Thursday, August 30, 2018

Heroism: McCain, Trump — Thanes, Jesus, Football

If Donald Trump weren't Donald Trump and American politics so over-heated, Trump might have started a useful discussion about Heroism in his attack on John McCain. There's a lot of continuity and a lot of change in how the ideal of "hero" gets applied in the stories of Gilgamesh and Achilles, Christ and the Sarah Connor and Ellen Ripley of the James Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd TERMINATOR and ALIENS movies.

My students would quote at me, "You're a hero or a zero" and by "hero" they meant a winner ("Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing"; defeating enemies as "the greatest gift of the gods," «Sieg heil!» = "Hail, Victory!"). 

Can there be tragic heroes? Heroes who die in a good losing cause: Beowulf dying for a doomed people, some unremembered grunt who threw himself on a grenade to save his friends? Is there heroic death in a bad cause? 

Can one be a suffering hero, like Jesus on the cross — he was repackaged as a warrior in the great Old English poem "The Dream of the Cross" — a hero of endurance and loyalty like, well, John McCain?

We didn't have that discussion, and I don't expect one like it in my lifetime; and I think American culture poorer for that.

Rest in peace, John McCain. You screwed up a lot, and you've been a hero. May the memory of that heroism be a blessing.

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