Flutterby™! : born to greatness

Next unread comment / Catchup all unread comments User Account Info | Logout | XML/Pilot/etc versions | Long version (with comments) | Weblog archives | Site Map | | Browse Topics

born to greatness

2000-11-29 15:52:12+00 by Dan Lyke 4 comments

I think I've mentioned Strange Horizons here before, the online SF magazine that Mary Anne Mohanraj is a part of. I've been wondering at the decline of the heroic myth in American culture for a while. Horatio Alger stories are out of fashion, replaced by tales of people trapped by circumstance, too weak to make a stand, ala the wretched but well acclaimed American Beauty[Wiki]. Brains vs. Brawn: The Birthright Trend in Current Science Fiction Television Programming explores this trend: It's all very well if delivered tongue-in-cheek, but the message that some people are born to greatness, while the rest, no matter what their abilities, are meant to support them, smacks of a feudal sensibility. It's possible that this is nothing more than a bit of high fantasy sneaking into science fiction (Star Wars, with its knights and princesses, is the classic example of that), but it could also be a reflection of a societal inclination in America to trust the mystical over the rational. Strange as it may seem, the growing popularity of science fiction on television springs from the declining faith in education in American society. Like a priest's vocation, heroism is a calling, instead of a choice.

[ related topics: Interactive Drama Star Wars Erotic Technology and Culture ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:30:39+00 by: other_todd

I've been speculating on that too, Dan. I put an aside in a journal entry yesterday that I liked Diane Duane's So You Want To Be a Wizard more than the Harry Potter books in at least one key respect: In Rowling's universe, you're born to wizardry and that's that; in Duane's, you're only what you make of yourself - Horatio Alger-style wizardry, if you will. I even went so far as to suggest that this might be a case of British vs. American sensibilities, but I dunno - that's too pat. The thing is, I do believe it's been a tradition in this country to assume that anyone can haul themselves up by their bootstraps and become a hero, and I also think this has traditionally been a very popular message. So why is it in decline? Is it economic (traditionally the message has been the most popular in hard times)? Or is there some change in our national character I should worry about?

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:30:39+00 by: Dan Lyke

I'm loathe to play "good old days" because most of the ways in which people think the good old days were better are wrong, but I think this is a change in our national character, and I think it's bad. The problem with the belief that anyone can achieve greatness is that it demands soul searching: Why am I not great? As the whole "handing my abilities over to a higher power" appeal of AA and similar programs show, people want to believe that they aren't in control, and need the crutch of appealing to something outside of themselves to change their own behavior and thinking. Personally I'd rather live in a culture where people believe they can, but aren't trying hard enough yet.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:30:39+00 by: Larry Burton

I think ya'll are missing a little something on this. I don't know about ya'll but when I really immerse myself into a story, whether it's a book, a movie or a good tv show, I'm watching through the eyes of the hero. It may be that the message isn't that some people are born to greatness, but I'm (the person watching through the eyes of the hero) born to greatness. I guess the message all depends upon the perspective of the reader/viewer and the way one's imagination works.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:30:40+00 by: Dan Lyke

Good point. I think I find it easier to identify with the ordinary person tossed into extraordinary circumstances than vice-versa, although in my first example of such a situation, Die Hard[Wiki], the rest of the ordinary people weren't much to speak of. And pouring water on the theory of "better in the old days", from then we got Superman[Wiki].