We had so many people to look up to that 15 minutes after starting naming those wonderful people we were still naming names. In our early teens – yes, we were “teens” once – a long time ago – our hero’s came from a variety of resources – and perhaps the first ones came from an unlikely source – the comic books, the radio stations, etc.
Who can forget “Tom Mix”? or “Jack Armstrong”? Even the “Superman” we idolized as doing only good was different that the Superman of today. The Betty, Veronica, and Archie’s of yesterday.
Then there were the movies – (who could ever forget James Dean? or Walt Disney or Alfred Hitchcock; John Wayne and his swagger?); from the sports world – Babe Ruth; Cassius Clay – ok, so maybe that dates us because you younger readers will know him as Muhammad Ali – ).
The music world gave us so many exciting people –Louie Armstrong; the Beatles; Elvis; Bob Dylan – Aretha Franklin; Billie Holiday; John Lennon, etc. We still enjoy the folk music groups of the “Limelighters”; “Kingston Trio”; “Beach Boys”; “Peter, Paul and Mary”; the individual folk singers Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, etc.
Even an architect, Frank Lloyd Wright became a household name. We had reporters that we looked up to and respected: Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley and David Brinkley were part of that group. And what about Dr. Jonas Salk? How many of us have been saved from polio because of him?
As we aged – read “matured” – new hero’s came to the forefront. John F. Kennedy; Martin Luther King; Bobby Kennedy. What sad, sad days when they were assassinated. The heroics of Rosa Parks and her quest for equal rights along with Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and Angela Davis. Jane Fonda and her protests against the Viet Nam war did not sit well with some, but she was a hero to others.
And as we continued to get ever older – we are not dead yet – people from a variety of fields became standouts in American Culture. Oprah Winfrey, Bill Cosby, Bill Clinton (in spite of not being able to keep his fly zipped);, Gloria Steinem to name a few. And the list would be incomplete if we didn’t add Ellen DeGeneres, Steve Jobs, Ralph Nader, Bill Gates, etc.
Who are the hero’s of this generation? Who do my children – and, more importantly, grandchildren, have to look up to today and say “that’s who I want to be like when I grow up?” Many of their hero’s have been taken down from the pedestal they were on for illegal and/or immoral acts. Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong, even the death of Junior Seau have shaken the core of these impressionable young people. The Michael Jackson fiasco disgusted many of the youth today. The OJ Simpson murders of many years back enforced the notion that if you have money you can get away with anything and everything.
When I asked my granddaughter (age 16) who her heroes were she answered:
“There’s people who have idols such as pop singers who they aspire to be like when then grow up, but there’s also a big thing right now about being different and starting your own trend or being your own person. I can’t think of any clear hero out there who is unanimously or close to unanimously worshiped by any group of people or teenaged age group.”
From my 29 year old grandson:
“Truthfully, I don’t really have one specific hero. I call on several when I need their inspiration; Steve Jobs, Al Davis, Justice Roberts, Jon Stewart, Harvey Milk, and Obama are a few people I view as heroes. I don’t have any one person that I emulate either. I take bits and pieces from a “binder” of people (stupid Romney). I overlook the bad, in this case, so this list may be weird coming from me.
First, John McCain; I hate him at times, but he has stood up against so many radical views that are in America’s interest. Peter Morales, he’s the leader of the Unitarian Church… no complaint. George St. Pierre, he is a UFC fighter… he is boring to watch now, but he has always been my inspiration when it comes to physical capabilities.”
One of my twin grandsons, age 23, said that the person he wanted to emulate was his Mother. She is his idol; able to see all sides of a situation; listen without judgment; he said that if he could do that when he has children he will be happy with his accomplishments.
But who are these people emulating? Times have changed drastically since I was growing up. There aren’t the here’s of yesterday anymore. There doesn’t seem to be the need that we had growing up. When my granddaughter hears of another infraction of Lindsay Lohan she just shrugs her shoulders. When a pro-football player murders his girlfriend and then himself; when another pro player drives while drinking and kills his passenger, my grandson just shakes his head and wonders, aloud, why that player thought that the rules didn’t pertain to him.
None of the younger generation I spoke to have any respect for the politicians of today. To a person they said they can’t be trusted; they lie; they do not have the welfare of the citizenry in mind; they become wealthy at the tax-payer expense.
Another group of 20 year olds said that if you look at movies and television today it is filled with vampires and “no-gooders”. It is pretty hard to identify, realistically, with the stars of this century.
So what is the answer?
I am not sure there is one. Clearly this generation does not have the need, at least on a realistic level, to have idols they can worship. They have been discouraged so much by emulating stars only to find out they are fallible. As they are growing up they no longer want to be the President of the United States; they no longer want to be the Jonas Salk’s of yesterday; They no longer want to go out of their way to visit a museum; to ascribe to a higher level of achievement.
Have we given them too much in the past; so much that we have killed the instinct to become a success in their everyday lives? Has the permissiveness of the “baby boomers” destroyed the aggressiveness needed to succeed in today’s world? Has the insistence of performing well on standardized tests killed the creative powers of the individual that does not fit the mold of the high school graduate? Are we so insistent that EVERYONE fit the same mold that there are no more individuals left?
The future looks rather bleak to me. We are doing away with the arts; we are doing away with creativity; we are even doing away with a simple thing like cursive writing. Everyone will soon be able to sign a legal document with an “X” because that will be all that is necessary in the future.
Ah yes. Where have all the hero’s gone? And can we find some new ones? Where or where might that be?