Achilles, Hector and Helen. Priam and Agamemnon. Odysseus, Perseus, Heracles and Aphrodite. Since the dawn of Western Civilization, we’ve paid homage to our heroes and heroines, those legends and figures in mythology who embody our idealization of the masculine and feminine. These stories entertain. They often give us hope. Indeed, to remain human, to be a white man or woman in an increasingly alienating and materialistic world, it is important to hang on to our noblest idealizations.
It was Homer who first introduced us to the epic tale in the 8th century B.C. and today it is Warner Brothers, Universal and Paramount Pictures who accommodates our thirst for fantasy and heroism. Popular culture is nothing new, it simply takes upon different forms as humanity marches lock step toward the Utopian promise of “progress” and the future. Ask any modern child who his hero is and, unsurprisingly, he might say Spider-Man or Batman, just as quickly as a child of yore would have noted Jason and the Argonauts or Theseus.
With that said, the recent death of actor Burt Reynolds took a childhood hero from many of us, or at least that is how we feel as we reflect upon his popular roles in Smokey and the Bandit and Cannonball Run. Mind you, there is nothing wrong with indulging our juvenile memories, but in this modern era of film, television and celebrity worship, it is important to separate the man and the actor from the role he plays. They say that “life imitates art,” meaning that people pursue the virtues of their literary idealizations, but this is rarely true of the actor and, more accurately, reflects the nature of the audience.
Burt Reynolds, like many products of Hollywood, had addiction issues. He had two failed short-lived marriages, a long list of ex-girlfriends and no biological offspring (though he had an adopted son from his 6 year marriage with Loni Anderson). I’m sure Burt was a likable man. I’m sure he was fun to be around. I’m sure a bit of Burt, the man, was injected into the characters he played. But, Burt was a human being who fell well short of any pedestal that one might like to place him on.
As far as I know, Reynolds never played any saintly roles, and I doubt anyone cherishes his memory as a paragon of virtue. And, is it any wonder that the nihilism of modernity has made us all very aware of the weaknesses of our fellow man? I submit to you that this has caused an inversion of the notion of the hero. And, unsurprisingly, Hollywood has reflected this with the rise of the “anti-hero” and the “dark” characters, such the latest iterations of Batman. Heroism is being rewritten to show weakness as strength, victimhood as virtue and corruption as cool.
Celebrity worship has itself led to this degradation of the hero in our culture – this is because people have failed to separate these men and women from the roles that they play. We track their every move in tabloid magazines and gossip columns. Indeed, their movie roles have often become secondary to the worship of THEM, their weaknesses, hedonism, and all.
The advent of social media, along with the rise of reality television, has only amplified this craving for the very worst in our fellow man, rather than the very best.
You see, Burt Reynolds came along at a time when modernity itself was undergoing a sharp transition and, in many respects, Burt was a dinosaur and a throwback. His earlier roles, the ones he is most cherished for, were fun, carefree characters. Masculine, charming, adventurous and risk-taking. The “Man’s Man.” Truly an updated version of Achilles or Heracles. This is why young boys of the 70’s and 80’s were drawn to his movies and cherish those roles that he played.
Later, as Hollywood began to abandon the idealistic in favor of the degenerate, Burt took on roles such as pornographer Jack Horner in the movie Boogie Nights. Perhaps, this was an attempt to stay relevant as he entered his twilight years as a Hollywood star, but the contrast is as stark as the cultural shift that caused it.
It is important for me to note that I do not wish to besmirch Burt Reynolds. I loved the Bandit as much as anyone. But, that last sentence was key. I LOVED THE BANDIT, not Burt himself and the Bandit was a character created and written for a movie role that almost anyone could have been cast to play. Sure, Burt did it brilliantly and for that he deserves credit. This is why we have movie awards. To recognize a superior performance, not a true to life act of heroism. We have the Purple Heart and the Medal of Honor for that.
At the end of the day, celebrity worship is yet another form of cancer that plagues a dying American Empire. It takes on many forms, with obese white men and women wearing negro sportsball jerseys, instead of learning to play a sport and keep in shape. Or the suburban white kid who beat boxes to his favorite negro rap “song.” And, life continues to imitate art as the audience embraces the decline of everything we once loved.
I submit to you that instead of worshipping celebrity, you should go buy a copy of The Iliad and The Odyssey. Read it, learn from it and become the best hero you are capable for your family, your children, your girlfriend and, most importantly, for yourself.
-By Dixie Anon
Oh, I'm a good old Rebel, now that's just what I am; For this "Fair Land of Freedom" I do not give a damn! I'm glad I fit against it, I only wish we'd won, And I don't want no pardon for anything I done.