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
caused a sense of doom. The Fascist dictatorships in Germany, , 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.