Looking for heroes and villains in a complicated world

“Every generation throws a hero up the pop charts.”
That ear-worm wisdom is from The Boy in the Bubble on Paul Simon’s album Graceland.

I am amazed it came out in 1986. While I hesitate to say what any poem or song is about, each time I listen to that one, it feels like Paul Simon is talking about our current world, in which media sources serve up a never-ending buffet of alternatively horrifying and ridiculous images, with only the faintest flavour of hope. It feels like we are always feeding at the buffet and leaving hungry.

“Staccato signals of constant information

A loose affiliation of millionaires

And billionaires and baby

These are the days of miracle and wonder”

The more we see, the more we know just a little bit about, the more voices we hear telling us how to think about the big and small events in our world, the harder it becomes to not be overwhelmed.

Paul Simon says, “Don’t cry baby, don’t cry. Don’t cry.”

But back to the “hero” thing. I think that’s about the small and tired part of my brain that just wants somebody to make things better. I think we saw that desire working six years ago. A man with zero political experience or skill got elected as the American president by making two simplistic assertions. He said, repeatedly, “Everything is a mess!” and “Let’s make it great again!”

He attracted support among people who could almost always agree that “something needs to be done!” That he did not have a workable plan and that his message appealed to a variety of groups who might not agree on either the nature of the problems or the best solutions, was irrelevant. He tapped into a deep sense of dissatisfaction, frustration, hopelessness.

This is not about logic, or actual fixes to complex problems with many moving parts. This is about being hangry. “Hangry” is a gorgeous made-up word that carries the best, or the worst, aspects of hunger and anger.

Picture the toddler who is done with trying to build the wooden block tower, sweeps a little fist across the rickety structure and, with a petulant scream, topples it all. They release all their frustrations and feel better, if only for a moment.

Wouldn’t it be lovely if someone would appear who seems to understand our fears and worries and deep distress and personifies our inner desire to “knock it all down”? A larger-than-life figure who can say and do things that our inner toppler of towers can only dream of doing.

That’s the kind of hero I think our neighbours to the south threw up their political pop charts, and I get it. I think we’ve seen some of the same thing happening in the last little while, with the Freedom Convoy. It’s easy to throw the organizers, and ordinary truckers, up the pop charts as our new heroes. We are hungry for things to be better.

As easy as it is to throw heroes up the charts, it’s even easier to start throwing things at villains — or those we label as villains.

I don’t vote Liberal. But I also don’t find it helpful to wave the middle finger at our prime minister, and make very personal and rude comments about him.

These two deep desires: to be saved by our latest new hero, or to tear down the person we name as the villain, are actually rooted, I think, in the same “hangry” toddler part of our personalities.

After my snack, or my nap, or my time out to listen to some good music — maybe more Paul Simon or Dolly Parton — I can come back to my mostly grown-up self. I realize I don’t want to invest in any one person, hero or villain, the kind of broad and sweeping power they would need to tear things down and build them up again as quickly as my impatient self would like.

Darrow Woods is the pastor at Harrow United Church. He lives in Kingsville.