Reluctant heroes and itchy capes: the ineluctable desire to be the savior

Laura D'Olimpio, Michael P. Levine

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    We live in an age of heroes. What is a hero? Why is our need for heroes, and our desire to be heroic as insatiable as it is pervasive? Does the appeal of the Hero reside with an individual’s infantile and narcissistic phantasies of omnipotence, a desire to become God-like or identify oneself with or even as a God? Is our inability to live without heroes indicative of some societal and personal malaise—a need for ‘love’ and power perhaps? Kierkegaard’s ‘Knight of Faith’ and Nietzsche’s ‘Superman’ both depict the heroic as involving a commitment to inner knowing along with a faith in one’s own abilities. The ideas of being misunderstood; the ineffability and incommunicability of the truth of what one knows and the reasons for how one must act; and the almost unendurable burden one experiences in being a hero, are also seen as essential. Kierkegaard and Nietzsche use the notion of “hero” to make a moral claim with respect to how we should lead our lives and endure - even love - the lived human experience. There is no diminishing of the modern appetite to consume and act out ‘reassuring’ narratives about how we are all the Hero of our own personal journey. Psychology generally, and Psychoanalysis in particular gives an account as to why the appeal of the Hero is inextricably tied to the human psyche. Jung explains the appeal of Heroes in terms of archetypes and Freud speaks of our orectic natures –nature driven by desire, appetite, and wish-fulfillment. Times of crisis and insecurity will always be coincident with an age of heroes and the proliferation of heroes in film and television, as well as imaged heroes in real life, suggest these times are troubling if not dire. This paper explores why it is that heroes are always there, indeed must be there, when we need them most and considers the educative potential of such narratives.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)71-85
    Number of pages15
    JournalJournal of Aesthetic Education
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 7 Nov 2019


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