I have tons of dragon pictures. I also have a number of friends who would be embarrassed on my behalf to learn that I admitted that in a public forum! Among that large compilation of pictures, I find myself wondering whether or not I really like the featured one or not … but it gets me pondering from time to time and it is visually well executed and so I keep it.
The guy in the image appears to be a little outgunned if you ask me. But that leads me to wonder whether or not this guy is just too full of testosterone and suffering from a large bout of self deprecating and nearly debilitating depression or is there some hidden story where this guy is sacrificing all just to save some friends or family who lurk somewhere past the edges of this image? Fool hardy or heroic? Aristotle debated over this issue centuries ago and this image offers the precise ambiguity that Aristotle puzzled over with his peers. Or, is he simply part of a culture that demands that he face this serpent demon? I recently watched 47 Ronin and considered the cultural peculiarity highlighted in the film that has become cliche in many Asian films: the question of honor. Sometimes a sense of honor inspires courage (or perhaps foolhardy recklessness if we use the Aristotelian model). Or, perhaps the guy was simply under the influence of cocaine … the fact that I ponder these questions at all is a testimony to the growing ambiguity of my American paradigm that defines what heroism is in the first place.
Regardless of his motivation, I find it interesting that we like to see grand heroism in stories. We like to see a character risking great sacrifice – the ultimate sacrifice – for the benefit of others. Admittedly, we love our heroes. And yet, in our American culture, this type of heroism seems largely relegated to the movies. In an increasingly PC world, heroism means that we stand up for what we believe in … but only if we can do so without offending too many people. We see tons of trash talking and brainless sound bytes on the news but very few stories of real heroism – stories that may truly deserve our attention and respect. In some circles, our military gets lauded for its heroism but in other circles, that message gets entirely lost as people debate about whether or not they are fighting a battle that is really benefitting the world (or even our own country) – echoes of Vietnam questions linger and messages of rogue soldiers killing civilians hit the headlines more frequently than stories of true heroism on the battlefield. Whistleblowers are all but blown up by almighty corporate dollars – dollars that can manipulate our compromised legal system into delivering the death knoll of less wealthy opponents. Sometimes we wince to see the injustice but usually, we just turn our attention to something else. Perhaps, like the man in the image, there is little true substance left to our concept of heroism … other than accepting the fact that this dude is going to die. We may admire him for it. We’ll probably even tell our friends about it. We’ll cheer him on and root for him. But at the end of the day, we will probably inwardly prefer to live another day than to stand for something bigger than ourselves. In the end, we prefer just to sit back and let someone else get eaten by the dragon.