The Myth Of The American Icon: Are Our Heroes Meant To Fall From Grace?

It’s official: Lance Armstrong is no longer a champion. Stripped of his 7 Tour De France titles and most (if not all) of his sponsors, he now occupies a seat on the bench with a list of fallen American heroes.  He finds himself among is among such esteemed sports heroes such as Pete Rose, OJ Simpson, Joe Paterno, Tiger Woods, Michael Vick ad Mike Tyson, as well as business gurus like Martha Stewart and even presidents such as Richard Nixon Bill Clinton.

I was reading one commentary on this topic that used the metaphor of the Icarus Myth: the man with wax wings who flew too close to the sun and…well, you have either read it in high school or know what happens next.

It made me think about how we treat our heroes and role models in America.  It leads me to believe that we don’t actually build up heroes so we as a society have a benchmark of accomplishment to aspire to and to help shape our common values of what success looks like.  Rather, I think we build up our heroes so we can watch them fall when, ultimately, their flawed humanity gets unearthed and exposed and exploited.  I don’t think we can actually tolerate rags to riches stories or the idea of a superstar.  I think there is actually a sociological structure in place designed to encourage us to succeed within the boundaries of our status quo and social norms but not to be overly ambitious about what kind of impact we can have on the world.

I mourn the loss of heroes.  Lance Armstrong has done so much good in the formation of the Live Strong movement for empowering us to overcome challenges of disease.  I see presidents like Bill Clinton who did so much to renew our economy and create a more socially conscious American populace who was ultimately cast aside at the end of his presidency for making a “dumb guy” mistake that went public.  And then looking at Mike Tyson or Michael Vic:  two black men who turned into superstars but were ultimately brought down from their high horse through publicised behaviors that lend to racial stereotypes.  Finally, looking at Martha Stewart:  a businesswoman who built an empire only to be caught up in the politics of insider trading and made an example of.

That’s not to say that several of these fallen heroes haven’t undergone a rebirth of sorts…but how long until they are once again taken  melted down for the sake of not encouraging the rest of us to fly too close to the sun?  IT also begs the question: is it possible for us to have heroes that live and die held in high esteem?  What do those heroes have to “look like” to earn that honor?  And what does the current pattern say about what the “American dream” really stands for?



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