MARTY RUSSELL: The word 'hero' grossly overused these days

By Marty Russell

I told my students the other day that, on an upcoming current events quiz, one question they should not expect to see is, “What pop star died this past weekend?”
While I’m not disparaging Whitney Houston’s obvious talent, I have been somewhat sickened by the barrage of coverage of her death at the age of 48 and the clips that seem to pop up every five minutes of her contemporaries and up-and-coming singers eulogizing her as their “hero.”
Hero is a word that has lost its impact, its meaning and therefore any real significance these days. If you look at the dictionary definition of a hero, buried down beneath the mythological figure endowed with divine powers and a person admired for their achievements is what I think most of us would agree is the definition of a real hero: One who shows great courage. I would add to that one who makes a great sacrifice for others.
How many of the people we label as heroes today actually fit that description? How much courage and sacrifice does it take to use a natural talent to ascend to the pinnacle of pop culture, make millions of dollars and then squander it all away on addictions and material things?
Sure there are still real heroes out there but those largely go unsung. The soldier who throws himself on a grenade to save his comrades. The people who use their talents to acquire wealth and then turn around and use that wealth to help others. The parents who save a child from years of being handed off from one foster home to another by adopting them.
Those are the only true heroes these days, in my opinion, and rarely do they receive the recognition and admiration they deserve. Instead, we throw ticker-tape parades for sports teams and offer up 24/7 homages to pop stars that burn out too quickly and call them heroes.
If you want to know who a true hero is, think back to what happened 50 years ago this coming Monday. That’s when astronaut John Glenn climbed into a tiny tin can named Friendship 7 and put his life on the line to not only become the first American to orbit the Earth, but also to restore the entire country’s pride after being bested on numerous occasions by the then Soviet Union.
Although I was only 5 years old at the time, I still remember it to this day. Glenn got and deserved a ticker-tape parade and the nation’s admiration on his return. Grown men wept, according to the accounts of the time. How many of us will still remember pop stars and sports figures as heroes with the same admiration 50 years from now?
Marty Russell writes a Wednesday column for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at 222 Farley Hall, University MS 38677 or by e-mail at marusse1@olemiss.edu.