WRITING - AWARE MAGAZINE
HEROES & VILLIANS
Last week I watched Batfink. One of the few advantages of Satellite TV is you can regress back to your childhood in the space of one afternoon's viewing. For those of you too young or too old to remember Batfink - I'll remind you. Batfink was a crime-fighting Bat. Bat fink had wings of steel to protect himself against whatever his archenemies would happen to throw at him. His nemesis was Professor Hugo A Go- Go - The Mad but 'brilliant' scientist who lived in a secret laboratory on a hill. Batfink and Professor Hugo A Go_-Go have a truly symbiotic relationship – without each other they are both nothing. So what establishes the fine line that separates heroes from villains or even madness from brilliance? Society.
I often wonder why, as a society, we pigeon hole everything. I assume the reason behind this is the need to gain a form of identification with a particular subject. An example from childhood, with whom did you associate more, the 'Goody Goody' Walter or the bad boy, Dennis The Menace? In fact any children's cartoon would often glamorise the 'baddies' and make the 'goodies' rather dull in comparison. So perhaps society has dictated to us at an early stage that being bad is better than being good. Certainly Milton in Paradise Lost would concur with this argument. If liking them is bad, then who wants to be right?
Conversely, England's first hero would have been the Saxon King Alfred, most famous not for winning battles but for burning a little old woman's cakes, (I bet she was happy). Followed by King Arthur however, not much is really known about these colourful maverick kings, as much of the reality that surrounded them is shrouded in legend, but in their own right they must be medieval anti heroes. On the other hand and perversely enough, Thomas Abeckitt was not seen as a hero for standing up for his beliefs - not forgetting he was brutally murdered for this on orders of the king - and quite logically society dictates the he must be a martyr rather than an anti hero.
Throughout history anti heroes have always been glamorised from Vikings raping and pillaging our countryside, to the more up to date folklore surrounding Robin Hood Prince Of Thieves – he stole from the rich and gave to the poor, thus becoming a folk hero for committing crime. But he was nothing but a common thief – along with his Merry Men (nothing more than vigilantes) – a modern day street gang. This would now be deemed unacceptable behaviour – although perhaps the Government are modern day Robin Hoods, but this time there is no distinguishing between rich and the poor. Imagine, for example, I were to steal Rolex watches from the rich and donate them to the poor. Would I be a hero or would I be a villain? .
The public have a seemingly insatiable appetite for crime – just look at the Best Seller List or any television programme, people like villains and crime, all people want is crime television. People do not really want to watch crime, they watch it because they want to solve crime. They watch it so they can see real life villains at work, rather than having to rely on the cheaper forms of fiction to fill their appetites. In the game show I presented on Channel 4, called Trust Me, we asked the contestants what they would do if they were invisible for a day. Rather than opting to see someone undress or eavesdrop on conversation, they chose to fight crime. This would have pleased Jeremy Bentham with his theory of utilitarianism where some crimes should be treated with the same punishment - i.e. killing an old person is no more a crime than evading tax. Tell that to judge next time you are in court.
Criminals are now achieving hero status witin some areas of the public and media. Take for example the most notorious of East End villains, often hero-worshipped by the old and young alike. The Krays make a very interesting example of villianary and the public’s tolerance towards it. They were feared in their day in the East End and now they are hero-worshipped. Why is this? They did of course have a very human side to them and that was their very strong vocal love for their mother. This gives people something with which to identify with the Krays. But I feel they are heroes, they are classic anti heroes, or perhaps, as I like to think, orchids hiding amongst buttercups.
The great train robbers would have been true heroes had they not knocked out the train driver, and they would have deserved it, anyone that can organise a heist like that deserves a medal, but not obviously a community Trust award. I do think that everyone would rob a bank if they had the chance to get away with it. Obviously, some actually have the courage in their convictions to do it and they live in legend as villains. Paradoxically, pantomime is a great example of a celebration of villainy. Children love the villain and so do the adults, because they are fun people.
Nick Leeson has also become a cult figure, imprisoned quite rightly for masterminding a huge fraud. He has written book and had a film made about what he did. He has suffered cancer; some might cynically say that is his comeupperance. But he has also become an anti-hero. By definition, Anti Hero is any character, real or fictious, who lacks the attributes to be a traditional hero. Bearing this in mind and like Robin Hood, lesson is a thief, however his name will be rememebered in folk law in the city for a long time.
Advertisers successfully use villains and anti heroes to sell their products. Audi, for example, have used the anti-hero (The very annoying ad where he throws the keys back at the salesmen and shouts 'Taxi').
Recently I was embarrassed when a young lad come up to me and shook my hand. He told me that I was his hero. I was shocked, but then again you are 'my hero' rolls off the tongue of a young one, just as 'I love you' rolls off the tongue of an adult. I am no hero, and half the people that are hero-worshipped are not either. But let's not shatter any illusions here. Perhaps in this era when the most epic battles have been won and when all records have almost been broken, we cannot find enough true action heroes to live our lives for us, so we find this sadly in celebrities. Political correctness has destroyed most of the fun of growing up, so perhaps on that premise we should strike out the word hero from our dictionary, because it is no longer appropriate in this modern era and replace with the words see villain, and celebrity,
For much of our lives we are corn fed propaganda and no more so than from the newspapers and television. I used to love, and still do, the propaganda filled, black and white Lone Ranger, which attempted to brain wash Americans into being good or at least honest. This programme was in essence an upgraded Bible story to teach people morality through a hero; from this early programme the good guys wore white hats and the bad black. The Lone Ranger was a do gooder, although he was a classic hero, he was dull and like most heroes quite one-dimensional.
