Culture Challenge of the Week: When Celebrities Overshadow Heroes
The contrast couldn’t be sharper.
Over the past few weeks, Charlie Sheen’s spiral of self-destruction first grabbed headlines and then vaulted him to a new level of celebrity.
The now-fired star of TV’s “Two and Half Men” spewed racist comments and drug-fueled nonsense and shamelessly bragged about his two lovers — “goddesses,” he calls them. They fill the supporting roles in his personal “polygamy story.” Even the presence of his two young sons can’t restrain Sheen’s narcissistic displays.
Millions now follow him on Twitter and his fans will fill arenas in city after city on a quickly launched tour — some venues sold out within minutes. His bad deeds will earn him millions, and already have earned him the label “folk hero.”
Switch continents for a minute, and let’s meet some real heroes. The March 11 earthquake and tsunami unleashed the earth’s staggering power and it all came crashing down on Japan. In the aftermath, Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant has become an even bigger danger than the tsunami’s relentless waves. Damaged cooling systems have generated radiation leaks that threaten people, crops and the air itself. Japan faces nuclear meltdown.
In step the real heroes. A band of 50 workers, dubbed the Fukushima 50, are braving deadly radiation to save a country. For days now, these men have worked tirelessly, selflessly, to keep the reactors cool and to prevent a catastrophe.
What keeps them there? In a New York Magazine interview, a former nuclear plant employee explains the workers’ resolve quite simply: “You’re certainly worried about the health and safety of your family, but you have an obligation to stay at the facility.”
Duty. Commitment. Bravery.
These selfless men don’t have time to create Facebook profiles or Twitter accounts. They’re not playing for headlines. Nor do they calculate their next moves in order to maximize the amount of money they’ll make. They have sacrificed their health — and probably their futures — for the good of others.
The sad truth is that their self-sacrifice will never generate the media attention of a man-made, Charlie Sheen-style disaster. The “tragedy” of Charlie Sheen’s daily drama only whips up blind “hero worship” among media-saturated youth.
In its rush to celebrate celebrity at every turn, our culture risks forgetting that bravery, not brash, is what makes a hero.
How to Save Your Family: Honor Heroism
Unlike the tabloid tales, the tenuous situation in Japan unfolds a far richer story. In the midst of untold suffering and sadness, tragedy has given rise to tremendous nobility and courage. It’s creating real heroes every day.
Let’s honor that heroism.
Begin by teaching your children what heroism is — and what it isn’t.
Heroism is being willing to make great sacrifices on behalf of others. The Fukushima 50 made a decision with life-or-death consequences: Within range of deadly radiation, they risk death, but they work hour after hour in a race to save their country.
When a Marine corporal faces sniper fire to pull a buddy out of harm’s way, that’s heroism. When a firefighter battles a house fire for the sake of the community, that’s heroism.
Skill and persistence in sports, while admirable, are not in the same league. Scoring a game-winning touchdown is not heroism, no matter what the sportscaster says. And while facing a battery of hostile reporters at a news conference or a critic’s scathing review after a performance may be tough, it’s not heroism.
Heroism labors in anonymity. We probably will never know the names of the Fukushima 50. We’ll certainly never know them as their families do — their personal interests, quirks and endearing qualities. But we don’t need to. Their deeds inspire us, whether or not headlines follow.
Heroism is being courageous for the sake of others. Celebrity drama, in contrast, is for the sake of the celebrity.
The Fukushima 50 — real heroes on the world stage — have found the courage to risk everything for a cause bigger than themselves. Now that’s worthy of honor.
• Rebecca Hagelin can be reached at email@example.com.
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