Killing Your heroes

“Kill your heroes” is a phrase that I have heard at various times throughout my life. However, until recently, I never really connected with the phrase. Sure, I understood the basic idea, but I failed to appreciate it. To kill ones heroes is not to literally axe your heroes, but to kill the glorified version of them you hold in you mind. This isn’t to say you should kill your dreams, or not have people  you look towards for guidance or inspiration. Instead, I think of it as allowing your heroes to be real human beings, and, in turn, you allow yourself to be held to attainable standards.

It also helps when your heroes inevitably fail you in some manner, as they will. However, some people would rather defend the person no matter what and maintain a saintly image in their mind instead of face the possibility of fault in their hero. Other people go to the other extreme and, having seen the faults in those they looked up to, reject them entirely, good and bad. Since they couldn’t be perfect, well, then they can’t be a good representation for anything at all.

The truth as I see it runs more along the idea that people are flawed. We all do some things excellently and other thing not so well. Somethings we aren’t even aware that we could do them. Personally, I strive to be able to recognize what people do well, and give credit where it is due. But I also try to recognize what I don’t think they get right and why. The Most resent example that brought this idea to the front f my mind was Neil Gaiman’s book release, Trigger Warning. In his interviews about the books, Neil made it clear that he both does not like trigger warnings in general (thinking them misused), and that he does not really understand how they are generally used or in what contexts. He was confusing trigger warning as something threatening to invade an academic environment, rather then a tool to make online spaces safer for people who can be triggered. This was followed by his wife, Amanda Palmer, making transphobic remarks even though she has made it fairly clear that she is a member of the LGBT community and seemingly an ally to trans people. This was really disheartening. Particularly because I quite like both of their artistic works.

Now, it’s true that this has soured me to both of them, and, to an extent, has soured me to their works. This is part of why it’s important to “kill our heroes,” or, more generically, recognize that we can enjoy something while not accepting everything about it and it’s creators. I Still like The Sandman. I still enjoy listening to “Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra.” These pieces of art still have value. There are many thing to like about them, and I can go on liking them. I even still like Neil and Amanda, just considerably less than I used to. They are people, and they have done some very cool things. They have gone through trials and troubles like everyone else, although they have enjoyed a degree of success that most of us will never get to enjoy. Their flaws, however, don’t invalidate their successes, and neither do there successes forgive their flaws. Having said that, I think it’s important to say the following: you can’t take all the positive thing and negative things separately, nor do I think you should try. It’s important to think about and understand what you feel is being done right, and what was done wrong, and how those influence the person in question as they undoubtedly do. You can’t make an off handed transphobic joke and fully respect or consider trans* people. Though I also doubt Amanda sees it that way: she doesn’t see why her jokes is wrong. Possibly because she isn’t considering how jokes about a regularly victimized group of people you don’t belong too is not the same a targeting a group you belong to, or a group which has significant privilege over you.

This is the sort of complex consideration we need to grant to the people we interact with, and whose works we enjoy. We need to kill those glorified perceptions we hold. We need to accept that the people we like have good and bad. That we can like them even though they are not perfect. But we also should not ignore those things that we are bother by just because we like other parts of them. Nor should we reject something or someone just because we don’t like something about them. We need to consider their complexity, even those we look up to the most. And yes, I think that we should also including ourselves and those around us in this.

I hope I’ve given some food for thought, and perhaps some of you will also kill your heroes. Allow yourselves the opportunity to better understand the people behind the persona you erect around them.

13 responses to “Killing Your heroes

  • nancyabramsblogger

    I don’t think I’ve heard this phrase in this exact form before, but it’s an idea I’ve heard a few times that I definitely agree with. One area I think it particularly affects is romantic relationships. I’ve met people whose relationships failed because they weren’t in love with a real person; they were in love with an idea of who their partner was that didn’t match reality, and left no room for human tendencies and flaws.

    Liked by 2 people

  • Kit

    I’ve never heard that, although I have heard “kill your darlings” — a bit of advice often given to writers that basically means — “be quick to recognize and edit out your own self-indulgences.”

    Liked by 1 person

  • clubschadenfreude

    I think killing your heroes really comes into play when you find out your parents aren’t perfect. it’s a shock when that happens and was hard to get past that, at least for me. It feels like the most horrible betrayal.

    Liked by 2 people

    • hessianwithteeth

      I think this is true for many people and I think it’s a source of a lot of teenage rebellion. Another problem which could partially solve by honesty, though not entirely. I still think we will always feel betrayed when we eventually learn that no one can be perfect, and that faulty thinking is a structural problem in the human brain. Thought not everyone gets that far.


  • M.M.J. Gregory

    I’m still not sure how I feel about Amanda’s tweet. I’m not trans, so if trans people are bothered by it, I trust their judgement. I’ve listened to some of Neil’s interviews too. I do know that some colleges are considering putting trigger warnings on books and courses, so he is responding to real issues, not perceived ones. I’m not sure how I feel about trigger warnings in an academic setting. I see pros and cons. Neil has said that he likes and supports the idea of trigger warnings on the internet.

    I don’t believe in having heroes, for reasons such as these. People are fallible, hypocritical beings. Elevating any human is an error in my mind.


  • ijustgetbored

    I do see your point of disagreement; you’re quite correct. I didn’t have any adults I was close to as a child, and that’s doubtless why I failed to consider that point. Now that you point it out, I see what you mean. Looks like I set my clock forward a little early! 🙂

    Naive is closer to the truth, yes. I thought I had already sounded grouchy enough, so I was trying for an alternative there. If I did sound dismissive of past selves, that was unintentional; that was simply a different way of appreciating and admiring people, works, and other things. I’m glad I had that naive time without any critical lens to speak of. In its way, it makes for extremely good memories: feeling that an author really understands your life, or that a song sums up your experience, that kind of thing– and those things stay embedded, if not unquestioned.

