Last night I entered my guy’s mancave to immerse myself in THE AVENGERS. Since we live in what’s described by news outlets as a ‘primitive area of Washington State’, we depend upon Blu-Ray DVDs. Warning: mini rant in progress. While supposedly antiquated world regions such as Morocco, Egypt and Malaysia allow for easy streaming of movies, not here. Our USA has become an infrastructural backwater. However that’s another story.
Visualize instead comfy seating with hounds piled around us. Add in sub-woofers vibrating, pithy dialogue and special effects galore. What intrigued me most in THE AVENGERS, though? That would be, ‘What makes a hero heroic?’
Early on Joseph Campbell’s HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES addressed this, transporting me from monomyth through mythic connection to society. Heady stuff for a nerdy writer and scientist. Then Chris Vogler condensed this mythic structure to its basic parts in THE WRITER’S JOURNEY. While experts in anthropologic, folkloric and psychoanalytic fields have challenged their analyses, from these beginnings more reduction has occurred. Entire writing processes, software programs and curricula developed. Some writers consider the hero’s journey the only necessary plot. Perhaps. Certainly the mythic structure appeals to me. What do you think?
Now back to THE AVENGERS, which abides by Campbell and Vogler’s notions in satisfying ways. The story even attempts to answer, ‘What makes a hero?’ Perhaps at the simplest level, a hero performs extraordinary deeds to benefit others. Heroes do so without expecting compensation. In AVENGERS a previously egocentric and hedonistic Ironman chooses potential death while saving the world. Does that make him a hero–or simply capable of an heroic action. Is there a difference?
In today’s world politicians and spin doctors steal vital words like ‘hero’ from our lexicon. They cynically bend, spindle and mutilate the meaning in attempts to influence the herd. I believe we wordsmiths need to resist such gyrations. We’re obligated to recapture our language, then use rescued terms to build great stories. As for the word ‘hero’, isn’t it time to return to basics?