Jay’s Galactic Espressions
Hero worship has existed since the beginning of humanity. In every time period, from before the Ancient Greeks to today, people have had heroes in their lives.
The “Hero’s Journey” has been visited and re-visited countless times, but what about the relationship involved in the psychology of choosing and worshipping a hero, and how does the hero feel about being the object of worship?
In Star Wars: The Force Awakens, it is obvious that Kylo Ren has an obsessive relationship with his grandfather, Darth Vader. Kylo has come to worship all that he thinks Vader to be. Many times, I’ve asked myself:
“Didn’t Kylo Ren know about his grandfather before and after his role as a Sith Lord? Anakin Skywalker was ‘The Hero With No Fear,’ a Jedi who fought for the good of the galaxy, and who was ultimately redeemed of his dark deeds. Why isn’t Kylo seeing that? How would Anakin feel about his grandson’s focus on the evil, instead of the good?”
Being the hero is not all it is cracked up to be. Heroes are put on a pedestal, and are expected – by the one worshipping – to be the image of perceived perfection at all times. PERCEIVED PERFECTION.
Heroes in any form – positive or negative – are often seen in this unrealistic light. The worshipper focuses on the behaviors, values, and traits he/she wants to see. As a result, the worshipper often becomes a sort of parasite, latching onto the hero, actually creating an emotional bond with that person. This bond can be described as a ‘virtual relationship.’ Regardless of ever having met in real life, the hero enters the dynamic of the worshipper’s social circle. The hero becomes a real, tangible part of the worshipper’s existence, becoming a mirror. This mirror is one that the worshipper begins to see his/her own self-image. As time passes, some morphing of the two personalities occur. It is at this point that the worshipper’s own self-esteem and self-image changes, usually resulting in what the worshipper deems a positive thing (1), regardless of whether it really is or not.
In Kylo’s case, he skipped his own parental generation – people he knew, but whom he considered unworthy of his praise and admiration – and latched onto his grandfather as his moral and personal compass, someone he had never met. Kylo emulates a set of behaviors that suits his own perceived needs, and ignores the full picture. Kylo’s mirror is Darth Vader. How would Anakin Skywalker feel about this: knowing that his grandson was magnifying all the evil that he sought to redeem?
Hero worship can be – even in its mildest form – somewhat unsettling to the object of affection. It is almost an invasion of privacy in some ways. As a high school teacher, I am more than happy to serve as a role-model for my students. I realize that for some, I may be the only positive influence in their lives, and I am honored to fulfill that role for those who truly need it. I know my status has great power as well as great responsibility, and it feels great knowing that I can be that bright spark in a student’s day – a student that may otherwise have a life full of darkness.
However, I admit that I’ve experienced times when this role-modeling becomes hero-worship, and I am not at all comfortable with that. I have had students go above and beyond what I would consider ‘normal role-modeling’. Students who have obviously formed their personalities, actions and lifestyles after what they have seen from my own. I don’t want to be that kind of hero. It should be flattering, I know, but I almost feel a sense of self-consciousness and violation. My ‘off-days’ and ‘dark moods’ are scrutinized under a microscope, and there’s this impossible standard set up for me, one to be happy, perky and carefree at all times, never in a bad mood, sick, or flawed in any way. When those moods do strike, one would think the world has fallen off its axis, and I am barraged by questions and unwelcome attention. Trust me — every day, I know I’m on the stage, and I play my role accordingly, leaving my personal thoughts and issues at the door – but I am human. I’m not a hero…
There are some healthy aspects of role-modeling, don’t get me wrong. It can provide a sense of stability and positive emotional motivation for someone who needs it. It fulfills a need for human transcendence, one that replaces the extraordinary with the ordinary. ‘Hero worship’ should really be downgraded to ‘hero emulation’ for it to be truly healthy. Emulation still maintains a sense of realism about the person as a whole, and provides an anchor for behavior — one in which we raise the bar high, instead of settling for mediocrity (2). Otherwise, the worshipper ends up losing his/her sense of self instead of finding it.
I believe that is what is happening with Kylo. He is hyper-focusing on the things he wants to see in his grandfather. He wants to be the person he thinks Darth Vader was, and because he hasn’t embraced the full persona of who Anakin Skywalker was, Kylo has lost his true sense of self. Instead of allowing Anakin to be an anchor to his own self, Kylo has a full set of rocks in his pocket, one that will weigh him down, and ultimately drown him.
How would Anakin feel about all of this? If it were me, I would feel a mixed sense of guilt, unease, worry, sadness, and torment. I would not want my legacy to be perpetuated in that way. I would want to scream: “That’s not the true me! Zoom out, and you’ll see more of the true picture!” I would feel a direct responsibility to show Kylo the truth, yet at the same time, I would want to pull back into oblivion, and try to ignore and deny the harsh truth before me – that my past failures and evil deeds are all that’s left of my legacy to my grandson.
Perhaps that is what Anakin is feeling at this point: The torn-apart feeling of being a hero. Perhaps Episode 8 of the Star Wars saga will shed light on what Anakin will ultimately do with this situation, and his grandson.
What are your thoughts? I would love to hear them!