In simplest terms, Shonen style anime and I do not get along; but I’ve recently made an exception in the form of Boku no Hero Academia, one hell of a good ride that plays with the tropes and ideas of contemporary superhero genres and tropes. And while I have a couple of ideas for topics that have resulted from my watching this series, today I want to discuss something that was rather integral for the first couple of episodes: the concept of what it meant to be someone’s hero.
Now, I mean this in the less than spectacular sense. Not what it means to be a hero in tights and a cape, or a super high-tech battle suit or whatever the hell is going on with He-man. Rather, what it means to be someone’s role model. The person they look up to and someone who inspires you to do your best in every capacity you push yourself towards.
In the first couple of episodes, it is made abundantly clear that young Izuku “Deku” Midoriya’s hero is All Might: the physical embodiment of all that it means to be just, courageous and all around swell. This idolization is what pushes Midoriya to work his hardest to become a superhero himself and, regardless of how daunting or impossible the odds, to try his darndest!
Now, for someone like myself, I have a hard time understanding, or rather sympathize with the character. When I was growing up, I never really had anyone I considered to be my hero, my role model. This probably strikes you as a little odd; after all, in western culture, it’s pretty normal for young boys to idolize their fathers or even their father-like figures. As the years go on, it becomes normal to find role models in celebrities, teachers or elder peers in clubs or school.
This was, obviously, not the case for myself.
Instead, I viewed it very differently from even as young an age as I can recall (and I can recall some rather vivid memories from as far back as kindergarten, perhaps even earlier). I was very steadfast in my belief that I didn’t want a role-model, or someone I looked up to. After all, to do so was to deny the unique nature of who you were, instead to just aspire to be a copy of someone else.
In essence: yes, I was a hipster long before I even had any semblance of an idea of what societal norms were.
Now, while I’m not going to pretend that my philosophies were anything remotely close to well founded, I do still adhere to a semblance of this ideology to this day. Of course, it’s not to say that I think that having a role-model inherently makes you out to be their clone in the making. On the contrary, as I grew older, I began to understand the fundamentals behind role-models in ways that encourage positive growth in a developing mind.
Going back to young Midoriya momentarily to paint a clearer picture: he used the ideologies of what All Might represented to the world on a symbolic level as a measure of what he should strive to be like in his own personal life. Even when All Might himself confessed to having lost many of those ideologies in the bustle of celebrity life, Midoriya stayed true to those initial ideas; pushing those around him to greater heights as a result. Okay, maybe not everyone, but close enough…
In many regards, this is a healthy idolization. To embrace the ideas of what a person represents or teaches to improve not only ourselves, but those around us and at large. A lesson that I feel I might have missed in my developmental years that will undoubtedly stunt my character to some extent or another. Though, this might also be a blessing in and of itself, as the opposite extreme can be exceedingly dangerous as well.
And this is where I introduce you to the unintended brilliance of my earlier philosophy: not striving to be a clone of someone else. Instead of idolization, worship or obsession of a person. To erase aspects of yourself in favour of being just like this character you hold in high regard. And in some cases that I am familiar with, it can often be just that: characters. Personalities as represented in film, imagination or literature. A character as represented in our real world as well: the facade of who a person is in the presence of the public.
Let’s look at that in a little greater depth, shall we? Indeed, there are many people out there who don a particular persona when they are in the presence of others. It should come as no surprise that many celebrities are nothing like who they portray on the stage or before the camera; or if they are, are at least notably different than who they initially appear. But it’s not just celebrities who do this, but us as well.
When we go out into public, we all adopt some form of a personality to present to the world we meet. To the degree of this facade will depend on where we are, or our own personal limitations. Speaking from experience, I can say with confidence that who I appear to people as when I’m at conventions doing vlogging work (a great example of this is in this video) is greatly different than who I am around my closest circle of friends, which is again quite different from who I truly identify myself as in real life.
This is a part deliberate, part sub-conscious decision that people make on a large scale basis. If you really want to see a significant difference: talk to anyone working in the service industry. I would gamble not insignificant money on the fact that, with very rare exception, every one of them adopts a sort of “alternative identity” in their line of work.
Note: talk to them when they’re not at work. Obviously, they will deny it on the clock, as doing so will likely result in greater difficulty for themselves at work. Further discussion on the constraints on the individual in the face of the “professional” world is a very complicated and long topic that I shall not dive into here. Because this is a blog. Not a thesis.
Returning to the point prior: the degree of idolization and obsession that can stem from it. While I certainly lack any sort of empirical data to back this up, I have a hypothesis that the generations of my own and the one following it are most prone to having large issues with identity and sense of self. From what little observation I’ve made, these generations are the ones more prone to an unhealthy degree of idolization of particular personas, even more so in those who are socially ostracized. I tend to see this mostly in environments where the “nerdy” tend to thrive; the more fringe members of that circle tend to not only hold particular fictitious characters in high esteem, rather they go so far as to emulate or mimic their actions and mannerisms in their entirety.
Disclaimer: I don’t pretend that this is an issue that is limited to nerd culture, rather it’s the circle I’m most exposed to and most inclined to see these trends. I am quite confident that someone who buys every poster and jersey of a particular sports figure could potentially take such a fascination too far, though I’ve personally yet to see it. Again, not for lack of there being people, so much as for my lack of exposure.
This does raise the question, however, as to what is a healthy degree of idolization? At what point does it stop being a positive influence and become a corrupting source? I can’t say for certain. I imagine there are social psychologists who have worked, or are working, on exploring this particular topic, but I’ve yet to see a study that I can accept as a good model.
In the meantime, I will leave this topic off with a couple of final thoughts on this. To what extent is having heroes and role-models beneficial? Greatly! Can the idolization be taken too far and into the realm of obsession? Absolutely! Is it good to not have role-models? Well, it’s not bad, I suppose.
And, at the end of the day: is All Might a good hero?
Yeah, he’s pretty okay.