Chris Hayes and Heroes:
Nearly every time the Rude Pundit goes to the theatre, no matter how small the venue or awful the show, the audience seems to give the performers a standing ovation at the end. Like others, he feels it's almost heartening when an audience doesn't leap to its feet in rapturous applause. Or, more likely, when one or two people stand up and the trickle effect of adoration peer pressure gets to everyone else and we just fucking stand. It seems far more self-congratulatory, not a sincere act of appreciation, as if we're saying, "Yes, yes, we were smart enough to have paid money to see this show," the tautology of audience adulation.
This need to inflate every effort into some cataclysmic, tweet-worthy, Facebook-update validated experience is blown up more on television. On a show like Food TV's Chopped, the editing and music make mild criticisms of chef's dishes into climactic judgments on the very existence of the contestants. So, for instance, Beardy Douchebag the Judge says to Desperately Sweaty the Young Chef that his flambeed horse snouts with a white chocolate foam and panda tear glaze on a bed of Swiss-red-whatever-fucking chard is a bit too salty. It's accompanied by dark, thumping music and a quick close-up of Sweaty sweating. Extrapolate this out to shows about making fucking balloon animals or negotiating over the price of a human skull, and it seems like everyone is involved in some intense, life-transforming activity when, really, they're just doing their fucking jobs. But, again, it's a way of validating us, the viewers, that we have a dramatic stake in this, that we are not just watching some asshole who builds motorcycles for a living build a motorcycle, but that we are watching artisans waging a war against the elements and each other.
The Rude Pundit has always had a problem with the word "hero" to describe anyone who happens to be in a certain job. Sure, it's brave as hell to be a cop or a firefighter or an EMT. But it's a certain kind of person who deserves to be called "hero." He'd say that, at the very least, that person would have to do something, you know, heroic. Just showing up for your job doesn't rate that. Even the firefighters who died on 9/11 when the Twin Towers collapsed. The FDNYers were courageous as anyone could be. But if all you did was run into a building that fell on you and killed you, you're not a hero. You're a brave man who died on his way to being a hero, perhaps, but not quite getting there.
So it was that this past Sunday, Memorial Day's eve, just before we honor the dead with the Indianapolis 500, MSNBC host and Nation writer Chris Hayes said on his weekend show, Up with Chris Hayes, "It is very difficult to talk about the war dead and the fallen without invoking valor, without invoking the word 'hero.' Why do I feel so uncomfortable about the word 'hero'? I feel uncomfortable with the word 'hero' because it seems to me that it is so rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war. And I obviously don't want to desecrate or disrespect the memory of anyone that has fallen. Obviously there are individual circumstances in which there is tremendous heroism. You know, hail of gunfire, rescuing fellow soldiers, things like that. But it seems to me that we marshal this word in a way that's problematic, but maybe I'm wrong about that."
Is this that difficult to understand? You die shooting up children in a village in Vietnam, you perhaps don't deserve to be called a hero. And to call you one not only degrades true heroism, but it also validates the war in a way that it doesn't deserve validation. As Hayes points out, that's not to take away valor and courage and all that shit that goes along with soldiers. But if you're a dude in supply and you get killed because your truck crashed outside Baghdad, how does that turn you from pencil pusher to hero? And why should you get the same accolades as the guy who walked up to a nest of Nazis and died blowing it up so that his fellow soldiers could get off the beach?
The attacks on Chris Hayes from the right are as predictable as they are tiresome. Various blogging suckers of cock and Ann Coulter piled on, with the end result being that Hayes issued a written apology. By the way, these same suckers of cock and Ann Coulter had no problem attacking wounded veterans John Kerry and Max Cleland and denying they were heroes. Because fuck you; they don't need to support all the troops when they don't want to.
Hayes's apology is actually a sly "kiss my ass" if you read it correctly. As he writes, he was trying to deal with how most Americans have a disconnect with the very real conflict in Afghanistan and that we "assuage our own collective guilt about this disconnect with a pro-forma ritual that we observe briefly before returning to our barbecues." And Memorial Day sales. Don't forget the sales. Got some sweet shorts for cheap this weekend thanks to our brave men and women in uniform.
The Rude Pundit has some skin in this game. He has a nephew who is flying Apaches in Afghanistan right now. He's doing some of the most dangerous work that can be done during an utterly worthless war. But unless the nephew does something heroic, like land the Apache during a firefight to pick up soldiers, he won't call him a "hero." He'll call him "a good soldier."
Very few plays deserve standing ovations. Even fewer people have intense drama in their everyday jobs. Not every child deserves a trophy for just showing up and playing a game. And not every soldier is a hero just because they died on or near a battlefield.