The Hero System


A hero system is a protocol by which certain people
dependent on the rewards they receive and what they have
accomplished receive notoriety and publicity. The hero
system in our country does not benefit the people of this
nation in any fashion. All America's hero system does is
provide the general public with entertainment. Granted,
entertainment is big business, but do not feel that it
should be had at the expense of America's youth, a point
which I will examine further later in this essay. Over the
years many individuals have written literature that has
been conducive with my ideas. W.H. Auden was one of such
individuals. His "Unknown Citizen" typifies the idea of a
man left to rot in a society that he has given his
livelihood to. In Auden's poem this individual went through
life working for the common good of a community which he
may not have completely agreed with. He worked for it
anyway., He worked for his family. He paid his union dues
as a symbol of trust in the good that the many could do,
yet he did not even receive a tombstone with his name on it
upon his death. Auden gives the reader a clear image of how
seemingly insignificant this hard working individual was to
society. Not only does a hero system exist in America today
but, just as in Auden's poem, many hard working Americans
go ungratified for their hard work and dedication. There
are many reasons that Auden may have written a poem about
such a closed minded society. Roger Platizky states how
"the Unknown Citizen relinquishes his individuality to the
""greater community""(line 5) and the kind of society that
insists and depends on such sacrifices from its
""modern-day saint"" (line 4), a saint who does not seek
the higher truth but merely to perpetuate the status quo"
(48). This shows that Platizky, like myself, sees a man
that went through life ungratified for his participation in
the bettering of society. Platizky also points out the way
the questioning agencies and the media were seemingly
unable to answer these questions. "Was he free?". "Was he
happy?". Richard Johnson states that "Auden lived in
Germany where he witnessed the rise of Nazism, and during
the Spanish War he served as a ambulance driver" (2). This
shows how existed as an unknown citizen at least once in
his life perhaps giving him the insight to write the
"Unknown Citizen". Even more compelling is the following
statement form Dennis Davidson out of his book entitled
W.H. Auden. "This poem, light as though it appears, is
attacking the concept of a human being who is not much more
than the product of the electronic, commercial and
ideological pressure-groups which force him to conform to a
standard pattern of life and thought" (63). This is a prime
example of my initial reaction to Auden poem. Davidson also
states that "the poem can still serve as a warning against
the social pressures of our mass-society" (65). David
Perkins, a literary history specialist, states the
following. "Literature in the 1930s was caught up, with all
intellectual life, in the public crises. In this decade of
economic dislocation, business collapse, strikes, severe
unemployment, and breadlines, liberal democracy appeared
ineffective. With the general loss of confidence in it,
other modes of government were envisioned, and the prospect
of radical social change inspired fervent debate. There was
militant political agitation against the existing order,
class antagonism intensified, and to many intellectuals a
revolution seemed a serious possibility. The revolution
might come from the political right, they thought, but they
expected it to be Socialist or Communist, and their
emotions were generally ambivalent, mingling dread and
hope. But in the latter half of the thirties events in
Europe caused a sense of doom. The Fascist dictatorships in
Germany, Italy, and elsewhere liquidated their liberal,
Socialist, and Communist opponents, with whom English
writers and intellectuals identified. Germany's march into
the Rhineland, Italy's invasion of Ethiopia, and civil war
in Spain after 1936 were calamities and portents of greater
calamities. Germany and Italy were rearming, and the
English and French governments were impotent to prevent
this. A second World War was a growing probability. The
future looked apocalyptic". This excerpt gives us a much
better understanding of the events that were taking place
during the decade in which Auden wrote the "Unknown
Citizen". In fact Auden was so active as a poet during that
decade it was coined "the Auden decade". These tiny bits of
insight gave me an idea of what the impact of his poem on
me might have been had I been alive during the 1930's.
Unfortunately, a better understanding of Auden motivation
to writing the "Unknown Citizen" does not give us solutions
to the problems of America's hero system. The fact of the
matter is that the people most effected by the hero system
of America are the same people who built it. So who is to
blame? The heroes themselves cannot be blamed for their
fame and notoriety. However, it seems to me that the people
who make these people famous do it out of a love for
entertainment. Americans do not realize that they are
providing a poor selection of heroes for America's youth.
It would seem that Auden's "Unknown Citizen" may be
condemning himself to a life of hard work and frustration
without gratification. The other side of the spectrum
reveals an even more socialistic idea. How important is it
that people always be recognized for the work they do. Why
is it that people can't just do good things for their
community and sit back to enjoy them rather than getting
all fussy over whether or not they are going to get
anything for it. Is the self-satisfaction not enough. It
seems as though it was for Auden's "Unknown Citizen", but
it seems to me that there are people out there that give of
themselves for the good of the community and the country
that do deserve recognition for their efforts. Police
officers, firefighters, and teachers just start a very long
list of under paid and under-appreciated job titles in
America today. That does not even include that thousands of
Americans that do social or volunteer community work during
their own time to help better the bond that tie American
communities together. In closing I would like to extend a
personal "Thank You" to all those individuals who feel as
though they are modern-day unknown citizens in America or
any other country. The bottom line is that without the work
of countless unknown citizens we would not have power in
our homes, dial tones on our phones, or a way to flush the
throne. America would not have a place in the scientific
community, homelessness and starvation would run ramped,
and our great nation might not have even been created. So
if you happen to come across one of many millions of these
folks you might want to consider giving them a "Thank You".
I'm sure that W.H. Auden would approve. 


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