How heroes rise and fall

Recent occurrences have reminded us of the ease with which heroes are made and destroyed in different societies around the world.
In this Column we address some pertinent issues impacting the rise an fall of heroes.
Who makes heroes?
In St Vincent and the Grenadines we have recently had accolades heaped on the latest national unsung hero. This practice has been going on for some time and we have, as a society, taken it in stride.
Of course we have had the former government of St Vincent and the Grenadines expend resources through a special committee to determine the criteria for the allocation of national awards. The process has somehow stopped despite the current administration’s claims to being anxious to enhance our sovereignty.
We have a tendency in most societies to be so enamoured by the decision to identify heroes that we seldom engage in any sort of detailed analysis of what has led to the individual’s recognition. We are often anxious to run with whatever is fed to us.
Who makes heroes?
We may well want to believe that heroes are born. This is what many of us have been fed for decades. Indeed we have had major writers suggesting that we cannot produce leaders since leadership and by extension heroism requires a special gift. Consistent with this thinking some insist that God, in his creative wisdom infuses heroism in chosen individuals at birth and in time this will come to the fore.
Others argue that heroes are made and this has been the reality for many across the world. This argument proposes that individuals by their own efforts engage in actions that make such a great contribution to the lives of others that they can only be given the accolade of heroism. In such cases it is those whose lives have been impacted by the actions of the individual that leads to the title of hero being assigned since the individuals are often not keen on seeing themselves as such. Indeed, genuine heroes are often very humble. They see no value in holding their actions aloft like a badge of honour on their foreheads. Instead they shy away from the limelight, anxious to remain in the shadows of their genuine humility.
In many instances we can argue rather forcefully that the media around us have been the most critical agency facilitating the making of heroes. In today’s world this is more the case than ever before in world history.
The media are pervasive and spare no effort in identifying those individuals with whom it can work to create heroes of them. This is an exercise that is more often than not determined by the extent to which the process of making heroes will yield increased sales for the respective media houses.
Rather interestingly, history has shown that the very media that so often create heroes are the first to pull them down. This action too, on the part of the media, comes not from embarrassment or shame at not having taken the time to engage in due diligence in the first place but rather because it aids in the selling of their product just as much as the creative process did at an earlier stage.
Indeed, the media creations of heroes are nothing but marketing strategies and so too the dismantling of the shroud of heroism they have created.
Jimmy Savile
It is amazing to see the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) carry a Panorama feature on Jimmy Savile recently.
While the feature suggested a sound piece of investigative journalism on the part of the producers in reality is reflects the sick state of an institution that did so much to create the mystique of the man, a member of its own staff.
There are many who seem to think that the BBC crafted the image of Savile to such an extent that it was blinded to what was happening around them that involved him. The fact that there are now witnesses coming forward to speak out about the sex acts to which Savile had engaged them in is itself amazing and that includes former staff.
The revelations now seem endless and institutions across England now seem anxious to withdraw, albeit posthumously, their awards heaped on him based on the image created by the very media industry with which he worked and associated himself.
The Jimmy Savile case, which is still unravelling at a very rapid pace, speaks to the issues with which this Column is concerned – the making and unmaking of heroes.
Now the media are anxious to dismantle the once neatly crafted image of the man they made a television and national icon.
O J Simpson
In the world of sport we have had the most heroes crafted by the media in their thirst for turf in the global media industry.
When we speak of sport as a business one of the oldest components in that industry is that of the media.
Some may well remember how the US media sold the image of OJ Simpson as an outstanding American Football player. They crafted a near-perfect image of the young man.
True, OJ Simpson came in the aftermath of the legendary Jim Brown, but they spared no effort in selling the image of Simpson. He got into the movies where he did not seem to be much of an actor but they nonetheless thrived on showcasing this as a seemingly logical consequence of a successful career in sport.
Once there was any sort of celebrity activity one was sure to see OJ Simpson being profiled once he chose to attend.
