Kim and Maarten discover the heroes in themselves and each other, over a cup of tea.
Maarten sighed, wondering how to get his point across. "Listen, as I see it, this article is as much about singing a duet as paying careful attention to a blueprint or master plan. We don't have to sing with one voice, do we?"
"I guess you're right," conceded Kim. Fortunately, his irritation at having his creative input trumped was more than matched by his interest in the idea and his respect for the man. "I guess it's important that we use our own voices to say what we want to say about heroes. Like "To our own selves be true"?
"Yeah, exactly! So what is it that you've been thinking about heroes?"
Bastard, Kim thought to himself. Why do I have to go first? "Well, let me see. I've always had heroes in my life - some have been real, some have been fictitious, some have been contemporary, some have been historical. But they've always been there, in one guise or another, inspiring, guiding and encouraging me."
"Wait a minute", said Maarten. "Step back a little. I know I'm putting you on the spot, but something sparked us about heroes. What is it?" Kim paused briefly before replying. "Well, its like 'What's in it for me?' You know, what do heroes do for me? What value do they hold? What role do they play? Why bother to have heroes at all?"
"I don't know about you, but they are a hell of a lot of fun!" replied Maarten.
"When you were a kid?"
"Yes, but even now. Especially now!"
Heroes in adult life that are fun? Kim's interest was increasing as he pondered the power of this simple concept. "Really, I'd like to know more about that."
As usual, Maarten evaded a direct answer. "Sure, but for the moment, tell me what heroes stirred your imagination when you were young?" In spite of Maarten's neat side-step, Kim trusted he was leading somewhere productive and decided to play along. "Well, many of my boyhood heroes, like yours too, I imagine, included heaps of warriors. One of my earliest heroes was the Marvel Comics hero, Spiderman."
"Ol' Spidey - yes, I remember him! Great tights!" joked Maarten.
"You may laugh, but I spent most of my weekly pocket money as an eight year old on the latest Spiderman comic. I admired Spiderman's athletic, muscular, yet 'well-proportioned' body and seem to remember emulating his physical battles with the enemy in the safety of my bedroom and imagining I could swing from building to building as he did."
"All this talk about swingers has reminded me of my numero uno hero, when I was about the same age. Tarzan of the Apes!" By now, any initial embarrassment which both men may have felt had given way to excitement - the eight-year old in each of them was coming out to play!
"Before you get carried away, let me finish with Spiderman!" implored Kim. "Oh, sorry. I got a bit over-stimulated. Off you go."
"Okay - well, Spiderman was a warrior for the forces of good and justice and would often team up with other Marvel heroes to combat criminals and other evil-doers. He was no thug, however, and I thought he was intelligent and sensitive, at least compared to the bad guys and even to other superheroes."
"As he knocked the bad guys senseless, you mean?!"
"Fair go, the New Age was only just dawning. Besides, I seem to recall he trussed them up in his webs for the most part. Speaking of webs, I thought his cobweb-laced red and blue costume was really cool and I remember spending many hours tracing my favourite action images from his comic books."
"It sounds more like hero-infatuation than hero-worship!" observed Maarten. "You know this raises an issue for me. Are heroes still valuable when they go past being guides, and start being idols?"
"I think I know what you mean. Heroes are useful if they point you in a valuable direction, so long as you don't start living through their lives instead of your own."
"Exactly! Are you finished yet?!"
"Okay, okay - I know you're dying to tell me about the Ape-Man. Go on, then"
"Tarzan was a larger than life hero for me, who lived in books and films, not in comics or movies. I didn't have a television influence as a kid - my world was a British one, with none of this "New World-over-the-Big-Sea" crap, not like your costumed comic-book hero."
"I didn't know you were so snobbish about your heroes", retorted Kim, already running a 'Tarzan versus Spiderman' contest through his mind. "No, no, I'm just trying to set the scene. I was brought up with the British as supreme beings, and Tarzan was a Pom, you know."
"Different worlds - must be our vast age difference." joked Kim.
"Oh, very droll." Maarten was unsure whether to respond in kind, or let it go. He chose the latter option, realising these quips were only friendly banter. A currency for affection. Besides, it all added to the buzz of talking about these issues. "Lets get back to the original issue - 'what use are heroes, unless they add value to our lives? If I think about these heroes and what we've said about them, they've been sources of influence and objects of admiration. They have been about dreams and aspirations; people or characters to look up to for inspiration."
"Yes, but what are the features which these characters embody that have made them heroes for us? And are there patterns or themes in these features?"
"Well, I've noticed that these heroes, like others in my life, are men, generally 'larger than life' champions of skill, power and competence, and people who survive against the odds. For example, your Tarzan talked with monkeys, fought crocodiles, and swung through the trees with the grace of a high wire artist. I don't know about you, but I think of him as a warrior, like Spiderman!"
"Yeah, me too! And while we are on the subject, did you know that the popular and dictionary definition of a hero is of a male and almost inevitably of a warrior figure?"
"So?" replied Kim, not sure of his point.
"Well, its not that we just happened to have chosen male, warrior heroes - the typical hero has always been a male, warrior type. In fact, more space is given to a variety of definitions of 'Hero' than to those describing 'Heroine', the female equivalent. It is quite likely then, that the heroic patterns or themes for most of us are male warriors, and theirs is presumably the dominant influence."
