America needs its CNN Heroes


Efren Peñaflorida started a "pushcart classroom" in the Philippines to bring education to poor children as an alternative to gang membership. On Saturday night, he was named CNN’s Hero of the Year in front of a star-studded Hollywood “tribute” featuring the likes of Greg Kinnear Pierce Brosnan, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Kate Hudson, Nicole Kidman, Neil Patrick Harris and some dude named Maxwell, who I admittedly have never heard of. The tribute, scheduled to air this Thursday night during Thanksgiving, will honor all ten of the 2009 CNN Heroes finalists. This past Thursday, Crystal Noble asked the question in her blog: is there too much “good news” for the media? Well this massive Heroes campaign, and the 2.75 million votes that were cast for Hero of the Year, would seem to indicate otherwise. Lest there be doubt, a massive values shift is taking place in this country, and its being reflected back to us by our news organizations.

Consider this … the media does not dictate the pulse of its audience; they respond to what their audience demands (it’s how they stay in business). As a society, we express our collective disdain for the “if it bleeds it leads” dynamic. But if we all stopped tuning in for coverage of violence and voyeurism, the media would quickly de-emphasize those kinds of stories. My point here is that for CNN to go to such lengths (for three years now) to produce such a lavish and extensive tribute to ordinary folks “doing good,” it means people are hungry for this kind of thing.

America needs its heroes. In the 40’s and 50’s, Superman and Captain America were the personification of hero, fighting for truth, justice and the American way.  Then we saw the emergence of the anti-hero (Batman), a shout-out to the fragilities of the human condition and a back-lash to our collective feelings of betrayal in the Vietnam era. Today, in a world where reality-TV is king, our heroes can no longer be personified in the pages of Marvel or DC comics. That’s because today we crave real heroes. We want people who remind us that we all have the capacity to champion human, animal, and environmental rights. We no longer just fight for the American way (whatever that means), but for the global way.

I commend CNN for what they’re doing and intend to watch the show this Thursday night. Or, in the likely scenario that I’ve OD’d on tryptophan and pecan pie, I’ll watch it on my DVR over the weekend.