Your heroes will all eventually let you down.
This was a particularly hard lesson for me to learn as I transitioned from childhood into adolescence. We all encounter this feeling to some degree as a part of maturation, but it was maybe especially harsh for one who worshiped at the foot of pop culture and sports as I did.
In that way, I feel a kinship with Renton Thurston, who is likewise a hero worshiper, but with a far stronger obsession. In Eureka Seven, the young Renton joins the crew of the Gekkostate, led by his hero, Holland Novak. But things are not what they seem, or what Renton pictured. It’s a painful experience for him when Holland begins abusing Renton, both emotionally and physically, out of jealousy over the boy’s relationship with Eureka. Eventually, Renton leaves.
The young man’s ordeal is a confusing and frustrating one for him, as Holland’s character doesn’t line up with what he imagines him to be. Renton is doing exactly what I did, but with a counterculture criminal rather than athletes and actors—he’s participating in “hero worship,” setting Holland up as a sort of god.
As I grew older, this obvious hero worship faded away, but it turned into something subtly different. I still project images—as Renton did with Holland—onto others I hold in high esteem, whether I really know them or not.
It was this way with my favorite author, one who had a profound impact on my life. I attended a Q&A where she was the featured speaker, and was selected to ask her a question in front of the crowd. I then stood in line for a book signing. When it was my turn to meet her, though trembling with nerves, I explained how much her books meant to me and how they helped define the person I became. She barely acknowledged me, simply signing my book and looking toward the next person in line.
More recently, I connected to a voice actress who voices one of my favorite roles from a series I loved when I was young. I was excited to schedule an interview, and though she initially expressed the same, things fell apart quickly and dramatically. The actress asked me to circle back a few weeks after our initial conversation, but in my excitement, I reached out earlier than agreed upon, and she was not happy, angrily snapping at me through a text.
The reaction really shook me up. When evaluating this incident later, I returned to that idea of projection, of creating an image of who I wanted her to be, of who I wanted that author to be. I think it’s the same for Renton— he’s built up an idol that doesn’t match Holland’s character. Instead, his image is of the Holland he wants and expects him to be.
I can’t fault a kid for acting that way, but as I mature, I know I need to do better—not just to protect myself from the fallout of the inevitable imperfection that I’ll see, but to treat the “hero” as human, as a person. The more I see others as complex people who exhibit both great aspects and severe flaws, the more I grasp my own sinful nature and the more I remember how I’m forgiven by one who is perfect. And in knowing this, I can see others more as they truly are, or even forgive them if they somehow harm me.
Ultimately, only one can stand under the scrutiny that hero worship invites, and it’s meant to be that way. Holland is no better than Renton, and your hero is no better than you—we’re all equal in our humanity, both in displaying the beautiful image of God and in our sinful natures, so worship from one to the other is both misplaced and unwise.
For all of us, there is only one perfect hero who deserve such attention—and thankfully, his words are kind, his actions are merciful, and he never has and never will let us down.
Eureka Seven can be streamed on Funimation.