Death of the Heroes
Why do we need heroes, and what it means when they fail us?
The rhythmic quick turn of the small clock hand on my beige wall indicates something about life - time is borrowed, limited, and passing quickly. We live life in the micros, in the smallest possible moments - we devise our life second by second. Every minuscule decision impacts us and others since we live in an innately interdependent world. The caricature of our modern lives from an alien perspective must be ironic and confusing. We intend to exert our rights, demand control over our minds and bodies, ask for rights to elect our government, and help it evolve its policies, and yet we rarely think of the collective. We vehemently protest for our rights but rarely care about the rights of others. Our sympathy to include people whose experiences are unlike ours is almost non-existent. We are afraid of dissimilitude, we are scared to invite them into our spaces. Our fears are guided by a range of cultural conditioning, limited media attention, and a lack of diverse political representation. The only place we find a sense of comfort is in the projected image of someone we long to become. That’s why we turn to the mainstream Heroes. People are painted as worthy role models, who seem perfect in every sense of the word. Idealistic, philanthropic, humanitarian, rich white people, who are binary in every aspect of their lives, who live the dream of being the best, whose characters are impenetrable. Some people live to become a hero, and others live to celebrate their ideological gifts. In our society, if you don’t like heroes, you are an unambitious imaginary dodo. It is in everybody’s best interest that you remain extinct.
The more we label these freethinkers as a social anomaly, the more it confirms our biases for our untainted and influential Heroes. The power concentration with one person has a historical preference in our civilization. Everyone loves a kind and powerful leader with a massive empire. Everyone needs to see a Cinderella being saved - the reason why heroes became an inevitable part of our culture. To an extent, their presence is inspiring, but one should know when to put the cape back into the closet. Otherwise, one fine day gravity will find them limp with their weightless actions. There hasn’t been any shortage of controversial heroes, either in history or even today. Controversy is like a hawk that usually preys on the powerful. It is almost as if they can sense the balance of power toppling from the counter of fame.
When 90% of the existing wealth is accumulated by the top 1% of people on the planet, it sounds ridiculous to even talk about equity. Power belongs to the rich, equal rights is an illusion, everything can be bought - most of all, influence. When you can control and move governments, mobilize public opinion, shift culture and create a revolution of change - I highly suggest that it is what you should seriously be doing. Not washing your dirty laundry in public - not letting the dark side of your consciousness play bigger than you. The world has already gone through so much collective darkness since 2020, that to see one more of our heroes so dramatically cave into darkness, is nothing less than painful. They have a duty to the people, now more than ever, to stay aware and open-minded. In my opinion, becoming a hero is easier than staying a hero for a long time. Blame is on us to weigh people next to gods, who too fail very often. The media and the culture are to blame. People cannot live up to our expectations because we want a myth. However, the reality is that they are only complex and flawed humans like the rest of us. We accept our heroes on our terms. Our acceptance is often plastered with pity which peels off quickly to reveal a deeper dissatisfaction when our heroes don't show up pretending who we want them to be. However, this dissatisfaction that we project on them is internal. We seek perfection out of them because we are reluctant to work on our imperfections.
Power should never be handed over to a collective few, power needs to be decentralized and anonymous. Power is the most dangerous form of magic, the most misused weapon. Centralized power, if not bound by policies, can be abused without the abuser being aware of his deviance. Being predisposed to such gravity of unchecked power, one’s sense of self seems to expand way beyond what is necessary for a psychologically healthy life. Fame is a dangerous thing, people who misuse its heat are always left in ashes. Fame corrupts people, twists their minds to its will, under its colossal force, even the most unyielding mind snaps. They become a convoluted part of themselves that lack sophistication, sensitivity, and remorse. They often seem to forget that even the Titans of Mount Olympus fell.
I have a theory - Heroes should die. Of course, I don’t mean literally, but an ideological death is essential. When they have sailed the ship for a long time, they should also be aware of the right time to hand the helm over. However, this often is not the case. Most heroes persist long enough to turn themselves into a phenomenon of collective disgust. Let us talk about two such heroes, with huge global impact since the last few decades, and how they fell from grace.
Who are you, and what did you do to Joanne?
I will never forget the feeling of discovering the Harry Potter books for the first time. I never experienced such magical storytelling before that, nor have I experienced it again ever since. Such was the genius of J.K Rowling. Harry Potter is not a book but a phenomenon. She gave us the boy wizard and his magical world, where good wins over the bad, at all cost. Her rags to riches journey, the kindness, and the philanthropy she practiced made her one of the most well-deserved success stories in the world. She was my hero for the longest. However, back then I was very young and had very little sense of what the term hero meant. Rowling has been a perfect angel, until lately, when she made a trans-exclusionary tweet on a post that talks about creating a more equal post-covid-19 world. After being accused of transphobia, to make matters worse, she doubles down with an unapologetic essay to explain her fears (see below).
