Sunday, November 16, 2008

Heroes -- The good, the bad and the ugly

In David Bowie's song "Heroes," I listen to these plaintively courageous lines, "I ... I will be king ... and you ... you will be QUEEN! ... Though nothing will drive them away, we can be heroes ... just for one day! We can be US ... just for one day!"

Two people are fighting to be themselves, to be with each other against "them," as Bowie says in the song. Though we don't know who "them" is, we don't need to. It's part of the genuis and beauty of the song. "Them" is almost everybody and everything we experience in our modern lives. We fight to be ourselves, to pursue what we know is right, to think for ourselves, to find a partner of crimson compatability. Bowie talks of just one day, but you get a sense he sanguinely means "each day," this day and then the next day. Maybe it's just my reading, but I hear sublime optimism.

I listen to that song often when I'm running, and my pace inevitably quickens as my heart bursts with joy and freedom. Bowie's anthem, tinged with the lusty optimism and occasional ominousness of Beethoven, steels my spirit. I have it now on repeat on my iTunes and have heard it three times already. It bears me up as I think on the next segement of this blog: the anti-heroes of today.

We used to be a culture of unapologetic men of wealth and right: Rockefeller, Andrew Jackson, Thomas Paine. Men of substance and will, fighting to the death (Jackson) or in print (Paine) or against competitors (Rockefeller). Life was tip of the sword, with the better man standing upright in defense of the good and noble.

Now we have Bill Clinton, Bill Gates and Clint Eastwood. Men of mediocrity and malevolence, fighting for opinion (Clinton) for altruism (Gates) for realism and nihilism (Eastwood).

The most disappointing of these "new" men is Eastwood, a former hero. He road tall in the saddle as Rowdy Yates on "Rawhide." He was the independent man of the High Plains, the "good" in "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly," the Dirty Harry who was clean of soul and pursued evil with a moral sword, the wry leader of "Kelly's Heroes."

Now we have Clint of "Millionaire Dollar Baby," in which the hero is a quadrapalegic at movie's end, or "The Unforgiven," in which the hero is an angst-ridden cowboy whose "redemption" is a dead but allegedly moral wife, or "Mystic River" with its characters "caught" in life's allegedly inevitable cycles of despair, or "Letters from Iwo Jima," with its unrelenting realism and sympathy of men who obeyed an emperor.

Just listening to the adjectives of Eastwood's adoring modern crowd is enough to put off any lover of optimism and humor: "fated characters," "noir," "realistic," "harsh," "morally complex," "humorless," "soul-searching." These worshippers praise Eastwood for his nihilism, for his relativism, for his altruism -- all the things he used to not be. Eastwood himself has called his sympathetic and lovable character of Rowdy Yates "an idiot of the plains." Eastwood has "grown up," as the like to say, become more "complex."

No, he's just become bad and ugly. He no longer believes in kings and queens of the spirit. He has sullied himself with the mildew of praise. I wish he could be good just for one day.

"I ... I will be king ... and you ... you will be QUEEN! ... Though nothing will drive them away, we can be heroes ... just for one day! We can be US ... just for one day!"

No comments: