The recent ban and subsequent confessions by the world-renowned cyclist Lance Armstrong, has shocked the world and more so, his fans. How could someone who people looked up to confess to all the charges of doping? A hero for millions, confessing on international TV, that he had cheated came as a crashing blow to many who had idolised him.
Some time back, the same happened with the likes of Rajat Gupta, Tiger Woods and Ben Johnson, to name just a few heroes who came crashing down the pedestal they had been occupying.
Mythology is replete with such heroes who occasionally have displayed a fault in their personality. Be it Yudhishtir’s weakness for gambling and Bhima’s craving for food, from the epic Mahabharata. The grandsire of all, Bhishma too was criticised for his vow to serve the throne, which made him commit some grave mistakes. Or be it Lakshman renowned for his anger, a significant weakness in his character, from the epic Ramayan. Had it not been for pride and arrogance, then Ravan would be of heroic traits, instead of the certified villain in the epic Ramayan. Hercules, a Greek hero, known for his heroic acts (and thus the phrase – ‘herculean tasks’), was prone to bouts of anger, during which he would forget what he did. It was during one such bout, that he ended up killing his wife and children.
|Macbeth killing Duncan|
Literature has given us one such hero in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, who had all the qualities of heroism, but the same, came with an ambition which went far beyond morality. His ambition, adequately fuelled by his wife Lady Macbeth, makes him commit the crime of murder one after the other, all leading to his ultimate tragic end.
But Armstrong, Gupta, Woods and others are heroes of modern times. They are not characters from mythology or literature, but ordinary folks like you and me. When Armstrong won his battle with cancer and then went on to win seven consecutive Tour de France victories, then it sure was something beyond human capability, or so it seemed. Rajat Gupta career was every middle-class Indian’s dream. From a brilliant academic to the first Indian MD at McKinsey & Co., to a well-known philanthropist, he had it all, till his conviction on charges of insider trading, a crime that cost him a successful career and a jail term. Tiger Woods, a golf legend too had it all, victories, endorsements, a fairy-tale life, till all came crumbling down when his wife accused him of infidelity and later divorced him for the same.
Just what is it that goes in the making of such heroes and why is it so hard on their fans than them?
Yes, they cheated, but they cheated in a sport or to their spouses or organisation, not you and me. But, we still feel cheated.
Why are we disappointed when a hero fails either in an achievement or in character? Are these heroes really ‘god’ as we refer to them sometimes? Who has given them the demigod status? Did they ask for it or is it a big crime that they got swayed in the huge public adulation? Someone has very pertinently asked – “What is the worst thing about Armstrong’s alleged drug use: that he won unfairly, or that he spoiled the glamorous story we constructed about his triumph over cancer and subsequent victories?” I say pertinent, because it is we who make them heroes first and then expect them to live up to our glamorous construct. In them we see the ability to perform those feats that we as individuals can’t even dream of or couldn’t achieve, failed to be precise. They are the heroes who are just short of a new god that we see in the not-so-distant horizon. In their failure, we see a failed image that was nurtured for so long. The fans are hurt and disappointed. When the hero is caught cheating, our faith in him is hurt and it is hard on us to destroy the image, and when we destroy, we do it with far more vengeance than was expected.
We are in the 21st century and there are no demigods anymore. Mythology and Literature is not reality, but should only be a point of reference, if at all. Reality is that all those guys who act, perform, play, sing, write or work are mere mortals, slightly better than you and me. Look up to them, but don’t worship them. Follow their paths for the better of it, but don’t worship the ground they tread.
The moral of the story is – Make no gods out of mortals and thou shall not be hurt!