True Heroes

Every age needs its heroes. The Greeks had Achilles the manly warrior who was flawed but able to overcome his deficiencies when the chips were down. We have our football players and professional athletes who also clearly have flaws but are able to prevail on the field — if they aren’t in jail. Oh, and we have our movie stars who live very public lives. The firemen and policemen and women who risk their lives are a better bet, as are those in the armed forces who risk their lives to protect our way of life. But, then, what is being protected for the most part are corporate interests and most of those people were either drafted or are paid to do a job. They are certainly admirable, but I prefer those who quietly and voluntarily make sacrifices to buck the tide and further the general welfare of all of us who share this planet.

One such person who is a hero in my view is Danny DeVito who is interviewed in this month’s Sierra magazine. DeVito plays the voice of The Lorax in the new Dr. Seuss movie. He is also a staunch environmentalist who realizes that (as he says) “we have maybe fifty years to get this right.” He drives an electric car and plans to install solar panels on his house so he is using less electricity generated by nuclear power or coal-burning plants. He owned an electric car before it was “hip,” in the late 1990s “then the powers that be decided it wasn’t good for the oil companies, and they took it away from us.” He knows who the true villains are in this drama we are living through. And he knows what needs to be done.

One would like to think the new Dr. Seuss movie will open the eyes of our children to the fact that as they grow up they will need to do whatever they can to repair some of the damage their parents and grandparents have done to the planet. They will have even less time to do so. This is not to say that there are not more heroes like DeVito who are doing their best right now. There certainly are — just not enough of them.  I have a friend who became the third customer of a company in the Twin Cities to install solar panels on his garage to supplement the electricity he draws from N.S.P. He watches it like a hawk and delights to see the sun taking money out of the pockets of the corporations. We need more people like this, and we need to modify our notion of what makes a person a hero. It certainly doesn’t need to be the football player or the sports star. It doesn’t even need to be a man. In fact, there are a great many women in our culture who are truly heroic in their day-to-day struggle to survive in a man’s world where the cultural role models are totally unlike themselves. Our notion of what makes a person admirable needs to be brought up to date.

In the Dr. Seuss movie, taken from the book, the antagonist Once-ler (a financial titan who sells cans of fresh air) is, according to DeVito, “simply misguided, taken in by his commercial ability to make Thneeds [‘a Fine-Something-That-Everyone-Needs,’ which require cutting down the forests].” There lies the ugly truth about our urge to increase wealth no matter the cost. In the end, the message calls for individual responsibility (there’s a new idea!) by saying “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” This is a message we can take to heart, and the man who wrote it — not to mention the man whose voice is that of the main character — is truly heroic.