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Barry Bortnick

Barry Bortnick

Posted: August 11, 2010 11:04 AM

Heroism in the Modern Era

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There was a time when the word "hero" meant something. It was a cherished word that denoted something almost unattainable.

Homer (not Simpson, but the other one) nailed it with tales of war and glory. The heroes earned it in Homer's day. They took on gods, conquered civilizations, and in the case of my personal favorite, Ulysses, killed 108 punk-ass suitors for trying to snatch Penelope.

Flash forward and examine the Herculean deeds of Genghis Khan. He lorded over the largest landmass in history, reinvented warfare and brought peace to the warring tribes of the Asian Steppe. Genghis gets to park his ger under the banner of "hero" for eternity.

American flyer Charles Lindbergh landed in heroic fashion. His daring flight across the Atlantic inspired the nation.

Every American buried in Arlington or any other grave marked or unmarked earns the title. Same goes for most of the men and women serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.

But somehow or another, the term "hero" has been cheapened. We slosh it about like the weak gruel in Albanian orphanages. We bestow it upon every athlete from junior high to the NFL that catches a key pass, scores a touchdown, or wins a title.

One actual headline recently proclaimed: "Glenn Beck says his real hero is Rush Limbaugh."

"Ulysses, Lindbergh, Limbaugh"?

C'mon man!

But the latest and most shameful use goes to some flight attendant named Steve Slater, who lost it at work and went crazy.

"Slater instantly became a folk hero in many people's eyes after he grabbed a microphone and ranted at a passenger who refused to apologize for hitting Slater with some luggage," the media declared. "Slater then grabbed a beer from the galley and fled the plane via the emergency exit chute."

This act of rage and defiance made Slater a king in the eyes of the Internet's great unwashed.

"How many of us can honestly say we haven't wanted to do the same thing?
Steve is a working class hero," one reader posted on MSNBC.com.

What next? Do we give awards for anyone that lets his inner Neanderthal out for a semi-erect stroll?

Part of me relates to the Slater's rage. I've wanted to tell a boss or two to choke on their own vomit. (Truth be told, I wanted them to choke on mine). Yes, I have elaborate kidnap scenarios about past and current employers. And as court records show, I once stabbed an editor in the throat for holding one of my stories for a week.

None of that makes me heroic. In truth it makes me, and guys like Slater, candidates for Bellevue not Mt. Rushmore.