A footballer, not particularly well known, falls on the ground in a match. he’s taken to the hospital, in critical condition, where it’s announced that he’s fighting life and death. Over the next few weeks during the course of his recovery, people fall over themselves on Twitter and Facebook in showing their support for him. It’s boils down to who has the most eloquent, soul stirring, inspiring 140 characters to show support on his path to recovery. All this time, the true test of character is reserved only for him and his family as they grapple with this adversity. As he completes his recovery, people lose interest, and he fades into the same normalcy from which he was pulled into the cold limelight. Within a matter of days, a quarter of a turn around the globe, an unknown footballer falls on the ground during a match in a city, and dies due to the lack of the most basic of medical infrastructure needed to take him to a hospital. His death goes largely unnoticed. Later, on a Facebook football forum created by some friends, a supporter of an English football club from that same country shows his solidarity with families and friends of 96 fans who lost their lives in a tragic stampede at an English football ground many years ago. Chances are he wasn’t even born at the time the tragedy occurred, leave alone know about the club he supports. He doesn’t make any posts related to the death of that unknown footballer who died less than a 1000 kms away from him.
A cricketer, once a rising star, then branded arrogant and wasteful by some, regains his stature in the World Cup, only to be diagnosed with cancer immediately afterwards. People take it as their duty to encourage him, re-tweet and favourite his tweets and shared photos. A processed foods company comes up with their signature adverts saying ‘We’re in this together’. He finds a new meaning to life as he fully recovers and claims his stake to his position in the starting line up of the national team. The media finds a new darling – a hero that can inspire millions fighting this monstrosity of a disease. Meanwhile the fact that a majority of those millions don’t have the financial means to fight this disease is conveniently ignored. Even more ignored are those countless success stories in which ordinary people go broke in winning this fight and come back from the worst stages of cancer, and live.
A guerrilla group’s leader hits global consciousness as his heinous acts are publicized and authorities are pressurized to act with urgency. College going kids take an oath to make him famous by showing what horrible acts he has committed, and everyone jumps on the bandwagon. Engineering students from a city nicknamed ‘The Oxford Of The East’ are interviewed by the leading local newspaper where they share their plans to stick posters about the leader on the college walls to ‘make him famous’ and draw attention to his atrocities. Ask them about the number of infanticides in their city in an year, and chances are they’ll be dumbfounded.
The heir apparent to a nation’s Prime Ministership consoles a 10 year old boy who lost his father, a police officer, in a Naxal attack by saying, ‘I know how it feels to lose a father.’ The nation swoons. The subservient media glorifies the politician’s statement even further. Tons of ink blackens paper in singing his praises. Not one self righteous journalist comments on the fact that the politician has a last name that opens locks of the nation’s treasury and is the only qualification required to rule the political party and country. Whereas the little child will perhaps be forced to beg on the streets before he receives even half of his father’s ‘Full and Final Settlement’ amount.
The bravest woman I had the privilege to know saw her husband go from a healthy man, without any medical history, to a corpse in the matter of 14 days, while she herself fought a losing battle against her arch nemesis, cancer. There are no records of her bravery, no songs of her valour when she confronted death twice – once of the only man she ever loved, and when it returned to claim her. Her memories only linger on in the hearts of her children, her mother who watched her lose, and her awestruck family. Her story is perhaps more inspiring than the hyped up battles of those with the means to fight them easily and yet she remains a statistical number. There are countless others like her, who displayed human will at its magnificent best, braving the odds to fight such wars without caring about the consequences, only to be relegated to the shadows of the unknown, no matter what the outcome.
Hero worship is not what it used to be. Heroes are no longer defined by their character, their actions, their ability to inspire the commonest of the common. They’re instead defined by the visibility they receive through the manic tweeting fingers, perpetually in a race to outpace everyone else in being the first to post about that perceived heroic act on social media. Everyone knows everything about the chosen heroes, and yet no one is truly inspired by them. The only return sought on this investment of characters in a post is the visibility that post can receive, gaining likes, re-tweets, followers and shares in the process. The man who walked thousands of miles against the atrocious policies of an empire is etched in immortality, and yet the hundreds of thousands of ghosts who followed him to make his agitation a success receive not even a footnote’s worth of space in the annals of history.
When the ashes turn cold and the dust settles, the people who trend on twitter will always be forgotten. Facebook likes will become meaningless. Inspiration will remain a buzzword associated with posters with abstract images and fancy quotes.
What will persist is our failure to recognize true heroes, without the crutches of the instruments of hype.