Bonnie Tyler Be Damned: We’re Not Holding Out For A Hero

2009 October 12

My mother and I were recently discussing religion (can’t remember if this was before or after I threatened to become a Quaker). When she mentioned having been brought up to respect and revere members of the priesthood, I realized that I simply could not relate. Not even a little bit.

3447538612_f5d6f00020Photo by bobster855

And it’s hardly limited to clergy; I don’t have pro forma  respect for anyone in authority and I’m pretty sure that I’m not alone among Gen Y. A straw poll of coworkers, friends and acquaintances confirms this absence of reverence. Not that a questioning of the powers that be and mourning their feet of clay is a new phenomenon. After all, Simon and Garfunkel were bemoaning the dearth of heroes in American  popular culture all the way back in 1968 with Mrs. Robinson. But theirs was a different loss of respect. They still believed in the idea of heroes and held out hope for the return of upstanding public figures to serve as role models. But I’d argue that today’s twenty and thirtysomethings don’t. We’re civic atheists, while the previous generation were merely agnostics.  Instead of the mythic Joe DiMaggio, we got Barry Bonds.  Talk about the short end of the stick. We’ve grown up with touchstones ranging  from the break-up of the Soviet Union to O.J. Simpson’s media circus murder trial to our own parents’ divorces.  We came of age knowing firsthand the fallibility and the impermanence of leaders and institutions and having ample evidence of their weaknesses served up in a 24/7 multimedia news cycle. Whether you’re the public figure or the potential audience, there’s nowhere to hide. Is it any wonder that we refuse to pay our due deference to those who don’t deserve it?

This lack of faith directly feeds our collective apathy. We’ve turned ironic detachment into an art form. We know we’re going to get burned, so why invest fully? Be it in a job, a relationship, a president, a suburban all-American future. Better to keep one eye on the clock, the door, the horizon than to go all in and risk feeling like a fool when the bottom drops out yet again. It’s commitment phobia writ larger than life and we’re all guilty of it. And it shows in the way we interact with each other and with the rest of the world. Man, does it show.

So, the million dollar question is what exactly is left to believe in when it seems as if nothing and no one truly stands the test of time? Talk about looking for the rock of ages in the midst of an avalanche. I wish I had the answer, kids. I’d be more than happy to share the enlightenment or at least parlay it into an appearance on Oprah.

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