Where are the Families of Fabled Heroes?

Unlike Hindi films, modern North American films rarely embed the hero in the thick traditions and obligations of family history. It is a rare movie indeed when we meet the hero’s parents.

So wrote cultural anthropologist Richard A. Shweder, of the University of Chicago, and social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, University of Virginia, in a chapter for the Handbook of Emotions (2000).

We don’t meet the parents of Hollywood heroes because many of our culture’s iconic superheroes are orphaned. Or might as well be.

Batman’s parents are dead; victims of a violent crime. Superman’s folks died in a disaster on a far away planet. Luke Skywalker was the son of a mostly absent, and decidedly bad, father. He barely had a mother. (The character that appeared later in the Star Wars franchise, played by Natalie Portman, was an afterthought.)

At a time when the very definition and role of family in our culture is muddled (perhaps because it is in transition), we might not be surprised that our cultural heroes seem to spring forward without parental guidance and support. Or in spite of it.

Yet, the Batman and Superman narratives go back many decades to their comic book origins in the mid-last century. Perhaps they helped set us upon the path we find ourselves today.

Still, no matter how the entertainment industry construes the hero’s journey, social relationships early in life have a profound impact on shaping how each of us perceives, interprets, and relates to the world.

Given a choice between nurturing parents or becoming orphaned, even most Superheroes probably would take the hugs.

Free College Education for iTunes Users, iPhone and iPad Owners

Itunesu icon If you own an iOS 5 device or have access to a computer with iTunes on it, you now have a portal to more than a half-million lectures, videos, books, and other resources from the world’s leading universities and cultural institutions, for free.

You can get smarter on thousands of subjects, from Algebra to Zoology. And you can do it on the go if you have an iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch. A free iTunes U app gives you these educational materials no matter where you are. Listen to an anthropology lecture from Oxford University during your lunch hour, or watch a lecture about autism from Yale while waiting in line at the bank.

The iTunes U app gathers material from university and cultural institutions in 26 countries including Stanford, Yale, MIT, Oxford, UC Berkeley, MoMA, the New York Public Library, and the Library of Congress. iTunes helps you navigate the many streams of content by searching; you can sort by topic or institution or grade level.

If you own multiple iOS devices, say, an iPhone and an iPad, the iTunes U content will synchronize between them.

Early reviews are quite favorable, running about 10 to 1 positive to negative. Some users report that the applications on the handheld iOS devices crash. I’ve had downloads stall. Expect Apple to work out such bugs. Apple is encouraging more institutions to develop and offer more courses through iTunes U. So the number of available lectures and courses likely will grow.

iTunes U promises to be an amazing, mind-expanding development for learners. Discover and download some new knowledge to your desktop or laptop using iTunes, or your iPhone or iPad.

Living a life “eminently worthwhile”

Those among the old-old who love life are not exceptions––they are just healthy. …[ They ] seem constantly to be reinventing their lives. They surprise us even as they surprise themselves. In moments of sorrow, loss, and defeat many still convince us that they find their lives eminently worthwhile. They do not flinch from acknowledging how hard life is but they also never lose sight of why one might want to keep on living it.

–– George Vaillant
Aging Well, p. 5