    Growing up, I agree, is an ambiguous term at best and varies widely from person to person, as you say. I agree absolutely with the point about sheltering; I think most children and teens are capable of understanding far more than they’re exposed to (because they’re being sheltered). In the U.S., ongoing efforts to ban books in schools is an ongoing example of this.

    I’m interested in your point about the effects of social programming (re: varying effects by age). I’ve heard a lot about this from a very specific standpoint (not one that really relates to much here, that I’ve seen; it’s simply kind of off-topic), and the consensus with that one is that teens are more susceptible. As I said, though, I’m referencing a very specific and narrow issue; I’m not at all arguing against the overall point, because it’s not really something I’ve thought much about. I can see how teens are more likely to actively push back and rebel (as well as try new things) than people who are older and may be more embedded in habitual grooves. I’m curious about this now.

    I’m sorry I fall back on literary references; my undergrad and grad work was in literature and philosophy. I have a habit of mixing and matching (as the two are fairly entwined). As I said with that novel, I really doubt it’s actually read much anymore (which is too bad; it’s very good and beautifully written).

    I read through the Twitter feed until Gaiman actually really and truly stopped making sense. It’s even worse that he held out after his position was clearly indefensible. It also bothers me that he’s always jumping to Palmer’s defense and carrying out arguments on her behalf, but that’s another story.

    Liked by 1 person

    • hessianwithteeth

      Indeed about literature and philosophy. Human thought of all forms are important in understand these important questions. And literature often has important things to say to other areas of life and thought. Ideas, correct or not, can be powerful catalysts of change.

      Also I didn’t not thing you where being dismissive of past selves at all. ON the contrary I was trying give you praise on your word use, thought because I wasn’t certain of the intention behind it I figured it was valuable to bring up. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  • Pavowski

    I actually first encountered this phrase through music: AWOLNATION has a song titled “Kill Your Heroes”. I feel a little silly saying so, but that song and that sentiment has really focused my thinking. And I have never hated celebrities more (in a good-natured way… most of the time).


  • ijustgetbored

    Interesting post. The Gaiman/Palmer examples are timely, at least for me. For some time now, I’ve been saying of Palmer that I must be getting old, because, increasingly, her various antics and actions frustrate me. This latest one, though, is more than just me being cantankerous. The Gaiman title was bothersome to me (if you have any links to discussion about this– and time to share them– I would definitely be interested). Every time I see it pop up on Twitter, I do a double-take, because I momentarily think it’s something that actually does have a trigger warning. I don’t personally like the way he’s using/appropriating the phrase.

    As to killing your heroes: I wonder if there’s some way this can be a learning experience? (I’m trying to shy away from calling it part of growing up or something– I don’t really like that.) I tend to default to literary examples, and when I first read this, All the King’s Men (Robert Penn Warren, 1947) seemed to be a model of this concept– literally. I doubt that’s very widely read anymore, so it could be easy to dismiss as a midcentury representation of an outdated idea(l), but the movie was remade in 2006, and All the President’s Men (1974) is based on (Primary Colors also draws strongly on it). The point buried in here (somewhere) is that there does seem to be an ongoing need to hold up an idealized character, then strike him (I use him, since that’s the pronoun for all these books; I could have used other examples, but these at least formed a sequence) down: finish with moral. In fact, arguably, there’s at least some didactic element to all of those.

    On a more basic level, I think a lot of teenagers have a “hero” phase; I certainly did (authors, musicians, etc.). In part, it was seizing so many fresh and new things; in part, it was just not being completely analytical (or aware of all involved issues) yet. Exactly as you say, I haven’t cast away everything I once enjoyed more “purely” (please note scare quotes); I’ve just taken a step back. The process of killing your heroes in order to better understand them (stealing your language) can (I think this is what you’re saying/implying, if I understand correctly? correct me if not; I’m pretty tired here) be fulfilling and enriching.

    In light of this post (and the ongoing atheism series), Rilke’s sonnet 24 in Sonnets to Orpheus might be interesting (you may very well already be familiar with it).

    Liked by 1 person

    • hessianwithteeth

      Lovely reply,

      I think you’ve gotten the points of key importance from my post. The only point of disagreement (A minor one I think) is that I think hero complex start for most of us very early with those adults close to us as children, and as we grow into teenagers we begin to reject them (to varying extents) and look else where.

      I think your use of “purely” is a kinder word then what many would reach for. That word being naive. Now I can’t remember who said it our how the quote goes, but being kind to our past selves is a skill I think is worth propagating.

      I can understand this desire to shy away from ttalking about “growing up.” In reality many of of take decades to learn thing that other figure out before they hit 12. Not to forget to mention the blanket dismissal of children and teens as incapable in many regards. Perhaps we would do better to challenge our youth rather then sheltering them ;).

      And while it is certainty it is true the Teens and Children do not have full access to the cognitive abilities we have as adults. Since their brains are still developing. Though conversely they are also less effected by the sort of social programing we adults have been exposed to, granting them a much greater degree of cognitive flexibility.

      You much better read then I, at least in this subject but probably in most literary fields. I’ve always had a lot of catching up to do. Though from your explanation they sound quite fitting. Perhaps Hessian might have more to say.

      As for Neil and Amanda I was blissfully unaware of details until I read Heina Dadabhoy’s twitter interactions with Neil. I wouldn’t bother past the first 20 or so.

      After that there was just enough on my facebook feed, and Google searches for me to be properly disappointed.

      Liked by 1 person

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