The world of fiction abounds in life lessons on the high cost of hero and celebrity worship; Shakespeare’s Othello and Macbeth, Sophocles’ Antigone, and Bolt’s Sir Thomas More to name a few, are examples of the price paid for self-mastery over the very frail and fallible human condition. After being lauded and held up as role models of excellence in their lives, each falls according to the flaws in their character; unable to admit to weakness and caught up in the myth that how others perceive them (including God) is the measure of a virtuous and successful life.
To some extent this is the creed of modern life too-successful achievement in life is measured by one’s celebrity status and the public need for larger than life characters who can be feted and rewarded then held up as role models as the justification for the guiding ethical principles which underpin the very foundations of a moral society. Some of the world’s contemporary heroes include footballer Cristiano Ronaldo, Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates, actress Dame Judy Dench, teen age singer Justin Bieber, and the young actress Emily Tennant. Then there are the every-day traditional role models in society who represent all that is good and all that one should aim for in terms of character, career achievement and success. They come in the shape and form of parents, grandparents, teachers, doctors, sports personalities and so on. But what happens when a role model fails and their once hero like status is in tatters? What happens when the public in its many guises as fans, family and friends, who once feted them with exquisite laurels of praise and awarded them their God-like status, suddenly turn on them, and in fits of fury and rage pull them off their pedestal and exposes their very weaknesses, which hitherto had been denied ever existed, yet had always been there?
Recent history throws up some interesting examples. Michael Jackson for instance managed to avoid conviction for some very serious allegations against him for his supposedly genuine, yet misguided fondness for young boys. There are still hundreds of thousands of his supporters who conspire to proclaim him a hero despite his public humiliation via multi-media access to judicial processes in the United States of America. The untimely demise of Whitney Huston to drug addiction and dysfunctional personal relationships saw her once untouchable role model status as The Voice barely functioning up until her death. More recently there’s been the scandal enveloping Lance Armstrong. He was a hero to millions, a cancer survivor who was establishing his reputation as the foremost cyclist in history. But the evidence put forth by a US antidoping agency painted a picture of him as a disreputable fraud, an insolent liar and an aggressor towards his own team mates who pushed others to cheat with him so he could claim hero status. Yet, in a desperate bid to maintain his crown, Armstrong refutes all these claims, and his tattered reputation still hangs on the precipice of erratic public opinion including misguided loyalty from pro-sportsmen like Alex Dowsett, who conspire to deny that Amrstrong did anything wrong-but perhaps not for much longer. And cross the Atlantic there’s the unfolding sorry and sordid tale of another community hero-the late Sir Jimmy Saville-once feted by religious and secular Royalty alike; now a moral post-mortem is being carried out on a man who appears to have been a serial predator of young girls and the occasional boy, with over 120 separate allegations coming to light a year after his death. It seems this chilling posthumous biography will rewrite history for many people not just the deceased. In all the examples cited above; Jackson, Houston, Armstrong and Saville someone, some where knew there was something wrong, but conspired with others to say nothing. The media machine kept churning out the images and narratives everyone wanted to see and hear, and the public drank it up like an elixir from the the mythical fountain of youth. No-one wanted their dream to end. Waking up to reality was just too costly. But the end result of this kind of folly is a breach of trust which takes a very long time to regain, and in some instances may never be regained. We already live in a complex world, fraught with irony and paradoxes when it comes to understanding the nature of people and human relationships. History could have forewarned everyone in all the cases cited above. “Show me a hero” wrote Scott Fitzgerald, “and I’ll write you a tragedy”