Hero Worship: In Conversation with a Visitor from Mars.
While I had thus enlarged upon my theme, the Martian had been nodding in an acquiescing sort of way, but now his face clouded and he exclaimed, “How, then, do you account for the interest attached to the persons of pugilists, film stars, labour leaders, and other adventurers whose exploits fill up so much space in your daily papers?”
“The interest awakened by nonentities such as sheikhs of the screen,” I replied, “may be termed a farcical and spurious ‘hero worship.’ These worthies (except by a few hysterical individuals) are not—as the Daily Gossips would have us believe—regarded with adulation at all, but are looked upon, in the main, with feelings varying from mild interest to sheer contempt. It is evident to Socialists that these “heroes” are mere puppets paraded before the workers in an endeavour to keep their thoughts off vital social problems; if one’s mind is occupied with an account of Charles Chaplin, comedian, it cannot, at the same time, be concentrating on the motives of Mr. Golde-Baggs, financier. The worker, wearied with the trials of this world of hard reality, can thus rid himself of his worries by escaping —via the Screen or Press—into the ‘wonderland’ of romantic swashbucklers and pseudo-gallants, and can, moreover, shirk the safeguarding of his interests by putting his trust in ‘leaders.’ Capitalists, in fact, take advantage of the tradition of ‘hero-worship,’ which still lingers on (for ‘traditions die hard’), for the dual object of concealing their plans, and keeping the working class in a state of confused and dazed thought. But it is in times of stress and of peril to their existence, that the ruling-class exploit this tradition most. Thus at the commencement of the recent war, dunderheaded old soldiers suddenly became brilliant military geniuses, and clap-trap orators were regarded as ‘heaven-sent’ statesmen. But their glory has been shortlived ; the ‘wizard from Wales ‘ has fallen from his pedestal, and the generals have crept back into oblivion. There is no doubt, Marty, the war-time ‘great men’ were simply marionettes made to jig and dance at the bidding of the master class. They fulfilled the purpose of arousing the ‘patriotic’ passions of the people to white heat, and by stuffing them with spurious ideals made them protectors of property not their own, and tools for gaining fresh territories and resources for their masters. Even to-day, my friend, in two European countries, a pair of ”great men’—the octogenarian Hindenburg and the former demagogue, Mussolini —are vested with the semblance of supreme power; but their rule is simply an example of the way in which predatory financiers, and the like, exploit the tradition of ‘hero-worship’ by hiding their class oppression under the gestures of these showy ‘personalities.’ There exists now a mere superstructure of exploited traditional ‘hero-worship,’ instead of the basic ‘hero-worship’ of earlier communities.
(To be continued.)
(Socialist Standard, February 1928)