Heroes, Antiheroes and Our Obsession With Both


The above image features 30 people I consider antiheroes, for the fact they have chosen to challenge norms and live differently. We created the image in collaboration with designer James Evans, as part of an Instagram campaign for the site I edit, Impolitikal.com. Some of the faces will be familiar, others are relatively unknown. All of them represent far larger communities of people who also share their struggle, or who they have stepped up to bat on behalf of.

I hesitate to call them heroes, because many aren't yet considered such by the mainstream. Some, like Nelson Mandela, Gandhi and Maya Angelou are now widely admired - and rightly so. But for much of their lives they weren't applauded. Nelson Mandela spent most of his life in protest, or in prison. Ghandi also spent much of his life challenging elite, racial hierarchies, and in prison. Maya Angelou, now revered for her wordsmithery, battled racial - and gender - prejudice too.

In the introduction to the book Revolutionary Women: a Book of Stencils, Tui Gordon discusses the commodification of struggle. Icons like Che Guevara spend most of their lives on the fringes, or overtly suppressed, then at some later date we decide they're ok and start banging their image on t-shirts. We glorify revolutions past - feel indignant that apartheid was ever a thing, or that women couldn't vote in the West - but maintain a nervous distance from current examples of inequity like LGBT rights and poverty.

And yet, we love an antihero. Pop culture is all about the underdog, the outcast who overcomes the odds. They offer hope to the hopeless and downtrodden, they show it's possible to cry foul - and win - when power is abused. And they often do it with the support of just a small, courageous few.

We admire struggle - after the fact. Why are we so hesitant to engage with it while its happening? Because we don't have time? Because we're disillusioned? Or simply because we don't know what we can do to help, or where to start?

If you're like me, it's any one of these reasons at different points. It's a lot easier to observe - and, to be true, sometimes totally inappropriate to jump into a struggle that's not our own.

Proclaiming opinion without thinking it through can be as unhelpful, if not more so than saying nothing at all. But I think it's important to test our beliefs by acting according to them, to be bold yet flexible in how we interact with the world. And to not let the idea of changing our worldview terrify us.

It's a lot easier to fit the world to the norms we live within, but I don't think we can get away with living in silos anymore. Globalisation means that how we live in one part of the world does affect the wellbeing of people in others. And ultimately, as the impacts of climate change, or the current migrant crises in Europe and the US are showing, sometimes those effects can come back around.

As our Deputy Editor Evelyn said in this recent post, '"We all have social justice issues which speak to our moral and ethical positions." Don't jump on a bandwagon just because it's in vogue, but if something doesn't sit right with you, don't be afraid to find out why.

Whether it's contributing your skills to help a community group, hitting the streets to join a protest march or simply educating yourself further about an issue, this is me encouraging you to engage with struggles that resound with you as they are happening. Like this guy.

As a small start, why not join Impolitikal on Instagram as we send a high five to some of the people we admire?