A few words here on the subject of Hero Worship, and the pain and disappointment that some of you will always feel, if a culture hero proves to have feet of clay…or be standing waist deep in manure.
Fair enough. I understand you’re in pain. I am sorry that Marion Zimmer Bradley has been indicted for child abuse. That Orson Scott Card is a virulent homophobe. That many great authors in my genre have charges of sexual harassment logged against them. That many of the great authors in ANY genre have histories of domestic violence, deviant sexual practices, criminal acts, even murder. And that this can be true of “Great” people in any field of human endeavor.
And I also understand why you don’t want to believe that your favorite pop star beat his wife or girlfriend. Or abused children. That your favorite athlete is a rapist, or a drunk driver. It hurts you, inside–and you want to show loyalty by refusing to believe it. The way you would with a person in your real personal life…someone you know well.
For the record, I do think love and loyalty are admirable qualities. I even think that stubborn refusal to abandon who/what you love in the face of opposition or detraction is not the worst quality a person can have. I admire that quality in you; I can be guilty of it myself. The closer I am to someone personally, the more I am likely to stand up for that person and try to see only the good in him/her, even if I know that he/she has faults. My inner child prefers to love all things in a simple, uncomplicated way.
I do not have the same relationship to art and other achievements that I admire, that I do with people whose kindness, courage, personal warmth and respect for others merit my real personal love and loyalty, however. I am very ambivalent nowadays about “Greatness”, for want of a better word, as a quality that earns deeper emotional engagement and personal loyalty.
The reason is simple: part of me has had to grow up, over the years. My innocence and the uncomplicated love and fierce loyalty that goes with it have been burned back to a stump, where Greatness is concerned. My engagement, my own fierce desire to be the best artist I can and to learn as much as I can from great art remains…but that deeper uncomplicated personal love is very much reserved for people I know on a personal level.
People are just people. Giving strangers the status of deities is not necessarily a kindness. Being told that they are Great, being worshipped and told they can do no wrong…is not necessarily a healthy thing for some people. It can bring out the worst in them, in truly sickening ways. (Women as well as men–Tiptree and MZB, ’nuff said.)
If I have been less than tactful at times, in defending the rights and dignity of “little nobodies” who are trampled by the Great, and in opposing the unrealistic idealization of the Great Ones among us…in denying hero worship to the great Artist, the great Author, the great Athlete, the great Comedian, the great Scientist…it is only because I have first-hand experience of how a person who has a self-perception of Greatness can ruthlessly abuse other human beings. My father was a great scientist; my grandfather was a great diplomat; I had at least one mentor years ago who was a truly great author.
Oy. No details. Just…oy.
For the sake of my own sanity, and to make the world a better place for “nobodies”, I choose not to worship people for the quality of their work anymore. I engage critically and sometimes cynically. And I am prepared to hear that exceptional people can have extraordinary flaws. I do not attempt to evade my perception of those flaws or shut down their critics or accusers in public.
Unconditional love is for children–specifically mine. No one else deserves that from me. Including my culture heroes. Including my mentors. Including great artists who have a great fire of talent and craft that lights the world.
I try to be Prometheus, not a priestess of Zeus. Steal the fire, warm the people. The gods are often douchebags.