Working through a textbook with 5th and 6th Class primary school students on Friday, we came to a section on heroes. It asked whether people had heroes when they were young. Characters from Irish legends were cited, and the stories recalled, along with the usual suspects, Superman, Spiderman and Batman; but generally there was little enthusiasm for the idea of a hero. It seems a change from times past. Perhaps the lack of hero figures says something about the cynicism that has reached even young people of primary school age.
Back in the 1960s, television seemed full of heroic figures. There would be police drama series where the coppers were always straight and the crooks were always caught; there would be war films in which the central character would triumph against overwhelming odds and make a Shakespearean-style tribute to his dead comrades at the end; there would be cowboy films in which the good guys wore white; medical dramas where no-one died; science fiction series where aliens always lost. Hardly a programme, or a film, would pass without the good guys winning and the bad ones getting their comeuppance. Robin Hood was best at extracting victory from impossible situations. (James Bond’s situations were worse, but he would always produce some gadget; that seemed somehow to be cheating).
Growing up on tales of the legendary King Arthur (and the historical King Alfred and Sir Francis Drake) there developed a habit of looking for heroic characters in life; Robin Hood-types who would know how to cope in every situation and would know how to extricate the right result from whatever plight it was in which one found oneself.
Of course, there were no heroes who would gallop up on white horses, no-one whose physical strength and intellectual power could transform a situation. Perhaps it was part of the spirit of post-war England that heroes of any sort seemed in short supply; the end of the Empire and the economic decline of the country provided little inspiration for heroic tales. Looking overseas was no more productive, watching television stories from Vietnam, it was hard to even know what a hero might do.
Forty odd years of looking for a hero have really gone nowhere. However, despite a lifetime of evidence that no hero is suddenly going to emerge and change the world, there persists a vain hope that someone somewhere will do something to change things. A Robin Hood would be nice, or, in his absence, at least a politician who was competent and truthful.