TV Ascendant

One way I know that television is currently at the apex of popular culture is that I find myself wondering whether or not a particular movie would make a good tv show. Often, my answer to this question also coincides with my determination of whether or not I thought the movie was a good one.

Case in point: I watched Thor 2 the other night and it was predictably horrible. The plot was tired and occasionally impossible to understand; the acting was overly goofy; and the CGI didn’t even look good. But I also thought to myself: This would be a horrible tv show. There’s not really enough plot here for an hour and a half movie; there’s certainly nothing interesting about the characters … apart from Loki who’s confusingly alive at the end of the film without any real explanation (after we watch him die heroically fifteen minutes earlier). In short, there’s absolutely nothing here for an ultra-violent eight episode HBO anthology series to be built around.

I suppose this is precisely why “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” is a spectacular failure of a tv show. If you wouldn’t make an hour and a half movie about the adventures of Phil Coulson and his misfit band of agents because they’re a bunch of boring lumps, you certainly shouldn’t try making 22 episodes.

# movies # television # comics # heroism

This week on the Hero Report podcast, we look at the recent case of a Marine whose heroic actions seem to have fabricated to discuss the way we assign the title of hero and how quickly that can disappear. Also, we spend some time thinking about why there is a fascination for TV series with bad main characters such as “Breaking Bad" and "House of Cards.”

Tell us what you think about this episode, discuss these issues with us on Twitter (Matt Langdon / Ari Kohen), and join us every week on Google+ for our live broadcast (where you can chat with us while we’re on the air and contribute to the conversation).

Want to make the podcast portable? Subscribe via iTunes (audio-only).

# podcast # television # heroism

This week on the Hero Report podcast, we’re joined by Elizabeth Svoboda, author of What Makes a Hero?: The Surprising Science of Selflessness. They discuss the heroism of volunteer firefighters in Australia and protesters in Ukraine.

Tell us what you think about this episode, discuss these issues with us on Twitter (Matt Langdon / Ari Kohen), and join us every week on Google+ for our live broadcast (where you can chat with us while we’re on the air and contribute to the conversation).

Want to make the podcast portable? Subscribe via iTunes (audio-only).

# global affairs # Ukraine # heroism # podcast # Australia

Whistleblowers

I was asked this afternoon to moderate a panel at the Hero Round Table conference in September on whisteblowing.

The panel will feature Daniel Ellsberg and Philip Zimbardo.

Needless to say, it didn’t take me very long to agree.

Have an interest in whistleblowers? Or in altruism or heroism more broadly? You should think seriously about attending this conference. If you’re a student and want to do some research on these topics, consider presenting a poster.

Also, for anyone with an interest, here’s my 12 minute talk from last year’s inaugural conference.

# Ellsberg # Zimbardo # heroism # education # politics

Vigilantes or Citizen-Activists?

I’ve been having an interesting conversation with my friend Drew Jacob in light of a story he sent along to me. Because the details of the story were a bit difficult to fully understand and because they involved allegations of sexual harrassment/assault, I hesitated to write anything here. I felt that I simply didn’t have sufficient information to provide much in the way of informed commentary.

That said, as our discussion went on, we began to get to some of the underlying issues that made the story stand out to us; these focused on questions of vigilantism and justice. And that, I think, gives me some purchase for a discussion.

The basic story, which has apparently gotten quite a lot of attention in certain quarters but which I hadn’t seen before, is that a woman was made to feel very uncomfortable by a man at a party that was connected in some way to a recent science fiction convention she attended. At one point, the man was taking up too much space while sitting next to her and was leaning on her; at another point, he seemed to have followed her and then rubbed her arm as if consoling her when her boyfriend became ill. She reported the man to security and to the convention staff who responded to her concerns in a way that she deemed appropriate and helpful. After the convention ended, the woman wrote a post (which she says then went viral) that contained the man’s name and photo, as well as information about his educational and employment history in order to bring attention to him and his behavior (which was, she apparently learned, something he’d done before).

The interesting question, for someone who writes about heroism, is whether the woman’s actions constitute vigilantism (which I oppose) or, to borrow a phrase from Jacob, citizen-activism (which seems like something we might want to encourage)?

My problem with vigilantism is that there aren’t any rules to follow and any action undertaken is entirely up to the individual who decides to act as a vigilante. Since we’re all generally bad judges in our own cases, it’s an awful lot of power to put at one person’s discretion.

