero isn’t what we see. It’s what they do and the core nature driving those actions.
In your opinion, what are the determining qualities of a hero?