On the most recent Hero Report podcast, I wondered aloud about whether the ability to quickly share things on the internet — along with the ubiquity of camera-equipped phones — would bring more examples of heroism to the fore.
While Cory Booker is already pretty well-known for doing hard work to help his constituents, his most recent act of selflessness and the speed with which is has made the rounds online seems to speak to my point.
Indeed, Jason Kottke hastens to label him a superhero:
Cory Booker, mayor of Newark, New Jersey, fought off his security detail and ran into a burning house to rescue a trapped woman.
Newark Mayor Cory Booker was taken to a hospital Thursday night for treatment of smoke inhalation he suffered trying to rescue his next-door neighbors from their burning house.
“I just grabbed her and whipped her out of the bed,” Booker said in recounting the fire. Booker told The Star-Ledger he also suffered second-degree burns on his hand.
Two years ago, Booker helped shovel his constituents’ driveways after a huge snowstorm. Who is this guy, Batman?
Corey Robin, however, pushes back against the excitement surrounding Booker and his actions:
The whole story speaks to a quintessentially American love of amateurism and cowboy theatrics, but it also speaks to our neoliberal age: like the superhero of comic-book lore, Booker is a stand-in, a compensation in this case for a public sector that doesn’t work. And the reason it doesn’t work—the reason we put more stock in the antics of a Batman Mayor than a well paid and well trained city employee—is that we’ve made it not work: through tax cuts, privatization, and outsourcing, policies that Booker himself often supports.
Despite all that, Booker’s antics—and the starstruck response it has elicited from otherwise sane journalists and commentators—are actually more reminiscent of a very different kind of politician from a very different kind of time. As Slavoj Žižek wrote about the cult of personality around Stalin in Did Someone Say Totalitarianism?
This implicit acknowledgment of impotence is also the hidden truth of the divinization of the Stalinist Leader into a Supreme Genius who can give advice on almost any topic, from how to repair a tractor to how to cultivate flowers: what this Leader’s intervention in everyday life means is that things do not function on the most everyday level—what kind of country is this, in which the supreme Leader himself has to dispense advice about how to repair tractors?
Indeed: what kind of country is this?