ABSTRACT

Trending heroism reflects the reality that most heroes are not created in an instant. It takes time to accumulate a resume of heroic success and accomplishment. We propose that as natural observers of human behavior, people are sensitive to cues indicating that hero formation is occurring. People take notice of the individuals around them who are experiencing rising fortunes and growing accolades. Conversely, people also show sensitivity to the reverse process, namely, heroism in decline. When heroes stumble-an all-too-frequent occurrence-people are highly responsive to the stumble and watch carefully for signs indicating whether the stumble is merely an aberration or the beginning of the end of heroism. Why are we so sensitive to trends in heroism? We’re naturally drawn to changes in our social environment because they may have implications for our own well-being. Long ago, famous social psychologist Leon Festinger theorized that our sensitivity to others’ outcomes fulfills our drive to know where we stand in relation to others (Festinger, 1954). We also find changes in others’ fortunes to be a source of drama or entertainment (Kim et al., 2008). Unexpected changes in fortunes can be especially dramatic, as when underdogs triumph and established powerhouses fail (Goldschmied and Vandello, 2009; Goldschmied and Vandello, in press; Vandello, Goldschmied, and Richards, 2007). Historically unsuccessful sports teams that finally enjoy some success are said to be plucky underdogs, upand-coming programs, rising upstarts, and Cinderella stories (Allison and Goethals, 2011). We seem to have fewer labels for fallen giants. We briefly revel in their misfortune, as befitting our schadenfreudian tendencies, but our focus is usually more on celebrating the unexpected successes of the downtrodden. Heroism can trend quickly, or it can trend slowly. Our sensitivity to changes in others’ fortunes may be so great that we may rarely view anyone, especially heroes, as homeostatic over time in terms of their status or outcomes. Fortunes, it seems, are always fluctuating. People in general, but especially heroes, seem prone toward experiencing small victories and minor setbacks on a daily basis. The only exception to this rule may occur in our perceptions of dead heroes. Research has shown that our judgments and impressions of the dead tend to resist change (Eylon and Allison, 2005). Dead heroes tend to be frozen in time. Living heroes, however, are inevitably in the process of being formed, knocked down, resurrected, or dying. In this section of the book, we discuss six Trending Heroes. Four of them are trending upward, and two are trending downward. We begin with Lady Gaga, who less than a decade ago was a quirky, unknown vocal artist with a unique look and catchy sound. During the late 2000s and early 2010s, she steadily grew an audience of followers and devotees who began to use her name and the word hero in the same sentence. Next we discuss the rising reputation of a nineteenth-century U.S. President, Ulysses S Grant. An increasing number of historians are ranking Grant higher than ever in polls of presidential greatness, and we explain how Grant’s progressive actions in the area of race relations are largely responsible

for his upward trend toward heroism. We then discuss the revival of interest in the work of Sigmund Freud, whose theories were rarely taken seriously by most psychologists of the late twentieth century. Today, many of Freud’s ideas about unconscious processes are being validated by modern scientific research. The next profile is of actress Drew Barrymore, who has achieved great success as an actress despite her turbulent upbringing. Barrymore’s recent philanthropic activity has been impressive and makes her a rising hero to many. We conclude this section with two heroes trending downward: Woodrow Wilson and Arnold Schwarzenegger. First comes Woodrow Wilson, an American president who throughout most of the twentieth century enjoyed the reputation of a great hero. Historians of the current century are now less kind to Wilson, condemning his record on racial issues and speculating that his role in the Treaty of Versailles may have helped spawn Nazi Germany. We conclude this section on Trending Heroes by profiling Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was once a champion bodybuilder and film star whose movies dominated the box office. Sadly, his successful life trajectory came to a grinding halt, and even sustained a reversal, as he struggled in his role as Governor of California. All six of the heroes profiled in this section, from Gaga to Schwarzenegger, demonstrate the ever-shifting state of our perceptions of heroism.