But can the same be said of citizen-activists? And what distinguishes the two?

Here’s Jacob, who is interested in:

the circumstances under which activist citizens … can be a force for good, and temper or eliminate the inherent risks of vigilantism.

[Consider] campus safety escorts for women late at night. If the volunteer escort’s intention is to use his fists if anyone tries to assault her, then he’s a dangerous vigilante; but the point … is that an assault is less likely to occur in the first place if there are multiple people walking/biking the area where assaults often happen. It is a deterrent, not an attempt at superheroism, and that may well be the defining characteristic of a “beneficial” vigilante [read: citizen-activist]… that, and the criterion I suggested in our earlier correspondence: having a group or organization rather than acting alone, and being transparent to the public and (especially) law enforcement.

Neither Jacob nor I have any of this figured out, but it seemed like an interesting place to begin a discussion.

So … is the woman in this story a vigilante or a citizen-activist? What makes you think so? And are these categories helpful in distinguishing between behavior that makes us uncomfortable or concerned (because it could be dangerous to individuals or our community) and behavior that ought to make us more comfortable insofar as it attempts to assist us and our community? Or do you think that my discomfort with vigilantism is unwarranted?

# women # heroism # sci-fi # internet

We’re back!

This week on the Hero Report podcast, Matt and I return after a lengthy hiatus to discuss Matt’s move to Australia, news items from the last month, and our thoughts on the direction of the podcast for 2014. Not to be missed, also, is my sabbatical beard.

Tell us what you think about this episode, discuss these issues with us on Twitter (Matt Langdon / Ari Kohen), and join us every week on Google+ for our live broadcast (where you can chat with us while we’re on the air and contribute to the conversation).

Want to make the podcast portable? Subscribe via iTunes (audio-only).

# podcast # internet # heroism

Today’s Comment of the Day is really nothing more than naked not-at-all-humblebragging.
At first I thought this comment came from my grandmother … but then I remembered that my grandmother’s so not into Beyoncé’s new album.
But, anyhow, go watch my 12 minute talk on heroism. This very nice Tumblr blogger — who, I reiterate is not my grandmother — advises you that it’s totally worth it.

Today’s Comment of the Day is really nothing more than naked not-at-all-humblebragging.

At first I thought this comment came from my grandmother … but then I remembered that my grandmother’s so not into Beyoncé’s new album.

But, anyhow, go watch my 12 minute talk on heroism. This very nice Tumblr blogger — who, I reiterate is not my grandmother — advises you that it’s totally worth it.

# heroism # cotd # Tumblr # comedy # music # Beyoncé

Here’s the 12 minute talk I gave last month at the inaugural Hero Round Table conference in Flint, Michigan. I hope you’ll listen and let me know what you think. And, of course, feel free to share it widely; I’m fully prepared to become a YouTube sensation.

When you’re done, here are some more of my thoughts on what constitutes heroic action that coalesced out of conversations that weekend.

# heroism # Michigan # philosophy # McCain # Homer # Plato

Are you familiar with Tolkien's mythos, and if so, what do you think of heroism in say, The Lord of the Rings? Frodo Baggins is the obvious protagonist, but ultimately he fails, redeemed only by his purer companion (Samwise Gamgee) and his less pure one (Gollum/Smeagol).
andrerichesque

I’ve spent a fair amount of time with Tolkien and I’ve done a bit of reading on interpretations of the heroics at the heart of the Lord of the Rings saga … though I suspect that others have thought about these books, these characters, and their heroics far more than I have. So I suppose what I’ll say is this: I’m not convinced that Frodo’s failure at the climax of the tale disqualifies him from the status of hero.

While a lot of people today focus on the fact that Frodo might not have accomplished the destruction of the One Ring without both Sam and Gollum, I think it’s equally important to note that Frodo takes great risks and endures a great deal of suffering on his journey. He sets out on what is almost certainly a suicide mission, he succeeds in reaching Mordor despite the odds, he endures what very few could (recall the power of the Ring over others who hold it only briefly), and, along with his companions, he ultimately accomplishes the seemingly impossible and defeats Sauron by destroying the ring.

Imagine if we ruled out the heroism of Odysseus because he needed a great deal of assistance to do all the great deeds for which he is remembered. As just a few examples, he needed the other sailors to tie him to the mast so he could listen to the singing of the Sirens without having to fear death, he needed Nausicaa and her parents to help him complete the final leg of his journey, he needed Telemachus and Eumaeus to defeat the suitors, and — of course — he needed the help of the gods throughout the Iliad and the Odyssey in order to accomplish anything at all.

