In a post last week I mentioned how my childhood admiration of Diana Rigg in ‘The Avengers’ led me to study martial arts in my 20s and early 30s. This got me thinking about childhood heroes and how & why we chose people or characters to idealize. Our heroes influence the direction of our lives and, for better or worse, provide role models that compete with the messages our parents try to impart.
Overall, I think my parents succeeded in communicating the importance of art in a good life, that compassion and tolerance are more important than the winning argument, and that skepticism is an effective shield against the lure of easy solutions to difficult problems. But I have to admit that the eight-year-old me thought Emma Peel was the coolest grown-up on the planet. She was brains & brawn and, although she was described as a “talented amateur” in partnership with a professional spy, she seemed to rescue John Steed as often, or more often, than he rescued her. That appealed to the feminist in me.
I adored Mr. Spock of ‘Star Trek.’ I thought Paul Simon was the finest poet on the planet. (I can still sing all too many of his lyrics.) The Mummy movies with Boris Karloff and Agatha Christie stories made me want to become an archeologist. Of course I secretly wanted to sing like Aretha Franklin. And I tried my hand at found object sculptures painted black because of Louise Nevelson.
Now that I’m reading this, I can only conclude that I was a strange little kid. By fourth grade when I wrote my report on Thor Heyerdahl and Easter Island, I was well on the way to becoming a writer.
I’m going to ask my friends about their heroes. I think there’s something fundamental about the early connections with people (real or fictional) outside your immediate universe. I’m a little worried about kids right now. There seems to be too many celebrities famous for being famous—the Kardashians and other reality TV show stars to name a few. They don’t really DO anything. My motley crew of heroes is a group of characters doing things—important, peculiar, extraordinary things.