We could have all forgotten that our beloved author has an exclusionary mindset if she wasn’t this hell-bent on proving it. In her essay, she exclusively voiced her concerns over letting trans people use gender-appropriate toilets stating that - 'When you throw open the doors of bathrooms and changing rooms to any man who believes or feels he is a woman, then you open the door to any and all men who wish to come inside'. This statement indicates a disregard for people who identify in the spectrum of gender which is not binary. However, inferring from her solidarity-seeking essay, one can say that Rowling’s understanding of the difference between gender and sex is skewed, and her fears are confirmed by her ignorance. She clearly has not done her research before using a dangerous gender stereotype to target already marginalized and vulnerable people, in midst of a global pandemic. What baffles me the most, is the fact that out of all the causes for which she could have used her influential platform, she chose to do this. She chose to tell her billions of followers that she is not comfortable using the same toilet that trans people use. I think the world could have used a lot less controversy and hate, especially when millions of people have lost their families and loved ones to the dreadful pandemic.
If you are someone, who cannot be convinced without data that this statement by Rowling is derogatory towards marginalized trans people - I have a reference for you here. In a 2015 US survey done on trans people, nearly half (47%) of respondents were sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetime and one in ten (10%) were sexually assaulted in the past year. In communities of color, these numbers are higher: 53% of Black respondents were sexually assaulted in their lifetime. 65% of respondents who have experienced homelessness, and 61% of respondents with disabilities reported being sexually assaulted in their lifetime. More than half (54%) experienced some form of intimate partner violence, including acts involving coercive control and physical harm. If this set of data is not heartbreaking, I don’t know what is. (Source)
When we impede trans people from using their gender-appropriate bathrooms, we inform them that we don't believe who they say they are, because they are different. When we issue an identity card to confirm medical intervention or hormones intake before we let them in the gendered appropriate spaces like changing rooms, we imply that every trans person should go through a sex reassignment surgery which is coercive and against the rights of an individual to make certain decisions about their bodies. In addition to that, it is important to realize, sex reassignment surgeries are cost-intensive and physically painful. Trans women living on the streets cannot afford such therapy, should they be excluded from using their gender-appropriate toilets then they will be surely subjected to potential violence. I cannot possibly support this anti-humanitarian sentiment only because a billionaire fantasy writer wants to project her unreasonable fear to make a transphobic predator stereotype acceptable. I have loved Harry Potter for more than a decade because it teaches about friendship, tolerance, and coexistence. But if this is what its writer stands for today, I refuse to refer to it ever again. It is callous and degrading towards people who already have struggled all their lives to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance by society. Is it so difficult to respect people’s experiences of gender and letting them their basic human rights like toilet and changing room access? Rowling has created immense pain for a lot of trans fans who have derived their sense of identity while reading Harry Potter in isolation. She was supposed to be this messiah of the marginalized, what went wrong? Maybe she is sick of being bored with her insufferable wisdom and wealth.
The timing was also notorious because after all the commentary came from a billionaire white woman in midst of a pandemic blizzard, pride month, and ongoing BLM movement. With her gender-critical opinions, she has managed to sabotage the pace of work needed to solve many of the issues this specific period stands for. The internet was flooded with criticism and opposition to her commentary. However, we forget that the rich and influential often live untouched in their ivory tower while wreaking havoc in the lives of so many. This arises the question of the importance we give to one person’s success story, rather than collectively celebrating all the major and minor milestones we achieve together. This is practically all that is wrong with the hero-worshipping culture. The fandom is heartbroken because we gave Joanne the authority to impact billions of people without truly knowing if she had enough virtue to do so. The last straw on the camel’s back was when I found out, that the pen name (Robert Galbraith) that she uses to write her crime series, she shares it with a much-criticized homophobic gay conversion therapist who performed several CIA approved tasks, infringing on human rights. Check here.
From being the most beloved children’s author who donated enough to charities, and paid enough taxes to lose her billionaire status, to being a person who tweets links to a store that sells pins with slogans “Fuck your Pronouns” - the fact that Rowling fell from grace is undebatable. Major media houses including The Atlantic, Forbes, Time, Vogue, Vox, Harper’s Bazaar, The Independent, namely a few who have pointed dangers of her concerning opinions. We should do our best to understand that gender is a social construct, and everybody experiences it differently. Gender is a spectrum rather than a monochromatic palette, where people experience who they are and how they interact with their world with their realized identity. It has nothing to do with the sex that you are born with. Gender dysphoria is a real and everyday reality of many people. J.K Rowling is problematic because she wants the world to be binary, divided between good magic, and bad magic without paying enough cost for using both. She views herself as a hero who is fighting for a cause of cis women, a sheer force of greatness in a delusional universe where people are safely labeled and put up in categories. However, her enchanted fortress is corroding, the charms are ineffective when confronted with the truth. This is not her fantasy world, this is our shared world, where we create our realities with our shared values and coexist in harmony. Her rules are not applicable here. We don’t need the heroes, we need collectively evolved people who can practice empathy and tolerance. Twitter is trending with hashtags #RIPJKRowling. This is where my hero died, and when she did, I mourned, said goodbye, and moved on.
