I am not much of a hero worshiper. It’s too disillusioning and I’m a little too cynical. Things fall apart, and so do heroic images. Even lovable human beings are fallible, leaving you with their clay feet and messy imperfections, along with your own shattered ideals. You grow up, you get a little wiser, you move on.
Still, I was once young and worshipful and haven’t entirely escaped my childish excesses. When I saw Fess Parker a few years ago, I swooned. Who cared about the other arts honorees who’d probably won Pulitzers, Nobels, Oscars and Emmys, for all I cared? I was in the presence of greatness, I was in the presence of Davy Crockett, and all of a sudden that Born-on-a-Mountaintop song unspooled in my mind and I once again wanted a coonskin cap and fringed jacket more than anything else in the universe. (Those unfulfilled dreams — they never let you go.)
Unfortunately, Fess died and now, everybody knows that Davy Crockett might not have been the great hero who succumbed at the Alamo, fighting back to back with his friend Georgie Russell. In these matters of childhood worship, though, I’m more of the frame of mind expressed by the journalist in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: “This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”
(My husband, an unsentimental sort who didn’t grow up reading and watching Westerns the way I did, is highly critical of the Alamo as an incubator of heroes. “The Texans were just a bunch of land-grabbers,” he’ll say complacently, while I begin to scream in a semi-deranged way that Spain and Mexico didn’t really own the land, either, since they’d stolen it from the Indians, which I, as a one-quarter, card-carrying member of the Chickasaw tribe harbor great resentments about. “Well, anyway, they were stupid to die there,” my husband will continue complacently and infuriatingly, which almost always leads to one of those Shut Up, She Explained imbroglios. Why, oh, why?)
Even at my advanced age, though, I have to admit I still veer into dangerous hero worshiping territory now and then. Not of politicians, of course — I do have rational limits. No, I’m finding myself a little too worshipful of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. (This is not as completely irrational, blind and pathetic as it might seem; as a matter of fact, I once sat next to Colbert at a Broadway play and we talked for a good 45 seconds, as I recall.)
But, still! I know I’m on dangerous turf here. I watch these two guys a few times a week, laughing and bursting with admiration, trusting them because, after all, who else is there to trust in this uncertain and miserable world? I know I’m risking heartbreak and loss of my illusions and I live in fear that one or both of these guys will get caught doing something heinous and then what will I do?
My heroes have always been cowboys, but now they’re comedians. You have to stay flexible in this world, I tell myself.
(Copyright 2012 by Ruth Pennebaker)