Reluctant heroes and itchy capes: the ineluctable desire to be the saviour

Michael Philip Levine, Laura D'Olimpio

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We live in an age of heroes. What is a hero? Why is our need for heroes and our desire to be heroic as insatiable as they are pervasive? Kierkegaard's “Knight of Faith” and Nietzsche's “Superman” both depict the heroic as involving a commitment to inner knowing along with a faith in one's own abilities, despite being unable to communicate these reasons to anyone else. Kierkegaard and Nietzsche use the notion of “hero” to make a moral claim with respect to how we should lead our lives and endure—even love—the lived human experience. There is no diminishing of the modern appetite to consume and act out “reassuring” narratives about how we are all the hero of our own personal journey. Psychoanalysis gives an account as to why the appeal of the hero is inextricably tied to the human psyche. Jung explains the appeal of heroes in terms of archetypes, and Freud speaks of our orectic natures—nature driven by desire, appetite, and wish-fulfillment. Times of crisis and insecurity will always be coincident with an age of heroes, and the proliferation of heroes in film and television, as well as imaged heroes in real life, suggest these times are troubling if not dire. This paper explores why it is that heroes are always there, indeed must be there, when we need them most and considers the educative potential of such narratives.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)71-85
JournalJournal of Aesthetic Education
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2019


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