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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Antihero's Hero

First, there was Captain Chesley Sullenberger, III, who landed an airplane gracefully upon the waters of the Hudson River, saving the lives of every scared passenger on board.

Now, there's Captain Richard Phillips, who gave himself up as the sole hostage in the Somali pirate drama, saving the lives of every scared crewmember on the Maersk Alabama.

We do seem to love our Captains in this country lately: men in uniform who are at the helm of some large piece of transportation equipment. Perhaps, in the next couple months, we will be hailing the actions of a train conductor in his mid-fifties for some amazing act that he will then modestly downplay at a press-conference. Or perhaps the Captain of the QE II will be nationally lauded for single-handedly procuring more shrimp cocktail for an elderly matriarch at a Saturday night dress-up dinner event.

Don't get me wrong-- I'm not trying to take anything away from these guys, I just think it's kind of a funny phenomenon (you know, like LMT stories!) and, as you know, it's my job as a blogger to identify funny phenomena and exploit them for my own nefarious purposes.

I have to say, though, that, for all their obvious heroism, I kind of wish heroes would own up to it more. It gets kind of annoying to listen to heroes being interviewed and denying that they're heroes. I mean, come on. Shut the fuck up already. With Sullenberger, it was, "Oh, no, my vo-pilot and crew are the real heroes." Then it was, "Well, all the tugboat operators who immediately dropped what they were doing and came to our aid-- they're the heroes." And, "The NYPD and the FDNY are the real heroes."

With Phillips, the mastubatory debate rages about whether Phillips was the hero, or whether the crew was the hero, or whether the Navy SEALS who blew the heads off the pirates were the heroes. In a CBS News story (which, by the way, referred to Captain Phillips as "Captain Courageous" which was enough to make me vom) published online yesterday, the word "hero" or "heroism" is used seven times.

"I'm just the byline," Phillips said, "the real heroes are the Navy SEALs, those who have brought me home."

Well, goll-y. Why are we so obsessed with who the "real" hero is? Can't there be more than one? If someone is a "real" hero, doesn't that imply that someone else is a "fake" hero? Why is it that we have come to demand false modesty as the automatic response of people that we nationally and unabashedly adulate? It's a routine, a tradition, it's... foreplay.

It's a script.

"I was just doin' my job."

You can't be a hero and not say that to a reporter, I'm sorry. This country will not permit that. And you can't say "doin-g" either: it's "doin,'" Captain Heroman. You are required by law to say it like that because we need all our heroes to sound like John Wayne and, if you're too bookish and add the "g" on to the end of "doin'" well, you've just got too much learnin' for us reg'lar folk who need more down-to-earth heroes.

We know you were just doin' your job, ma'am. But, can't you be doin' your job and be a hero at the same time? Why does one have to preclude the other? There are plenty of people who put on a uniform and "just do their job" but will never act in a heroic way. The people who clock in at 8am and leave at 4pm are "just doin' their job." You're doin' your job and being a hero. And... hey: that's okay.

Oh, and if you're addressing a female reporter, you are also required to add, "ma'am" to the end of your statement. Them's the rules, pard'ner.

I just wish that one day a police officer would rescue a drowing victim from a raging flood, or a fireman would rush out of an inferno clutching a set of twins and a litter of puppies, or a paramedic would successfully perform CPR on the Queen and have the courage to stand before a camera and answer the ridiculous question, "Do you think you're a hero?" with the statement,

"Well, yeah.... Obviously. Look at what the fuck I just did."

Heroism in this society is pretty downright silly. You're only allowed to be a hero if you categorically deny you are one, even if it's absurdly obvious that you are one. When you're a loser, a criminal or a bastard, everybody wants you to own up to it. When you're a hero, nobody wants you to own up to it.

Captain Phillips is coming home to Vermont today, where he will receive a hero's welcome.

But only if he claims he doesn't deserve it.


  1. good point. never thought of this..
    i'm no hero either :)

  2. I just had a flash of me being heroic somehow and after I have 30 mics all around me and all of a sudden I remember this blog and the cameras are popping and the reporters utter the words "Do you think you're a hero?" To which I reply "Well, yeah.... Obviously. Look at what the fuck I just did." Then the cameras go nuts and the reporter rips me to shreds and says let me rephrase that. Would you say this was all in a days work..and I realize.. ah.. thats what they want me to really say.. and I say to the man Yes Maam it was all in a days work.

  3. You were right.

    This was indeed a hilarious post! And oh so VERY true!

    As a side note, I do love me some John Wayne.

  4. Sometimes we have to say these stupid-ass things. Social convention and such. A co-worker will be leaving my job soon, and all that we're allowed to say is, "You have to do what's best for you. Good luck." We can't say what the truth is -- that she's leaving us in the lurch and it'll take forever to train a replacement and the workload will be insane in the meantime. That's the truth.

    Just like the only acceptable response to people telling you they're pregnant is "Congratulations!" Not "You're too young/old/unmarried/unplanned/unfit to be a mother."

  5. One of these days the Green Lantern is just going to show up and kick that podium over. "NO!" he will say. "I'M THE REAL HERO!"

    And that probably won't end well.


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