A Hero Behind Heroes?
“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” C.S. Lewis – Mere Christianity
It might seem a bit preemptive to be talking about NBC’s new drama, Heroes. After all, it just premiered. Only one episode has aired. One paltry hour of television . . . that’s it. But don’t worry: I’m not really here to praise the show—though I do think it looks very promising and cool. I’m not even here to give some perfunctory overview of the premise or the characters or whatever—though I’m going to do a little of that in passing. I’m really here, simply, to say that Heroes, along with the current superhero obsession/pop phenomenon that it’s a part of, says truckloads about the culture that created it, and about human beings in general.
If you’re not familiar with the show at all, think M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable meets X-Men meets Lost meets some apocalyptic, end-of-the-world kind of thing—after the first episode, I’m feeling Stephen King’s The Stand for some reason—and you’ll have the basic idea. Like Lost, the show tracks the mysteriously intersecting lives of a large and diverse cast. Like Bruce Willis’ role in Unbreakable, all of these characters are “ordinary people” who discover, or confirm, that they have “extraordinary abilities”—you know, like the mutant protagonists of Marvel’s X-Men. And, at some point in the future, all of this character development, all of the superpowers, come to bear on the “fate of the world.” The characters, in other words, are destined to become heroes.
I know, I know: you’ve heard all of this before. If you’ve played any random role-playing-game with the archetypal random-kid-becomes-savior plotline, then you’ve heard it. If you know about Superman—generic Clark
We must ask why? What does our Batman/Spiderman/Superman/
X-Men/FantasticFour/Daredevil/forgive-me-for-forgetting-the-rest obsession, and now Heroes, say about us—the
But beyond just the specific culture of the present-day US, I think that Heroes and the whole metanarrative it’s situated in speaks to the nature of humankind, beyond culture, beyond time. To me, the underlying longings involved here—longings for other-worldly power, for the triumph of good over evil, for meaning even for the most seemingly insignificant, for adventure, for a hero—are the longings of every person. It seems to me that these are cross-cultural, timeless values and desires. And it seems to me that such a phenomenon, especially when it is attested to by story after story, and especially when such attention is drawn to it by the huge popularity and number of recent attesting stories, has to be considered very seriously.
Of course, you may be the one person who doesn’t have the kind of longings represented by stories like Heroes. These stories may not seem to resonate with you at all. To you, I submit that somewhere, at some time, an underdog story, or a hero story, or a story of good defeating evil, or some similar thing, whatever it was, touched you. Resonated with you like Heroes is probably going to resonate. And I submit that such resonance, again, has to be considered. Don’t ignore it . . . something is afoot here.
And, finally, I submit this for a possible starting point of consideration: these longings we’ve been discussing, ultimately, are spiritual longings. They are longings which—taken to the degree they’re inevitably taken to—must find their fulfillment in the otherwordly, the supernatural, the magical, the irrational, the super, the mighty, the amazing, the incredible, the divine. These aren’t longings for, simply, an escape. They’re longings for flight, for up-up-and-away. Not longings for simple protection, but for evil-destroying power. Not longings for human approval, but for fate and destiny. Not longings for mere mortal heroes, ultimately, but for the divine Hero . . . the Savior . . . for God.
C.S. Lewis in this article’s opening quote, as he so often does, makes it clear that these kinds of other-worldly longings can only have their source and their final fulfillment in another world. Finally, in God himself. The writer of Ecclesiastes puts it this way: “[God] has set eternity in the human heart”—he is the source. And Augustine says, famously, “My heart is restless until it finds its rest in [God]”—he is the fulfillment. So, on Mondays, if you’re watching Heroes like I’m going to be, consider with me the significance of it. The overwhelming and telling spread of such stories. Consider whether you don’t see these longings within yourself, whether the source might be from another world, whether there might be a Hero behind Heroes.