Where Have All the Heroes Gone? by Dick Rolfe, co-founder – The Dove Foundation
In June of 1998 when I heard that Roy Rogers had died, I had an empty feeling deep down in my gut. The “King of the Cowboys” was not a relative of mine. In fact, I never met him. But I felt a loss nonetheless. I lost something almost as important as a relative or friend – I lost a hero. In this day and age the right kinds of heroes are scarce. I say the right kind of hero because the concept of a hero has gone through a disappointing metamorphosis over the last 40-50 years.
When I grew up, heroes wore white hats representing the light of truth and purity, while the bad guys wore black hats symbolic of darkness and evil. Today’s pop culture pundits will argue that those images are overly simplistic, since there is good and evil in everyone. Even so, blurring black and white into a sea of gray can easily confuse children at an age when they are still trying to sort out right from wrong.
Another hero of mine was entertainment legend, Steve Allen, whom I got to know quite well. Steve once told me that the movies played an important part in his upbringing. As a child he learned a great deal from his silver screen heroes, like Gary Cooper. “I grew up without a father, so these men were my role models.” “They taught me how to treat a lady,” he reminisced.
To me a hero is anyone, whether in a movie or in real life, who performs an extraordinary, spontaneous act of bravery or sacrifice. The old expression “heroes are not made they are born” is simply untrue. There is no hero gene that gets passed down from generation to generation.
Present day heroes – both on and off screen – seem conflicted when faced with the allures of sex, money and power. Too many of today’s film stars have spent time in jail or drug rehab, while others have died from excessive indulgences.
Today, moral clarity in entertainment is more obscure than at any other time in history. Violence, profanity and illicit sex are creeping into more PG-rated movies. Television is no more pure. The average TV/PG television sitcom hero is likely to spend the night with his girlfriend, lie through his teeth to save his “reputation,” or turn the air blue with cursing to demonstrate his manliness. How many of today’s television stars would end their weekly episodes like Roy did with, “Good-bye, good luck, and may the good Lord take a liken’ to you.”?
I confess that I am more than a little apprehensive when I survey the so-called heroes in film and television that might influence my grandchildren . . . which begs the question: Where have all the heroes gone? Is virtue disappearing from the silver screen?
Over the years the perception of a hero has changed; so too has the role of the hero changed in American cinema. Once upon a time big screen heroes, like those that influenced Steve Allen, spoke to our dreams and aspirations and modeled virtuous behavior. Over the past several decades we have been living in the age of the anti-hero, where the role model is a gang member who gets away with killing others who are more corrupt than he is; or a thief who ends up with the stolen jewels and the girl living on the Riviera; or a rogue cop who has turned vigilante in order to do the job of an inept criminal justice system.
Filmmakers claim that movies are merely fantasies, and the stories and characters on the screen have no impact on movie-goers. Louis B. Meyer, co-founder of MGM, was the first to deny that movie messages impacted the public. He said, “If you want to send a message, call Western Union.” If it is true that a 2 hour movie does not influence behavior of moviegoers, how can television networks demand $2.3 million for a 60 second commercial during the Super Bowl, claiming the message will influence the buying habits of the public? Over six thousand comprehensive studies have documented the fact that there is an undeniable connection between social behaviors portrayed in movies and on television and their impact, for good or evil, on society. This is especially true with young people.
There may be some hope. The number of heroes and positive role models in movies and on television is on the rise. Recently, there has been an influx of movie super-heroes, like Batman, Superman, Spider-man, X-Men, the Fantastic Four, etc. Not all of them, however, exemplify the best attributes of a role model, especially where language is concerned. Walt Disney’s 2004 hit, “The Incredibles” on the other hand represented all the elements of true heroism. It was especially nice to see that every member of the Parr family had something unique and special to contribute. This season, NBC will try and make hay with the popular superhero trend with the new “Heroes” series.
Superheroes are not terribly inspiring to young people, because they are difficult to emulate. The message they send is that “in order to be heroic, you have to have super powers.” I’m much more inclined to favor stories that more closely represent my definition above; “ordinary people doing extraordinary things.”
One film we can recommend without qualification is “Everyone’s Hero,” coming to a theater near you on September 15th. This is an inspirational tale of a young lad who sets off on a quest to restore his family’s honor. This top quality CGI animated film is voiced by none other than William H. Macy, Rob Reiner, Raven-Symone, Whoopi Goldberg, Brian Dennehey, Jake T. Austin, Mandy Patinkin, and Dana Reeve. The project was first launched by a real-life hero, Christopher Reeve before his untimely death. His wife Dana, lived long enough to voice our hero’s mother.
The backdrop for this compelling story is the 1930’s New York Yankees and baseball great, Babe Ruth. But, no matter your age or interest, you are sure to be enthralled by “Everyone’s Hero” and its message, that there is a hero within each of us. All we have to do is have faith in ourselves.
And so, the moral of this story is…heroes are hard enough to define and even harder to find and that’s what makes them so special. We can take heart; as long as there are people who care enough to produce high quality, uplifting, inspirational stories like “Everyone’s Hero.”
Who’s Your Hero?
Write and tell us about your favorite hero and what it is about him or her that inspires you. We will publish the top 5 responses on our website and they will also appear on the official website for “Everyone’s Hero” at www.everyoneshero.com. The first 200 entrants will receive a Louisville Slugger “Everyone’s Hero” mini custom bat and an “Everyone’s Hero” trading card pack.
Note to Parents: The information gathered such as name, mailing address and email address of entrants will only be used to mail prizes to the first 200 contestants. Neither The Dove Foundation nor IDT Entertainment will use this list for any other purpose. Winners will be identified publicly by first name and city/state only.
The Dove Foundation is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. Our mission is to encourage and promote the creation, production, distribution and consumption of wholesome family entertainment. We are supported primarily by donations from families such as yours who want to move Hollywood in a more family-friendly direction. All donations are tax deductible.