Ask Billy what happens when money is not enough.
Microsoft is one of the biggest tech companies in the world. Bill Gates genuinely was the most revered tech titan both for his extraordinary achievements and philanthropic practices. As per a CNBC report, since 1994, Bill and Melinda Gates have given $45.5 Billion for charitable causes. In the year, 2019 alone they have donated $589 million making them the greatest philanthropist of all time. Bill had it all - a 66,000 square feet mansion, a strong and functional marriage, healthy intelligent children, luxury, influence over major decision making across global issues, stakes in funding, and investments in the world's major technological developments. He had everything in the palm of his hands. Then what happened to this tech genius who was supposed to save the world?
Well, to begin with, all that glitters is not gold. Yes, the Gates foundation has indeed carried out an incredible scale of charity projects across the globe. However, it is also true that in 2020, Gates's net worth is estimated at roughly $110 billion. The shrewd businessman would have not been a philanthropist if it didn’t suit his lifestyle which is a topic up for speculation recently. Before Melinda declared their divorce, a largely uncharted territory in the life of this socially awkward billionaire which was private and kept hidden for many years opened to public scrutiny. The pandora’s box is now open, revealing a very different image from the existing media image. From a tech evangelist to a philanthropist, to a convoluted flawed person - Bill Gate is surely falling from grace, one report at a time.
From the alleged affair with a Microsoft employee while being married to Melinda, to being a creepy boss who pursued many women out for dates (although never solicited sex from them), recently Gates was on the headlines for all the wrong reasons. He allegedly left the Microsoft board while the affair investigation was ongoing. Here is a guy who was a child prodigy in coding and was solving complex problems central to human civilization (like the eradication of malaria). Then the very next thing you know about him is the fact that he had close connections with the infamous pedophile Jeffery Epstein (known for indulging rich and famous people by smuggling child prostitutes), who killed himself in police custody. Gates, for most of his life, has built an empire so great that all these revelations are never going to bring him down from the top. Although, he is losing his public appeal. What is worse is that this reputation is challenging the ground reality of the Bill and Melinda foundation, which is one of the largest charity organizations in the world. An uncertain future looms over many global humanitarian projects funded by the Gates Foundation since there are talks about restructuring of the leadership.
There is also a buzz about him secretly closing a case of sexual harassment against his money manager by offering a settlement to the accuser. Recently, he has been labeled as a ’vaccine racist’, pertaining to his cold and calculative statement to the press over disproval to share patented vaccine technology with India. All this while India was facing its devastating second covid-19 wave, and was in dire need of vaccines. In all these revelations, one thing remained constant - the fact that the PR strategies quite skilfully cover up the unscrupulous sides of our heroes. The brilliance of Gates as a businessman, and a tech giant, cannot be disputed, but his ideologies surely can be. In fact, the more powerful an individual is, the more influential they become, the more it is necessary to keep their virtues open to public scrutiny. It is the only strategy that works to keep power in check. If good journalism is worth its salt, it is worth only the truth - the truth that shatters a titan, the truth that dismantles the machine of control, the truth that destroys the myths and the legends and creates space for the new stories to emerge.
Through all these, our major lesson is that - arrogance of fame and success will almost always destroy even the most carefully constructed narratives. Power exerts a force so great that the universe intervenes pretty often to correct its course. Like a self correctional loop in infinite motion, a new source of power is generated when one declines. The death of Heroes is not only inevitable but also necessary because if power reigns too long in the hand of a certain few, it will successfully bring thousands of-year-old civilization on its knees. That is how quickly power corrupts conscience. The toxic drunkenness on power can diminish the ability to decipher the right from the wrong. The consistency of goodness will possibly dwindle if any amount of money can be paid to buy virtue. You don't have any obligation to concede to morality when you are a legend, a myth carefully manufactured by the opportunist press.
Heroes must die an ideological death because that way they retain their status of omnipotence. That way they get to keep their mythical aura and narrative without destroying their legacy. They need to hand the torch down to the younger generation, who will carry the mountains on their shoulders a little further, before handing it over again to the next generation. Like a supernova, their extinguishment should be glamorous and celebratory. This is the only tradition that can restore the noble tribe of heroes currently progressing towards obscurity. Heroes must die a respectable death to make space for the new ones to be born. If you are a black sheep who never had a hero, this is your time. Rise and become the hero that you deserved but never had.