One of the reasons for hero-worship be it anti or normal, is people often lead mundane lives and therefore seek escapism through the means available to them i.e. popular Music, television programmes, films and magazines. Another reason is they wish to emulate their hero. There is nothing wrong in hero worship, to an extent. I too have Heroes! My all time hero, John F Kennedy, intelligent strong and brave man, whose life tragically did an assassin cut short. I did have other hero’s too, Kenny Dogfish, Field Marshall Rommel, Douglas Barder, Colin Cowdrey, I never had their pictures on my wall at a school, but I wanted to take the best from each one of them and mould it into one supreme being. All of my heroes were men, and I did not have one female in my list, with this notion bothering me, I went to my local pub, to contemplate this thought, so I asked some people to name a female hero, and they could not either, why? Lets us look at the great female characters in history, for example, Queen Dido of Carthage, Boadacia, Joan of Arc, Florence Nightingale, Indira Ghandi, Maragaret Thatcher, Mother Theresa, Princess Diana, Heather Mills, Ellen Macarthur, have all been outstanding in their field. They have turned adversity on its head and sometimes battled against diminishing odds to succeed. Heather Mills, whose catwalk career was cruelly cut short by a road traffic accident. Heather has metaphorically picked herself up and has shown immense braveness, becoming an inspiration to fellow prosthesis victims across the world, . In this society, rather than hero worship, we can only admire these people. Perhaps it is because, generally, heroes historically are stereotypically men, and therefore like a gentlemen club, women are not allowed
When I was younger I could never fully appreciate why the Germans got the rough end of the stick in war films. They became my first real anti heroes. Instead of buying the British Commando plastic soldiers, I would collect legions of German paratroopers to beat the British forces. I began from that moment, to support the Underdog in the sporting arena, and I still do. I always wanted the villain to win. I always wanted the hero to fail, I always wanted the Germans to win, and they did, in my play room, and they only things that would stop them winning is either my sisters or my dog chewed the heads off my German soldiers. Unfortaunely even my headless soldiers were too much for the British Commandos.
As most of you might remember there was a Weekly comic called Commando. In that comic, the Germans were made to look unfortunate, all they ever said, was "Luckily for you the war is over Tommy" They would often shout "Snell" and "achtung" at the first sign of trouble, or even for no reason at all. As kids we were brought up believing that the Germans were incompetent. Even going on school trips to France, we would stand by the port and give Hitler salutes to busloads of Germans. At that age we found it most amusing, but it was not our fault, society was saying these people were wrong for what they did, and strangely enough this kind of childish behaviour was endorsed in an episode of Fawlty towers aptly named, the Germans.
Continuing with labels that stick, Cads. Stereotypically cads have all been from Public School – although Norman Douglas said all men fall into two divisions. Those who value human relationships, and those who value social or financial advancement. The first division are gentlemen, the second division are cads. I agree with this, to a certain extent, but this is not universal true of all cads, look the united kingdoms role of honour Terry Thomas, Captain James Hewitt, RHR Prince Andrew, Hugh Grant, Leslie Phillips. These people are fun. We would like to be them, but from Douglas quote we can assume that Society is telling us that the Public School boys that commit crime or other minor misdemeanour are cads. However, if any other person from a conflicting Social Background commits a crime – they become a Villain or a Rogue- clearly, an unfair monopoly on word play. Clearly the public hold Cads close to their hearts as they do heroes
Rouges, Cads or Villains always seem to have parcels of Charisma. All of Ian Fleming's 'baddies' were rich, well educated, charismatic, but hell bent on single-handed world domination, so they were ever so slightly insane. On the other hand Bond, who, for a hero, is quite colourful, is infact a classic psychopath; he is a womanising, gambling heavy drinker. . Surely this is paradoxical – he in fact should be the Cad or the Villain not the Hero! It was Samuel Johnson once said, claret is the liquor for boys, port for men, but who aspires to be a hero must drink brandy. Move over Bond.
The Press is guilty in this modern era of glamorising crime and Caddish behaviour and not promoting the right people to hero status when they deserve it
When somebody becomes a hero, the press will stop at nothing to get a story that undermines their hero status. This happens to a greater extent in Australia and is aptly named tall poppy syndrome. The press knock down the right and promote the bad Everyday the victims of crime get nothing and the perpetrators get paid by the papers fro their story. In fact newspapers actively encourage this can only rub off on today’s youth. Today’s heroes for our youths are Cyber Babes and Teenage bands, hardly good examples to be bought up with. Crime pays, drugs are good, fame achievable. Modern day life is destroying yesterday’s heroes, and replacing them with confusions, Computers have destroyed flair and imagination and ave only confused our youths into to believing that history and its heroes have no relevance in this media Hungry modern society.
One of the many unattractive aspects of Society around the world is heroes or Heroines have to be in the Public Eye, or be notorious, but what about the legions of unsung heroes, the type of person that keeps the health service ticking over, the type of person that delivers meals to the sick, the type of person that does such good work for the sick that puts anyone in the land of celebrity into shame. So, is being glamorous, good-looking, evil, conniving a building block to being worshipped as a hero? Or are we indeed getting our priorities wrong? Rather than drooling over the soccer skill of the vastly over-paid premiership players, we should be more concerned of the hard-working underpaid heroines of the NHS. Society has no time or place for this kind of good work to reward him or her well.
True anti and heroes should always stand the test of time; cads and villains are like celebrities in so much as they are a phase. However Britain’s ever-increasing multi cultural society is making us guilty of our associations with our heroes of old and that is so sad. Heroes, anti heroes, cads and villains are not really that different from anyone else. They just have something that we all secretly aspire to. When they close their front doors at the end of the day, they too become normal humans beings again, and, deep down, perhaps they wish they were normal