“We don”t need another hero,” sang Tina Turner in an otherwise forgettable Mad Max franchise outing. The 1985 song was a hit for reasons I”ll never fathom. Like the worst James Bond themes, it awkwardly squeezes the movie’s bombastic title into the lyrics, so the word “Thunderdome””like “Thunderball””feels like a stone in your shoe (in your ear).
It’s a dirge that was clearly meant to be an anthem, a collapsed musical soufflÃ©.
Most mysteriously in terms of its appeal, though, is the sentiment expressed. If Joseph Campbell is to be believed”and the jury is hung, in academe if not in Hollywood”an aversion to heroes is downright inhuman. “Antihero” is the laziest of misnomers; hell, that type is the one we love best.
Turner’s song topped the charts around the time heroes and victims reversed polarities, a late-20th-century phenomenon I”ve written about here before.
But is our generation really so desperate for a good old-fashioned champion that we”ll glom onto the first halfway likely looking prospect who wanders into view?
The elevation of Cleveland’s Charles Ramsey to overnight secular sainthood indicates that we are.
By “we,” I don”t mean me. I woke up last Tuesday morning to learn”from every website and news channel”that a (black) neighbor had “rescued” three young (white) women who”d been held captive for years in the (Puerto Rican’s) house next door.
Like millions of others, I watched the instant-classic interview a local reporter conducted with Mr. Ramsey, the hero of the hour (and subsequent thirty-six or so).
Yes, Ramsey was energetic, earthy, and funny. Of all his quotable remarks, I most enjoyed the one that many news aggregators pretended they hadn”t heard:
I knew something was wrong when a little pretty white girl ran into a black man’s arms.
African-American columnist Larry Elder noticed the same thing and got off a joke I”m jealous of:
But a check of The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Cleveland Plain Dealer shows that while the papers quoted Ramsey, none saw fit to include his observation that “a pretty white girl” running up to a black man means “something is wrong here.” Looking uncomfortable, the television reporter, from local Channel 5, an ABC affiliate, promptly broke off the interview. No follow up, as in, “What, you’ve never seen a Shirley Temple movie?”
Yet unlike pretty much every website I visited”left and right”I didn”t anoint Charles Ramsey the new Lindbergh, or post his video on my blog, or his “amazing” 911 call, or any of the other “incredible” interviews he’s conducted since.
First off: The mainstream media hasn”t gotten a breaking story right since Walter Cronkite correctly reported that three shots had been fired on JFK’s motorcade. Reporters” twisted compulsion to transform ordinary people into instant international heroes (or, in the heartbreaking case of Richard Jewell, villains) has, ironically, cost folks their lives.
Secondly: What’s so heroic about kicking down a door (which Ramsey may not have even done) after hearing screaming behind it? The Searchers this sure as hell ain”t. Hell, it’s barely Taxi Driver.
Don”t get me wrong. I wasn”t among the white liberals who scolded their fellows for viralizing the Ramsey video and thereby supposedly perpetuating stereotypes about lower-class urban blacks as hyper, chatty clowns.