When I say that I do not believe in heroes, I am not saying it in an attempt to be pessimistic.
I’m not trying to tear down anyone who has earned the title of “hero.”
And when I say that I do not believe in heroes, I am not saying that there is no one that I personally look up to.
For example, I’ve always found Walt Disney to be an incredibly inspirational figure—particularly because he stood so strongly for never giving up—for suffering hardships and still rising beyond them to do what needs to be done. For that, Walt Disney will always be close to my heart, and I will always note him as a figure that I look up to.
But when I tell people that I love Walt Disney, I often hear them make comments about how he shouldn’t be an idol to me.
“Wasn’t Walt Disney racist?” they ask, and truth be told, he probably was, at least to some degree. I mean, I don’t think he was the leader of the KKK or anything like that, but he did release some movies with some questionable content, such as Song of the South and Peter Pan.
I can’t say how much influence he had over those films, but he did allow them to be released as they were, and even more than that, he was a white man who lived between the years of 1901 and 1966, when racism was even more blatant than it is today.
He would have had to be an extraordinary man indeed to overcome the dominant beliefs of his time. I’m not saying that it couldn’t be done, just that it shouldn’t necessarily be expected of him.
In the same vein, people also tell me that I can’t idolize Walt Disney because he was sexist, representing a very patriarchal view of society, where the men rule the household and the women are pretty and thoughtless. And, again, to some extent, that’s probably true.
I still think that Walt Disney was relatively progressive for his time—but, again, for his time. From a more modern perspective, yes—he probably was a bit sexist.
So if all of this is true, how can I look up to him?
Well, here’s the thing—those are not the parts of him that I look up to. I am well aware that Walt Disney was human. He had his failings like all of us do, and because of that, I don’t put him on a pedestal.
I don’t think he’s a “hero,” if we’re defining a hero as someone who is always selfless, flawless, and, at the end of the day, a good role model.
I think that he was a man—one who was very admirable in some ways, and very flawed in others.
I’m always surprised when I see other people disappointed when they find that the person they look up to isn’t flawless. I hear it often about celebrities, or a figure in someone’s field of work—something ugly is discovered about them, and suddenly, people are unsure of how to feel about them.
We can only go in one of two ways, it seems: we can either idolize them as a god or despise them as a demon. And when we discover that our perception is wrong—as we always will because no person is simply one or the other, black or white—we’re shocked and uncertain.
Why can’t we just look at our heroes for what they are—people? Why can’t we accept that just because someone does something bad, it doesn’t completely erase the good, and vice versa? I’m not saying that we need to forgive everyone for their wrongdoings—of course we don’t.
As someone who looks up to Walt Disney, it is my responsibility to admit that, yes, he probably was a little racist and a bit sexist, but he was also a brilliant man who never gave up and created an entire empire from his hard work.
He was both, and I will acknowledge him as both.
And the idea that heroes don’t exist isn’t a sad one. If anything, I find it uplifting—because if there are no heroes, then that means that we are not fundamentally different from those whom we look up to.
They were flawed, and we are flawed.
They had their strengths and weaknesses, and we have our strengths and weaknesses.
And what that means is that if we work hard enough and never give up, then we might someday achieve similar successes.
Because at the end of the day, we are all equally human.
Author: Ciara Hall
Image: Flickr/Josh Hallett
Editor: Callie Rushton