Christopher Hitchens, Kick-Ass, and The Dangers of Hagiography

(I swear this will all make sense.)

I recall there being a remark in Hitchens’ book Letters to a Young Contrarian about how he preferred his heroes to have clay feet. He mentions Martin Luther King’s alleged adultery and plagiarism. At the time I read this it just struck me initially as just the sort of aesthetic that a gruff, contrarian journalist just might appreciate – everyone’s got their skeletons in the closet or something to that effect. In the years since I’ve read this I’ve come to appreciate a bit more what I *think* Hitchens was trying to say. If we set apart our heroes, our role-models and think of them as having these serious qualitative differences in both virtue and ability we also create reasons for ourselves to sit things out. This is hinted at as the eponymous hero of Kick-Ass, as he wonders why no one is out there helping out the people around them like superheroes do. His friends immediately throw out the differences between mere mortals and superheroes, they all have some kind of supernatural skills, or they are billionaires like Bruce Wayne. At another point in the movie our hero suggests that even if great power comes with great responsibility, a lack of great power doesn’t absolve one of responsibilities.

There’s a real danger then in painting too much of a hagiographic portrait of our heroes, because implying a qualitative difference between us and them is a really convenient way to absolve ourselves of responsibility – since it looks like we are paying a compliment to those we admire by glossing over their peccadilloes. Maybe it’s best that we recognize that every other human being had faults just like us. Not to puff ourselves up, but to get ourselves up, up off the couch. There are still many reasons not to participate, not to act, not to engage in the face of injustice or oppression, but having a realistic view of those who did removes at least one.