Once however Simpson got into a sport of bother and more particularly the murder trial that took the airwaves by storm, the same media that so carefully crafted his hero image turned most viciously. It was almost as though they did not remember the great lengths to which they had gone to make the image. At the time of milking their own managed image of Simpson no one thought of delving into the real individual. They were only concerned with the immense financial benefits of a good story and ignored the consequences.
Other sports heroes
Over the years the media have taken the time to make billions in sale by creating heroes. In some instances they have been lucky while others have blown up in their faces.
The media have been luck in respect of the image created of Pete Sampras and Roger Federer in Tennis. They have been somehow hesitant to attempt to make heroes of the two black sisters in the same sport, Venus and Serena Williams even as they sold us Jennifer Capriati, the child prodigy, Maria Hingis, Anna Kournikova and more recently Maria Sharapova.
The media that readily capitalised on her youthfulness boosted Capriati. She won the gold medal in the finals of the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, at the age of 16, defeating Steffi Graff in the process. Yet she was unable to hold on to the success and the bright lights that came with her successful Tennis career at such a youthful age. The media, relentless in milking her achievements for what it was worth at the time seemed to ignore the very youthfulness they promoted. She wallowed into the world of alcohol and drugs and made the media headlines, rather unforgivingly at the age of 17 when she was arrested for shoplifting a bracelet worth a meagre $15. She had deteriorated so badly that the media seemed proud to showcase the transformed star almost unrecognizable.
Many may well remember the media frenzy over the young Monica Hingis, the Swiss. The media touted her beauty and the short nature of her clothing than her Tennis skills. They made a superstar out of her yet in no time flat she had been out of the game at the age of only 22. By the time Hingis sought to make a comeback the media had no time for her.
Then there was Anna Kournikova who the media turned into Tennis’ heartthrob. They paraded her as the most beautiful player and seemed anxious to ignore the fact that she had stopped showing the Tennis talent that brought her to their attention in the first place. The media dumped her after utilising her beauty-value.
Today the media have latched on to Maria Sharapova and the same game of hero making is at its height.
It seems ironic that when the Williams sisters made their first appearance at the prestigious Wimbledon tournament wearing beads in their braided hairstyles, the media did not focus on their Tennis skills. Instead, the media sought to highlight their own concern for the safety of the players’ opponents. The media stated that the beads could prove a hazard to the opponents should they fall off during competition.
Of course there was no concern for the Williams sisters endangering themselves.
Rather interestingly while John McEnroe has touted Serena Williams as the greatest female Tennis player of all time, it is Sharapova that is currently enjoying the status of being the highest paid female athlete in the world with her recent signing of a $70m deal with Nike.
In our previous edition of the Column we dealt with the rise and fall of Lance Armstrong, the ultimate media creation.
It was the media that celebrated and toasted Armstrong and delivered him on a golden platter to the rest of the world.
At a time when the world was shocked by the revelations of BALCO’s chief honcho, Victor Conte and his expose on the celebrity clientele he had available to his institution. At a time when it had become evident that athletes, their coaches and managers seemed prepared to delve into the darkest recesses of drug use to get the competitive edge and make fools of the World Anti Doping Agency the investigative journalists did not pay attention given that they had created so many heroes in sport.
The investigative journalists ignored some of the revelations from Wade Exum regarding US athletes prior to the Olympics in Seoul. They seemed more concerned with targeting Canada’s Ben Johnson.
Even as the expose on Armstrong has led the media that created him to systematically dismantle him much more so than they did with Tiger Woods following his domestic debacle they have continued to limit their reflection on the heroes they have created in the past.
The media constitute a most lucrative industry. The legal challenges that have rocked the media empire of Rupert Murdoch are but the tip of the iceberg. The BBC will perhaps continue to see its BBC One Panorama programme on Jimmy Savile as a sort of catharsis for all that the organisation did to market the individual as something of a British hero.
The fact remains that in this materialistic world in which we live the media can always make quick buck off the making of sporting and other heroes while choosing to deliberately ignore the fundamentals of the individuals whom they so choose.
In the end, the media rather irresponsibly ignore the millions of children who, in their anxiety for someone to emulate, latch on to the images created for them, much to their detriment