Desperate but Not Hopeless

Oct. 15, 2013
We don’t need a hero Bernanke, Buffet, Gates, Jobs … Musk? Influence ≠ excellence

If by chance you have an RSS feed or other search routine that delivers news about ‘castings’ — as I do — then you’ll never miss a report about the next Superman movie, or Spiderman, or Ironman, or the Avengers. It isn’t quite the case that every movie produced now is based on a comic book hero – but there is something about those heroes that keeps audiences eager for more. And the way algorithms drive information to us now much, much more is what you’ll get. For every bit of news you may be seeking regarding a casting, you’ll get eight or 10 more that feature rumors of castings in the next Man of Steel installment.

Now, I could blame the producers of such entertainment for this ridiculousness. They sock a hundred million dollars or so into a project, buying franchise rights and paying computer animators (and writers, presumably), as well as actors and directors to make these characters ‘real.’ They expect to recoup a significantly larger total, so along with their publicists they must share some blame for the inanity.

At the same time, anyone like me who doesn’t care for the tediously pointless topics and discussions in the news has only to ignore it. And, there are many, many other styles and subjects of entertainment, so I am not deprived in that way either.

I could as well blame the technology that propagates the inanity, scanning the circuits for keywords it supposes will earn my clicks. But the fact that the content optimization programs get so much wrong doesn’t resolve the matter either.

The problem is that we are too desperate for ‘heroes.’ The comic craze is just the leading edge of an apparently vast need among people to have a living emblem of all that they believe to be truthful and just. Too many of us see ourselves as victims, enduring the misdeeds of seemingly powerful authorities, and we root for a quick resolution.

And don’t suppose this delusion is held only by computer nerds and comic book fans. If you’re an investor, your hero is Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve Board chairman who has yet to find a reason not to inject hundreds of billions of dollars into circulation. He keeps the economy afloat, say the defenders of Bernanke, who are unable to explain when the cheap money will end, when the U.S. currency will regain some lasting value, or when the “quantitative easing” may give a similarly positive jolt to consumer confidence.  Without him, we’d all be penniless, they insist.

Bernanke is certainly not the first Fed chairman to earn the faith of investors: a decade ago Alan Greenspan was the object of their devotion, and before him it was Paul Volcker.

Other investors will pledge their troth to Warren Buffet, whose reputation is that of one who makes others rich.  He’s never wrong in his investments, they believe.

Another type of fantasy is the iconoclast businessman – the one who challenges everyone’s assumptions about how products and systems work, and forces the world to accept his (or her) new standards. Bill Gates embodied that wish in the 1990s, and then Steve Jobs took his place. A new savior in that role is Elon Musk, the self-taught computer programmer who made billions and now has positioned himself as 1) an automaker, 2) an energy mogul, and 3) a transportation visionary. His believers don’t need to hear that none of his projects have really made any impact on their industrial sectors, or that he has relied on government subsidies to keep his ideas alive, or that his products seem to be novelty purchases for very wealthy individuals who don’t need any sort of rescue. Musk is an avatar of the good businessman who wants to make a positive impact on the world.

And he may be truthful in such declarations. My concern is not the so-called heroes, but the hero worshippers. Their attention to these figures — and I have left political characters out of discussion, because their game is so obvious — is the fuel that keeps the ‘spirit’ alive. Such individuals thrive on the attention, because it gives them recognition, and that recognition is a convertible asset. It opens doors. It buys access. If it’s true that we are tormented by malevolent schemers, isn’t it likely that the ones with access are the ones conspiring against us?

I don’t believe any of that, which is why the apparent need for heroes is so irritating. To believe that anyone has all the answers to our worries and doubts we must reduce ourselves, and accept the vision that person offers. When we accept that, we give away part of our own potential.

But we have a choice: click that link, offer up your attention, accept the soothing message that one figure or another has an answer for all that unsettles you. Or, think first, and remember that who you are is one who can change all this by ignoring their hype.

About the Author

Robert Brooks | Content Director

Robert Brooks has been a business-to-business reporter, writer, editor, and columnist for more than 20 years, specializing in the primary metal and basic manufacturing industries. His work has covered a wide range of topics, including process technology, resource development, material selection, product design, workforce development, and industrial market strategies, among others. Currently, he specializes in subjects related to metal component and product design, development, and manufacturing — including castings, forgings, machined parts, and fabrications.

Brooks is a graduate of Kenyon College (B.A. English, Political Science) and Emory University (M.A. English.)