“Well,” Amory considered, “I’m not sure that the war itself had any great effect on either you or me—but it certainly ruined the old backgrounds, sort of killed individualism out of our generation.”
Tom looked up in surprise.
“Yes it did,” insisted Amory. “I’m not sure it didn’t kill it out of the whole world. Oh, Lord, what a pleasure it used to be to dream I might be a really great dictator or writer or religious or political leader—and now even a Leonardo da Vinci or Lorenzo de Medici couldn’t be a real old-fashioned bolt in the world. Life is too huge and complex. The world is so overgrown that it can’t lift its own fingers, and I was planning to be such an important finger—”This Side of Paradise p. 151
It’s hard to imagine back in the 1920s Fitzgerald thinking the world so interconnected that it no longer produced heroes. When Tom presses him, Amory agrees there will still be heroes in history, just not in life. And then he gets down to his main point:
“But we no sooner get a popular reformer or politician or soldier or writer or philosopher—a Roosevelt, a Tolstoi, a Wood, a Shaw, a Nietzsche, than the cross-currents of criticism wash him away. My Lord, no man can stand prominence these days. It’s the surest path to obscurity. People get sick of hearing the same name over and over.”
Oh, if only he was right. Now the cross-currents of criticism won’t let the name die out. How many conservatives still harp on Obama—though with Biden to point to, he is less of a target. And how many progressives still bring up Trump—even though he’s mostly out of the spotlight. Our enemies live rent free in our heads.
But however the 24-hour news cycle and social media feeds keep people alive and important, are there any great men anymore—any we can’t do without? We’re easily bored and easily fascinated by the new kid in town, but he’s never necessary. The democratization of all things has made the hero obsolete—and untrusted by the masses.
And so the church must stand in—not in the world’s eyes, but in our communities’ eyes. In fact, our communities’ only hope is if the local church becomes indispensable. There are no more heroes to save the day.