Everywhere I look in recent popular movies and novels, protagonist men and women are portrayed as highly efficient experts at life. Just look at the main characters of most new bestsellers, blockbuster hits, or hit TV shows. You’ll have seen it elsewhere perhaps but I’ve noticed it constantly in Tom Clancy and Michael Crichton novels, and in Dan Brown to a lesser extent. Think Jack Bauer, Jason Bourne, that girl in Alias, Sherlock Holmes, Tony Stark, James T. Kirk, ad nauseum. Emotionally stable, calm and collected in crisis situations, young professionals who are at the cutting edge of their field. Sometimes they are depicted in a moment of weakness to show you their human side, but more often than not that in itself is part of their expertise – to feign weakness and throw everyone else off-balance. You get the distinct impression that these people truly, really, totally have got their lives together. They are happy, fulfilled, satisfied, and want for nothing. We always seem to be looking at the apex of human development and achievement. Each one is gifted, smart, beautiful, quick-witted, funny, and efficient.
I think we see in these heroes the embodiment of our culture’s values. And in the missing pieces we see the areas of life that our culture doesn’t value.
The accomplished life then is measured in how much one can accomplish professionally. Thus working all day and all night and running on little or no sleep are badges of honor. But ultimately these portrayals are the wishful thinking of a culture which worships professional success by the sacrificing of stable long-term relationships such as marriage or children.
The truth is that these heroes are uni-perspectival. They manage to showcase the perfected professional, but in doing so they are doomed to be one-dimensional characters. And they are. A full-orbed understanding of humanity would see potential measured in all spheres of life.