Rodrigo Gonzales Velarde

We’re back to square one. I mean as a nation, so don’t get too nervous. I’ll explain by providing a quick rundown of our ‘heroes’ in the news in the last couple of weeks. President Bill Clinton was journalistically cornered on FOX News, Congressman Mark Foley was found sending digital smooches to a young man and Tennessee Titan and NFL pro Albert Haynesworth kicked a defenseless player on his unhelmeted head while he was down. Roger Clemens, the Texan all-American pitcher, World Series champ and seven-time Cy Young Award-winner, has been accused of using performance-enhancing drugs, not in the bedroom but on the mound.
And these were just the A-listers. Honorable mentions go to Green Bay Packer Koren Robinson (90 days in prison for repeat DUIs), Kim Basinger for her custody battle and Terrel Owens for his possible suicide attempt.
You learn about these stories through word of mouth, local television news, newspapers or YouTube. At some point I begin to wonder if it’s the addicted athlete (Owens), the kinky politician (Foley) or the media’s fault for ruining our national heroes.
Has our society hit such a precipice of irresponsibility that we would blame the media for tarnishing the image of our terrestrial gods?
Rumor has it that John F. Kennedy was a womanizer, but the media as a whole respected the president and kept such stories silent, unlike in the case of Clinton’s extramarital affair.
Kennedy and Clinton were, at least in terms of their public lives, excellent presidents. Sometimes I wonder if President George W. Bush needs a mistress: young and hot, with a degree in politics or at least common sense (if such a degree existed) to whisper sweet somethings into his comically protruding ears.
But that’s wishful thinking. The media has made a point of letting us know everything about our national heroes. At times the perceptions are skewed, as was the case with Clinton and FOX News’ Chris ‘Is ‘The National Enquirer’ Hiring?’ Wallace.
The access to real-time stories about real-time people has reached a point of excess. But it has also opened an avenue of opportunity. If the athlete, the politician, the actress and the singer all have questionable, if not criminal, tendencies, then it leaves one person to cherish, and that’s the blue-collar worker.
I understand that we live in a time in which glamour attached to a position carries more weight than the potential stability it may offer. I also understand that we have become a nation of overachievers, and the media is a glorified and overblown version of MySpace.
But to a child’s eyes, or to this overgrown child, the hero has become too much like my drunken uncle to be admired. If this is the era of self-help, self-improvement, self-start-up and digital self-expression, then I’m inclined to believe that the ‘hero’ has been re-focused inward. Ours is the first generation with enough time passed since the trauma of Vietnam and the nonsense of the Cold War and the fear it evoked to perhaps spur a national growth spurt. I believe in this nation and the blue-collar heroes within it. How could I not? I think any of the soldiers in Iraq or any firefighter or police officer would have a finely tuned idea of how to stand as a hero for the people of this country.
If the media has made it a point to emphasize the moral deficiencies in our celebrity pool, then it is easy to see that the heroes are not necessarily those who have the most airtime. The firefighter, the police officer and, in a nation made, constructed, run, cleaned, fought for and taken forward by immigrants, even the immigrant is the hero. I remind you that they are, or work to be or wish to be, the only Americans who are so by choice. It’s a comforting thought, to me at least, that this could be a nation of nearly 300 million heroes.

Rodrigo Gonzales Velarde is a fifth-year English major.