What happened to our heroes?

Posted on October 1, 2009


I love action movies. There, I said it. I’ve been watching them for a long time. I say that in the spirit of full disclosure before I get down to today’s topic.

Recently I got the urge to watch The Prisoner again. I own the complete DVD set of the excellent 1967-1968 series. I first stumbled on it when I was still a teenager, no doubt on a PBS station somewhere. I greatly admired Patrick McGoohan’s unnamed character. This time, although I still respected his desire to be free and independent, I noticed that he’s a real jackass. He has no compassion. If his situation wasn’t so horrible, if his persecutors weren’t so focused on breaking him, he wouldn’t be sympathetic at all.

By an odd coincidence, Comcast OnDemand had To Live and Die in L.A., in all its 1985 glory, available. I watched it on cable in the ’90s, when I was in the Army. William L. Petersen’s character, Secret Service agent Richard Chance, seemed admirable then. He was a maverick, intent on getting his man, who wouldn’t let the system get in his way. When I watched a few days ago, I got a completely different perspective. He was, again, a jackass. He was reckless and hasty, with no humanity or compassion. The end of the film, in all its blood and flames, is inevitable – which was probably purposeful, even in 1985. William Friedkin, who directed and co-wrote, no doubt wanted to insert some reality into the maverick heroes of the time.

All this led me to wonder what changed, and why. Obviously, I’ve changed. I’m older, and time changes your perspective. Watching these two pieces of pop culture, separated from each other by almost 20 years, brought into sharp relief the difference between heroes of that time, rebelling against the system, and contemporary heroes, who know that there’s likely to be some consequence for their rebellion – and who rebel anyway. Clearly our heroes today have to show compassion and remorse. Did they lose their teeth? Did we lose our taste for brute force tactics?

One thing that hasn’t changed: Big media still churns out TV and movies almost entirely populated by white people.

Be seeing you.