In search of heroes, legacies and role models

By Joe Roessler
web posted September 6, 1999

The power of the media, whether it be television, print press or the movies (yes, I put Hollywood in that group, too!) designates itself as the, excuse my computer terminology, search engine for heroes, legacies and role models. They have the power to influence who is and isn't and who will be and who won't be. Why is it in today's celebrity ridden pop culture, there is an infatuation with heroes, legacies and role models?

John F. Kennedy Jr. is now tagged with a legacy he never sought nor had in the first place. The media has already come out with stories of what might have been if JFK Jr. had never died! How ridiculous and morbid can they get? The only media that cared about the activities of him and his wife while they were alive were the tabloids. This is similar to the stories of what might have been if his father had lived. There were speeches on how there would have been no Vietnam, no race riots, and America would be a better place than what it is now. How do they know that? What can they show to justify their speculation? Such hypothesis is pure entertainment.

Pity poor President Clinton. I am sure he is envious of the late John Kennedy Jr. The mainstream media have already given JFK Jr. a legacy when he did nothing to earn it; in mean time, Clinton searches in vain for one. If any relief for the president, he still has over 17 months to come up with one. I guess Mr. Clinton wishes to be a hero for future generations. He always says, "it's for the children." It's strange that a man who comes from a generation that demonized heroes and worshipped the anti-hero is trying to leave a legacy so my grandchildren will think of him as...a hero! Yet, he is against any reform of the tax codes that will allow me to leave my legacy to my children -- our family owned business.

Role models are another group. Too many times the media applies the label of "role model" to sports, entertainment and political figures without ever explaining why. It seems the "role models" they select are tied to money, power, celebrity status, and now gender and race. When former Los Angeles Dodgers sensation Hideo Nomo made his debut in the United States in 1995, Roy Firestone of ESPN interviewed him. Fortunately I understand Japanese so in between the misinterpreted translations I listened to Nomo's answers. One of the questions Firestone asked him was, "Did he look at himself (Nomo) as a role model for Japanese-Americans?" Seeing Nomo's reaction, I knew he was taken aback by this question. However, Nomo threw a strike with his answer. He gave a typical Japanese reply about being more concerned with work and doing his job. If Mr. Firestone had done his homework on the Japanese and their culture, I would bet he would not have asked that question.

Is there something wrong with having role models, heroes or leaving legacies? Qualifications set by the power elite in today's mainstream media seem to have depreciated its value. The term is constantly misused. There seems to be confusion on the definition between celebrity and hero. The media's bias on it is obvious, and their disdain for anything traditional in that category shows. Recently, a major news organization labeled JFK Jr. as a potential hero, the women's soccer team as current heroes, and Eileen Collins as a hero in the making. Very little was said of the two American soldiers killed in Kosovo, not even their names or where they came from.

It is an undeniable fact that John F. Kennedy Jr. was the son of President Kennedy. But what did he really accomplish when he was alive? What legacy did he leave behind? For the women's soccer team, they won the World Cup, and now what? Are they going to be display models for politicians patting themselves on the back for Title 9? Eileen Collins was the first woman to command a space shuttle mission. I'm sure the feminists will point out that she is a role model for young girls; encouraging them to become engineers or astronauts. And in ten or fifteen year's time, the same feminists will be complaining that there are not enough girls involved with science or technology.

Instead of pointing out that hard work, much practice, and self-confidence got them to where they are at, the media pays attention to their celebrity status, or their race or gender. They disparage their accomplishments by defining heroes, role models and legacies by applying trivial firsts and/or petty facts.

This is Joe Roessler's first piece for Enter Stage Right. He has previously been published in Right Magazine.

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