"You know, this reminds me of the Carol Pearson book, The hero within, and the six basic heroic archetypes she refers to; Innocent, Orphan, Wanderer, Warrior, Martyr, and Magician - remember, we talked about it?"
"Yes, of course I do!" said Maarten impatiently. "I've read her follow up book, Awakening the heroes within, and that one talks about twelve archetypes. What made you think of that?"
"Well, what was most useful for me was the point that a range of different heroic models can exist within each of us and these help us to reach our true potential - we don't need to rely solely on the warrior archetype. And I don't know about you, but I think it allows us, as men, to stop being trapped by our belief in the need to be rescuing, fighting, combative heroes. It also helps women to consider roles other than passive, martyring ones."
"Much as I hate to admit it", confessed Maarten, "I think you're right. I have had a rather limited view of the Warrior role in my life. What was the attraction of Tarzan for me, anyway, a scrawny young kid with perpetual bruises on my legs?"
"Better legs, probably!" teased Kim. "Besides, Tarzan had no dress sense!"
"And Spiderman did?" Maarten retorted, by now starting to share Kim's vision of a Tarzan and Spiderman showdown. "Getting back to the point about the value of the hero, it begs the question as to whether our heroes offered us anything other than a warrior archetype." Maarten let that sink in for a while. "When I was in Tarzan's world, anything was possible! I could sit up in a tree and imagine the smell of the jungle, hide from my enemies and dream great dreams."
"Actually, I can relate to that, tell me more."
"Well, my young cousins and friends, all girls, interestingly enough, shared my love of this wild man too. We played rough, exciting, and sometimes dangerous games - we hung over fence lines and scrabbled away from crawling nasties and it was always fun."
"And that's the point you were making before - it was fun! Heroes are fun, or at least they should be! I think I understand what you were getting at now."
"Yeah, time never hung heavy. We rarely stopped our adventures, except to drink and eat mysterious offerings from the Gods - cordial and biscuits, usually. I don't want to get too mystical, but I was alive and full of energy and creativity."
"What's mystical about that?" asked Kim. "Isn't that what it's really all about? Having fun, being alive? You know, Maarten, it's like writing this article together. I'm really enjoying it. It's like we're playing, not working, and because its fun I am full of energy. But unfortunately, I don't normally associate being a man with having fun. Too often, it's about work and a sense of responsibility."
"Yeah, I know what you mean, Kim, and that's why I think we need heroes. Or, at least, partly why."
"To add a sense of fun to our lives?"
"I think the common thread that joins all my heroes is that they bring me something of value, and a sense of fun and playing is a big part of it."
"Something you just said struck a chord with me," said Kim, starting to talk more rapidly, trying to express a newly found connection before it disappeared. "You said 'they bring me something of value'. In your case, that something is a sense of fun - that is important to me too, even if I don't pay enough attention to it - but the value of heroes will vary from person to person. For you, they bring a sense of fun, for someone else, it could be something else again."
"Such as a sense of identity. I just remembered a saying I heard or read somewhere - 'That which you admire you shall become'."
Maarten chuckled at the implication of this saying. "Does this mean I'm going to become Tarzan and you are going to become Spiderman? I wouldn't look too good in a loincloth, and I'm having a great deal of difficulty seeing you hanging around in spider webs!"
"Actually, I think it means you already are Tarzan! Remember Richard Bach's comment that 'Like attracts like'? I can't help but think that this applies to our heroes. Our heroes are not always heroes to others. They have special meaning for us and this meaning is relatively unique. In this context, this would mean that my heroes have not only been people or characters, whose special abilities or characteristics I find especially attractive, but with whom I have some affinity. I chose the heroes whose qualities I think reflect my own - or at least are ones I could aspire to."
"You know what you've said, don't you?" smiled Maarten. "You've said that we are our own heroes - simply projected onto some other character or person. It's like 'I have seen the hero, and I am he!' "
"Brilliant! You've just said in nine words what I took ninety-nine to say."
"Well, you've always had a tendency to ramble," laughed Maarten.
"Fair enough - but you do agree with what I said?"
"Absolutely - lets face it, the world I live in, which may seem to be the same as yours is, in fact, scripted by me, peopled by my heroes, villains and bit players, and reflects my stories and biases about what shape reality takes. They are extensions of me."
"Its a great concept. We are our own heroa." said Kim, happy with that conclusion.
"'Yep - and you know what? I'm happiest when I'm being heroic." Maarten paused, struck by a revelation. "I know I'm really alive when events strike a chord, when everything I see, hear, think and feel resonates and hums with energy. When I not only identify my heroes, but when I act out their roles."
"That's the challenge, isn't it?" said Spiderman. "To acknowledge your heroes as part of yourself and to be them, not just to idolise them.". "I think so, Spidey" agreed Tarzan, before taking the vine in his hand and leaping off to his next adventure.
First published in the magazine XY: men, sex, politics, 6(2), Winter 1996. XY, PO Box 4026, AINSLIE, ACT, 2602, AUSTRALIA. ©Reprinted with permission.