Popular culture, the grim reaper and Independence Day produced a juxtaposition this week that got me thinking about America's heroes and the values that elevate them.
"The Amazing Spider-Man," the fourth movie in this superhero's line, was released Tuesday, the day the nation learned of the death of beloved actor Andy Griffith. It was also the day before the national birthday holiday and, my household's resident Batman-lover informed me, 16 days before the scheduled release of the next Batman movie.
Is there anything more American than cheering for comic book-cum-motion picture superheroes who spare hapless mere mortals from the evil wiles of super villains? The durability of these fantasies, most of which have their origin during the Great Depression, attests to the appeal of the notion that a supernaturally gifted savior is needed to set things right. In most such tales, average people might help solve problems, but often help best by getting out of the way.
But America clearly also loved another kind of hero -- Sheriff Andy Taylor of Mayberry, N.C., a fictional place that wasn't all that different from the small towns that once were home to a majority of Minnesotans. Andy Griffith's passing evoked a sense of loss, not just for the actor who created the sheriff's character, but also for those small towns and the relationships they fostered. Through the eight-year run of "The Andy Griffith Show," the lead character modeled democratic problem-solving, one that engaged and empowered other community members to come to their own solutions and to come to each other's aid.
If the Americans of 1776 who threw off the British monarchy could pay a visit this week to the nation their exertions founded, I think I know which popular culture figure they would admire more. They might also advise today's Americans that doing their part to keep the democratic republic they inherited includes choosing their heroes wisely.