Having recently started watching reruns of Heroes, I found significant messages in this fantasy-drama TV series, many of which mirror the vital issues in the U.S. today.
Heroes first arrived at NBC in 2006, during a time when networks typically only set their eyes upon legal or medical dramas, or procedural cop shows. It was a gamble to give the go-ahead for the first season of a drama for adult audiences with a most peculiar theme: super-powered heroes.
But Heroes held something more significant, beneath its thick coating of comic book-style action. This was a show about ordinary people who suddenly learned they had great gifts. It was about the idea that everyday people could do something to make the world a better place.
Featuring an ensemble cast, Heroes main characters included cheerleader Claire, who could heal from any wound; mind-reading cop Matt; Japanese friends Hiro (who controlled/traveled through time) and Ando; paramedic Peter, who absorbed others’ abilities; congressional hopeful Nathan, who could fly; Tracy, who controlled water; Micah, who manipulated machines; super-strong Indian geneticist Mohinder; Sylar, a reformed villain who also took others’ abilities; and carnival owner Samuel, who could move the earth itself.
Supporting characters included Claire’s bisexual roommate Gretchen; Angela (Peter and Nathan’s mother), who saw the future; Claire’s father Noah, who originally tracked and captured people with abilities, but changed his ways; and Noah’s close confidant – CIA agent Lauren.
As a young adult living during a pivotal sociopolitical period in America, I rewatched the series with a renewed perspective, and found Heroes to be filled with progressive elements from which anyone can take inspiration.
Heroes doesn’t take the Right Wing’s side in its story; it doesn’t glorify corporate executives or the government. In fact, one of its later story arcs, in which the government rounds up super-powered people, acts as a powerful metaphor for victims in World War II, and even the persecution of communists in America years ago.
Heroes focuses on character-driven stories about average people: a police officer trying to support his wife, a mother trying to support her child, and a hospice nurse/paramedic trying to save lives, while also contemplating his own place in the world.
These people suddenly realize that they are the next step in evolution (admittedly, Heroes’ take on this subject is more romantic than scientific, and inaccurate in certain areas), and have the power to do more to save the people around them. While none of these characters initially know one another, they are all slowly drawn together to unite and prevent a disaster from decimating New York City.
As of now, the Occupy Wall Street movement is taking place – organized by a group of people who dream of a better world, and who believe they can make a difference. In the midst of real-world people fighting for good causes, Heroes, it seems, has taken on significant new meaning.
The first season of the series culminates in the heroes gathering in New York City, standing together and using collective action to prevent a disastrous explosion. Thanks to a time traveler and a clairvoyant painter, everyone saw a dark future on the way. The general feeling, at first, was that New York could not be saved. But in the end, they proved that nothing is written in stone, and they changed the future by working together and creating a better present.
Heroes lasted four seasons (and five “volumes”) before ending on a high note. And though it has been two years’ time since Heroes changed the world of network television (since Heroes ended, hero-related and fantasy-themed series have been popping up everywhere), Heroes still has significant messages.
Though suspension of disbelief is, quite obviously, necessary here, Heroes, when it all comes down to it, is about every ordinary person who the Right Wing doesn’t want to give a voice to.
This show is about people who stood up and said “no” in the face of corruption; a group of people who, through seemingly impossible means, found that they were all connected, and meant for something more.
And as working class protesters occupy cities throughout the U.S. today, if any television show’s message ought to be used as a rallying point for the progressive movement, it ought to be Heroes. Because saving the world isn’t just for comic books anymore.
Photo: Left to right: Peter, Claire, Micah, Nathan, Tracy, Matt, and Mohinder. Heroes official NBC website.