As I sat and watched the Oscars Sunday night, I was outraged that not one award winner expressed direct support for the brave troops that are currently in Iraq to safeguard freedom. The winners acted like they were terrified of expressing any kind of appreciation for the brave men and women in uniform, in fear of falling foul of their peace-protesting pals. During the most famous American award ceremony of the year, all involved pretended that a war in which about fifteen Americans had lost their lives that very day was not taking place.
There are many reasons why this lack of acknowledgement of the troops is deplorable, but most deplorable is the lack of gratitude. The people involved in television and film in the U.S. tend to be the foremost beneficiaries of the blessings of freedom. They receive the adulation of the masses, they get paid millions of dollars, and they have influence well beyond anything they deserve, simply because of their celebrity.
A group this privileged should be magnanimous enough to show some appreciation for the little guys, the grunts who risk their lives and who get paid during an entire lifetime a small fraction of what a Hollywood star can make in one movie. But the Hollywood elite do not show appreciation because they have a hyper-inflated sense of their own importance. Acknowledging there are real heroes in the world might upset and destroy their carefully crafted world of fantasy about how much they matter. Watching some of the acceptance speeches at the Oscars, you would think that these stars cured cancer rather than just mimicked a fictitious character in front of a camera.
What can be said about a group of individuals who engage in a seemingly never-ending orgy of narcissistic, self-congratulatory award ceremonies? There are the Oscars, the Golden Globes, the People's Choice Awards, the Screen Actors Guilds Awards. the list goes on. Does anyone know any other profession where they spend most of the year congratulating themselves? Can you imagine professional politicians putting on award ceremonies several times a year with prizes like "Fastest Climbing Young politician," or "Best Oration Given in a Parliamentary Body?"
But beyond the appropriateness of the Oscars in general, there is the much more serious question of staging the Oscars while America is at war. I would have thought that even the Hollywood celebrities had more class than to stage their annual awards ceremony just four days into a major war. Doing so demonstrated that their self-absorption is total, their self-obsession complete, and their inability to stand outside the spotlight and allow someone else to shine, absolute.
Classical heroism is all about this kind of name recognition. Nearly three thousand years ago the Greek writer Homer, as an antidote to the pathetic creatures that he perceived to be all around him, decided to invent the classical hero. In the "Iliad" he introduced us to the legendary Achilles, and in the "Odyssey" to the Greek hero Odysseus. For Homer, the hero was someone who overcame namelessness through daring feats. Thus was born the concept of the hero based not on sacrifice but vanity, not on service but celebrity. For the classical heroes of the ancient world and their modern counterparts in the stars of the big screen, life must be devoted exclusively to the pursuit of celebrity. Name and face recognition define their existence. Their motto is "I am known, therefore I am."
At roughly the same time that Homer was writing his epics, the Bible was telling the story of a totally different kind of hero: Abraham, who sits outside a tent giving wayfarers food and lodging; Moses, who beseeches G-d to forgive the Jews or else remove his name from the Bible; and King David, who, while a military leader, spends his time singing songs to G-d. Unlike the Odyssey, the heroes of the Bible are interested in righteousness rather than recognition, service to humanity rather than the adulation of the masses, camaraderie and community rather than contest and competition.
The modern day conflict between these two types of heroes is reflected in the incredible chasm that separates the heroes of the military from the stars of the silver screen. In our troops, we have a group of people who should be celebrated for their preparedness to lay down their lives for a cause. Unfortunately, too many of us look to the other kind of heroes--a group of people who have established themselves as the ultimate cause.