Fortunately, there’s no rule that says heroes must go it alone. That would be a very high bar for a hero to clear.

# heroism # literature # Tolkien # Homer # questions

Nelson Mandela has died at age 95. The world has lost one of its great heroes.
Here’s a short snippet about Mandela’s uniqueness from an article I published a couple of years ago on the role played by forgiveness and reconciliation in restorative justice:

Perhaps the most recognizable contemporary example of unilateral forgiveness is Nelson Mandela, who seems to harbor no resentment toward those who imprisoned him on Robben Island for 27 years. Govier (2002, p. 71) argues that

When Mandela reached out to his former enemies and did whatever he could to assure them that they would suffer no evil at his hands, he did not do this in response to acknowledgement and expressions of remorse on the part of white leaders. Nor was he responding to a community that had apologized for the wrongs of the past and indicated a commitment to deep and widespread moral transformation.

It is undoubtedly because Mandela had so much about which he could have been justifiably angry that his forgiveness has inspired so many in South Africa and around the world. The unilateral forgiveness that he offered to white South Africans was not seen by anyone as a sign of weakness or willingness to forget the past, but instead has gained him nearly universal admiration for his ‘openness, acceptance, and lack of bitterness’ (Govier 2002, p. 71). Indeed, Mandela’s decision to spend New Year’s Eve 2000 on Robben Island signified both his remembering of apartheid and his triumph over the conditions that system imposed on him and all black South Africans. Govier (2002, p. 61) rightly argues that ‘What is at issue in forgiveness is not whether suffering and wrongdoing are remembered, but how they are remembered.’
Bibliography
Govier, T., 2002. Forgiveness and revenge. London: Routledge.

Nelson Mandela has died at age 95. The world has lost one of its great heroes.

Here’s a short snippet about Mandela’s uniqueness from an article I published a couple of years ago on the role played by forgiveness and reconciliation in restorative justice:

Perhaps the most recognizable contemporary example of unilateral forgiveness is Nelson Mandela, who seems to harbor no resentment toward those who imprisoned him on Robben Island for 27 years. Govier (2002, p. 71) argues that

When Mandela reached out to his former enemies and did whatever he could to assure them that they would suffer no evil at his hands, he did not do this in response to acknowledgement and expressions of remorse on the part of white leaders. Nor was he responding to a community that had apologized for the wrongs of the past and indicated a commitment to deep and widespread moral transformation.

It is undoubtedly because Mandela had so much about which he could have been justifiably angry that his forgiveness has inspired so many in South Africa and around the world. The unilateral forgiveness that he offered to white South Africans was not seen by anyone as a sign of weakness or willingness to forget the past, but instead has gained him nearly universal admiration for his ‘openness, acceptance, and lack of bitterness’ (Govier 2002, p. 71). Indeed, Mandela’s decision to spend New Year’s Eve 2000 on Robben Island signified both his remembering of apartheid and his triumph over the conditions that system imposed on him and all black South Africans. Govier (2002, p. 61) rightly argues that ‘What is at issue in forgiveness is not whether suffering and wrongdoing are remembered, but how they are remembered.’

Bibliography

Govier, T., 2002. Forgiveness and revenge. London: Routledge.

# Mandela # South Africa # obituary # restorative justice # news # heroism # politics # global affairs

reblogged from Ari Kohen's Blog
A thought on bystanders: you say we should practice the small everyday things to be ready should we ever be called to that terrible moment of heroism. I agree. I think we need to practice it most in when knowing not to laugh. The inappropriate joke is the beginning of the bystander response. Practice explaining why it's not funny. Or even start by staying silent. Small steps.
Anonymous

This is a very useful addition to things I’ve written recently about heroism.

Identifying “the cruel joke” and not laughing along with it is an important first step; it’s clearly a recognition of the possibility of the suffering of others (whether on a small scale or not) and a decision not to contribute to it.

The next step moves beyond identification of the wrongness of the joke and the decision to stand apart from it; as you say, it’s “explaining why it’s not funny.”

It’s very rare indeed that I see someone explain to a stranger, or even a friend, why a joke is inappropriate or cruel … but when it happens — when someone says to someone else, “That’s not cool” or “Don’t say things like that” — it’s clearly a breaking down of bystander behavior.

# questions # heroism

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