Modern Day Heroes: Feet of Clay

All the heroes are dead. Their bodies lay strewn about cyberspace after being pulled apart by Internet jackals and our own curiosity. Our thirst to know more has driven us to slay the very people we admire, and the Internet lies in our hands like a bloody murder weapon. Modern media has made the idea of a hero impossible, thanks to overexposure.
No role model is safe. Our actors have been reduced from leading men and gorgeous ladies to sound bites on TMZ. The singers are footnotes in a magazine. The athletes are monsters dripping with every ounce of available steroids.
Recently, we have been bombarded with media coverage that revealed that some of our most beloved role models are flawed. The steroids scandal has swept through Major League Baseball. Whether they are found guilty or not, it has effectively tainted the careers of Miguel Tejada, Alex Rodriquez, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemons. After years of record-breaking seasons, they are doomed to be nothing more than asterisks.
Illegal drug use goes beyond the world of baseball. The famous bong picture seen around the world revealed that Michael Phelps smoked (gasp) weed. For shame, marijuana’s sluggish effects surely explain having more gold medals than the rest of the world put together.
The entertainment industry, too, is no stranger to scandal. We witnessed the descent of Britney Spears. Every celebrity starlet’s weight is scrutinized to the pound. Not even Batman is immune to the media machine. Most recently, Christian Bale’s recorded tirade circulated the Internet, complete with dozens of F-bombs.
Many of our elders might say this is characteristic of the new generation of entertainers and sportsmen. We always hear moans about how great things were before our time and how the world is generally getting worse. Icons like Babe Ruth stood as heroes for the masses.
This assertion is only partially true. Previous generations may have had more heroes than we do, but it was easier to be a hero decades ago. Without the Internet or 21st century television, people did not know Babe Ruth was a drunk. They were not even aware President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was bound to a wheelchair.
Media exposure is at a higher level than ever in history and the nature of its focus has changed dramatically. Even 15 years ago, a significant portion of Americans did not have access to the Internet and the 24-hour news network had yet to reach prominence. When people wanted news, they read the newspaper.
Our generation currently gathers almost all of its news from the Internet. News networks rely on flashy graphics or High Definition broadcasting to plug the leaks in their ratings. The newspaper is in danger of becoming extinct.
The result of the rise of the Internet is a constant stream of information. People constantly demand more knowledge. We have given the world free reign to investigate everything about our heroes. Add to this the prominence of camera phones and digital photography and you have a recipe to learn about every flaw regarding any person on the planet.
With the ability to know anything about anyone, we can see all of their flaws. When we learn about Alec Baldwin’s awful temper or Russell Crowe’s penchant for fighting, we help to expose those we aspire to become as human. Their personal lives begin to eclipse their body of work.
Tom Cruise may be the best example of current trends. In the last five years he has transformed from respected actor to a walking joke. This entire metamorphosis can be traced back to one couch-jumping incident. Without the Internet or modern media constantly running repeats, this Super Mario impression might have gone down in obscurity. Instead, everyone on the planet was able to see that Tom Cruise was crazy. The façade was gone and he was exposed as human.
If an unflattering picture or mishap can be spread like a virus across the Internet, it can only be concluded that today’s media makes it difficult to imagine a hero. Of course, this argument relies on the assumption that no human is perfect and could possibly stand up to such scrutiny, but being flawed is part of what makes us human. The rise of 21st century media has ripped away our illusions. If we want a role model, we need to be able to separate what aspects we aspire to become and what parts of them stand as a warning.

Kevin Pease is a fourth-year psychology and social behavior major. He can be reached at kpease@uci.edu.