The Hero Myth


There is a common human flaw in thinking, an inclination to depend on a "hero" to save us from problems and to solve our issues. All people, even great ones, come with flaws as well as strengths. In addition, there are very few great people. Most problems are solved by people working together, not by one great individual coming to the rescue. Yet the American people, as an example, tend to look to the President to solve problems, not the Legislature, which is really their representatives and much better qualified to address national problems.


THE CHARACTER MYTH

"By repeatedly insisting that only he has the tools and the determination to fend off terrorism in the post-September 11 era, Bush has cultivated feelings of crisis, pessimism, and anxiety and a loss of control throughout the nation... The electorate passively and often subconsciously relies on his authority and power to act on their behalf. This is why Americans consistently find ways to justify Bush and to convince themselves that he is doing a good job, even when his actions and policies are opposed to their beliefs and values...

"This phenomenon was foretold by media philosopher Marshall McLuhan, who warned: "Politics will eventually be replaced by imagery."

"The character myth relies on the psychological phenomenon that a person who speaks frequently and passionately about morals is generally regarded as a moral person [like a television evangelist]... a person who demonstrates that he has "character" need not present any evidence in support of his policies or decisions. They are simply assumed to be correct, since they come from a person with the ineffable quality known as "character"... [For example] Reagan was seen as having character for sticking to his principles. He was widely viewed as someone who cut taxes, even after actually raising them. Americans simply ignored all data that did not fit the myth...

"..philosopher Leo Strauss.. argued that when a strong political leader explains his policies he should develop a mythology for the consumption of the general public that hides his true motivations... This mythology should use the language of morality to mask the candidate's real interests, which are his own survival in power and his ability to continue to exert dominance over the populace" (Renana Brooks. "The Character Myth." The Nation, Dec. 29, 2003: 25-28).

THE GREAT PERSON THEORY

"When people feel overwhelmed, as I believe Americans have been over the past few years, they tend not to think rationally about complex details. Further... Americans are prone to believe in the Great Person theory -- the idea that if a person has the correct personality traits, his instincts will lead to the correct actions regardless of the details of a given situation... Bush's team knows how to exploit the Great Person Myth. Bush's deliberately constructed image as a moral leader who knows what is right for America takes the place of rational analysis, and his insistence that we are in an ongoing state of crisis in our war against terror helps to perpetuate this dynamic" (Renana Brooks. "The Character Myth." The Nation, Dec. 29, 2003: 25-28).

THE LOST PERFORMATIVE DEVICE

Bush and his supporters often silence opposition and dissent by encoding in their arguments a worldview that implies that even to challenge Bush's ideas is immoral and damaging to the social order, and even to the survival of the nation and of Western Civilization. Linguists call this device the lost performative. The speaker purposely leaves out the authority behind far-reaching statements in order to pass off controversial viewpoints as the absolute truth. When Bush says "Our cause is just," he purposely leaves out the "according to whom?"... The underlying message from the authoritarian leader is, Do exactly as I say, or catastrophe follows... persistent suggestions that anyone who expressed reservations about detentions, say, or military tribunals, was at some level 'against' America... absolutist language overloads people with information and leaves them confused and unable to judge for themselves. They crave simplicity and fall back on the character myth" (Renana Brooks. "The Character Myth." The Nation, Dec. 29, 2003: 25-28).


"People are afraid. We tend to vote our fears and when consumed by fear, we want a savior... many fundamentalist Christians consider George Bush their savior" (Molly Molloy. "Letter From Las Cruces." Texas Observer, 11/19/04: 31).


THE CHARACTER MYTH

"By repeatedly insisting that only he has the tools and the determination to fend off terrorism in the post-September 11 era, Bush has cultivated feelings of crisis, pessimism, and anxiety and a loss of control throughout the nation... The electorate passively and often subconsciously relies on his authority and power to act on their behalf. This is why Americans consistently find ways to justify Bush and to convince themselves that he is doing a good job, even when his actions and policies are opposed to their beliefs and values...

"This phenomenon was foretold by media philosopher Marshall McLuhan, who warned: "Politics will eventually be replaced by imagery."

"The character myth relies on the psychological phenomenon that a person who speaks frequently and passionately about morals is generally regarded as a moral person [like a television evangelist]... a person who demonstrates that he has "character" need not present any evidence in support of his policies or decisions. They are simply assumed to be correct, since they come from a person with the ineffable quality known as "character"... [For example] Reagan was seen as having character for sticking to his principles. He was widely viewed as someone who cut taxes, even after actually raising them. Americans simply ignored all data that did not fit the myth...

"..philosopher Leo Strauss.. argued that when a strong political leader explains his policies he should develop a mythology for the consumption of the general public that hides his true motivations... This mythology should use the language of morality to mask the candidate's real interests, which are his own survival in power and his ability to continue to exert dominance over the populace" (Renana Brooks. "The Character Myth." The Nation, Dec. 29, 2003: 25-28).

THE GREAT PERSON THEORY

"When people feel overwhelmed, as I believe Americans have been over the past few years, they tend not to think rationally about complex details. Further... Americans are prone to believe in the Great Person theory -- the idea that if a person has the correct personality traits, his instincts will lead to the correct actions regardless of the details of a given situation... Bush's team knows how to exploit the Great Person Myth. Bush's deliberately constructed image as a moral leader who knows what is right for America takes the place of rational analysis, and his insistence that we are in an ongoing state of crisis in our war against terror helps to perpetuate this dynamic" (Renana Brooks. "The Character Myth." The Nation, Dec. 29, 2003: 25-28).


Colby Glass, MLIS