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When the word “hero” is expressed, or imagined, it’s easy enough to say that in most cases, one extends the term and equates it with “superhero”. The classic inhumanly muscular “man-in-tights”, replete with flowing cape, gleaming smile, and waxy, supple jawline. Hero is often equated to some unachievable ideal such as this, but extends further into the every day, with “hero” being equated to those in the armed forces, firefighters, police officers, and so on. It even goes further, into the more “average” individual, performing some great feat of action that saves the day, so to speak.

And there we have the distilled notion of the classic hero: action. Whether it be the heroes of Golden Age comic books, or the heroes of the “Greatest Generation” and the Baby Boomers, or even the heroes of everyday tragedy and crisis, there is a deep-seeded notion of a hero as being a Hero of Action. However, in the reality of modern day, such a Hero of Action is as fictitious as that flying, perfectly chiseled superhuman.

Now, why would we say that? Well, we need to first understand that heroes – of the super and the mundane varieties – have evolved via the culture they exist in. As such, there have been and continue to be shifting concepts for what a hero is. We’ll start with the hero we’ve been talking about so far, which we have designed to designate “The Hero of Action”. The classic Hero of Action dates all the way back to the epics of old – Gilgamesh, the Odyssey, and so on – and continued to persist into the advent of comic books, which were both emboldened by and embodiments of the World War era of good vs. evil on a worldwide scale. To combat the sheer, uncertain terror of a world in conflict with itself, narratives of heroism, good guys, evil villains, and righteous duty were all peddled by both propaganda and pop culture. Thus, the advent of the superhero. And this conception of what defines a hero was so powerful – being so ingrained in human culture, via the aforementioned roots of storytelling in ancient epics – that it lingered nearly into contemporary culture. It still does, and probably always will; like any form of evolution, though, we find branching.

The Silver Screen and modern cinema brought with it the concept of action films, especially during the “Golden Age of Cinema” during the 80s, with classics such as the Die Hard series, Lethal Weapon, and so on. Again, these were men of Action – but something slowly began to change. In these film series and in other popular culture phenomena, we saw a shift that eventually revealed a new hero, for a newly emerging era in art that became known as post-modernism. In a less stable, less dichromatic world, the heroes and villains were not so readily discernible – and as such, the Hero of Reaction was born. This Hero was not the gleaming perfection of their predecessors, nor were they even an ideal to aspire to. They were closer to the average individual, in that they did not actively seek out crime to fight, or evil to vanquish. They were the unwilling hero, but a hero nonetheless. They were often an average, unsculpted individual who saw the coarse ambiguity of the emerging modern world, and as such, didn’t immediately jump into action. They rose to the call when absolutely necessary, but they gave us something that no other hero had given before: doubt. Uncertainty.

Things being asked against evil. Then, we had a Hero of Reaction, who perceived a broken and ambiguous world, where there was badness in the good guys and humanity in the villain. He was reluctant but rose to necessity. And now, in a world even further fractured and yet, strangely, even more, connected than ever, notions such as “good and evil” have eroded to near-complete nothingness. Good guys can be ruthless anti-heroes, and “bad guys” can have motives that question our morality. Rugged individualism can become antagonistic, and objective morality loses sway when a global community is at stake. With simple keystrokes or PIN numbers, whole systems, cultures, and global entities can be taken down, there is little solid ground to stand on, much less, to prompt solid action. Enter the most ambiguous hero yet: The Hero of Inaction.

The Hero of Inaction is multi-faceted, despite the paralysis the name suggests. He is torn between fighting and waiting, between conscientious objection and potentially disastrous intervention. We see this hero everywhere if we look past Hollywood and Facebook. Because it has become so unclear whether action will achieve a morally desirable result – and because we have been forced to recognize the fact that what is morally “good” to someone may be the opposite to others – the contemporary Hero finds themselves consciously paralyzed between two equally valid, critically analyzed perspectives. On the one hand, immediate action may be needed to prevent injustice or inhumane movements, and yet, on the other hand, intervention may mean more harm than good. Without the clear target of a non-ambiguous “villain”, the hero has no clear sight as to what to aim for. They are paralyzed because they are aware – they’re no longer beholden to atavistic epics or wartime propaganda. They know that on either side of the battle lines, there are real humans, fighting on behalf of conniving entities, and in combat, there are only losers. There are horrible people and antagonistic forces, to be sure, but in the tangled mess of geopolitics, it becomes difficult to determine who is on what side – or if there are sides to be had at all.

But Inaction is not where we end. As such, we have a proposal for you, reader. Our current Hero stands at a crossroads between remaining paralyzed and finding some course for action. We can, and will, be the GPS that guides him towards a new form of action, if we do not allow ourselves to get stuck in the mire.

Think of all the political arguments you’ve had, where both sides feel “right”. Where, even in the face of dehumanization or lack of empathy, there is someone to defend or spin such seemingly clear-cut wrongdoing. This is why the Hero is Inactive – because there seems to be no budging. We can change that, though. It may sound a bit like that old adage about closing barn doors after the cattle got out – but we can turn this Hero of Inaction into a Hero of Proaction. The Hero of Inaction is not something to frown upon, or to deride as fruitless – there is much to be said about waiting. After all, the wife of Odysseus – our classic action hero – has often been noted by critics as perhaps the “true” hero of the Odyssey; the Hero That Waits. She fends off suitors and would-be captors of her estate for years, without any real certainty that her husband will return. Given the time and her position, there is little else she can do, except wait – and prepare.

That is where we stand. We are the new heroes. Some tyrannical forces have climbed the ladder and conquered our castles, to be sure. We waited, and perhaps too long. But now, we have to use a bit of heroic alchemy to turn that most sublime of heroism – patience – into proaction. We can prepare our Hero, stock him with the weaponry of conscious, empower him with the armies of grassroots organizing, and embolden him with tact, with strategy, with knowledge of history and hope for future. He is Inactive only in a sense of a gathering of force – but like Penelope, when our rallying point becomes apparent, and our captors cozied in their victories, our proaction will leave the wind in our sails, and their shores in our sights. We cannot put the spears in your hands, but we can whisper, with the boldness of a storm,

“The New Hero is Coming”


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This story was printed in the DAWN issue.
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