From the men and women associated with the American Revolution and Civil War to the seminal figures in the struggles for civil and women's rights, Americans have been fascinated with and drawn to icons of great achievement, or at least reputation. But who spins today's narratives about American heroism, and to what ends? In a nation so wracked with division, is there any contemporary consensus about the enduring importance of our heroes or what traits they embody?
Can heroes survive in our environment of 24/7 media coverage and cynicism about the motives of those who enter the public domain?
In Where Have All the Heroes Gone?, Bruce G. Peabody and Krista Jenkins draw on the concept of the American hero to address these questions and to show an important gap between the views of political and media elites and the attitudes of the mass public. The authors contend that important changes over the past half century, including the increasing scope and power of new media and people's deepening political distrust, have drawn both politicians and producers of media content to the
hero meme. However, popular reaction to this turn to heroism has been largely skeptical. As a result, the conversations and judgments of ordinary Americans, government officials, and media elites are often deeply divergent and even directly opposed.
Exploring and being able to show these dynamics is important not just for understanding what U.S. heroism means today, but also in helping to wrestle with stubborn and distinctively American problems. Investigating the story of American heroes over the past five decades provides a narrative that can teach us about such issues as political socialization, institutional trust, and political communication.