“I think a hero is really any person intent on making this a better place for all people.” – Maya Angelou
The term hero gets bandied about with such regularity that can numb the true meaning of it. What does it mean to be a hero in 2021? Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic we saw unlikely heroes like Captain Tom Moore, Marcus Rashford and Tony Holohan heralded in public (and youth) consciousness. From Danish Football’s Simon Kjær to Bimini Bom Boulash and Britney Spears, this week, we’re looking at what it takes to be a modern-day youth hero and whose hustle is giving us inspo.
Intro: The Modern Youth Hero
Being a hero can be an amorphous concept. With the values of Gen Z being different from those of their predecessors, heroes can take multiple shapes and shine different coloured light on the world around them. Modern youth heroes wear their values on their sleeves, aren’t afraid to speak out (creatively, confidently) for what they believe in and push boundaries for a brighter world. Here’s just a handful that flew to mind, no capes necessary...
Simon Kjær: Emergency Heroics
Often, acts of true heroism cannot be planned, arising out of terrifying circumstances, as was the case with Danish Football Captain’s fast action when his teammate Christain Erikkson had a cardiac arrest in the middle of their Euro 2020 game against Finland. Simon Kjær rushed to Eriksen’s side, clearing his airways and placing him in the recovery position. He then led his other teammates in forming a guard round him. Fans and young people around the world were quick off the mark to give him the much-deserved recognition as a modern day hero.
“Good luck to Former Fenerbahce Player Simon Kjær today. You are a worldwide hero. I can expect Denmark have gained millions of supporters now including myself. You will go down in history as a legend...” - Max Camilleri, 19
The act of attending to Eriksen and forming the guard around him was sufficiently valorous for a lifetime, but it was the protectivity and tenderness with which he consoled Eriksen’s wife that elevated his actions into the truly heroic.
“Cancel the Golden Ball now and just give it to Simon Kjaer. His actions have saved a man’s life and made the worst moment possible just slightly more bearable for Christian Eriksen’s wife. It’s much bigger than football.” - Øli, 17
Michaela Coel: A Creative Hero Championing Inclusive Storytelling
“I was trying to be someone else and actually failing, I could feel, ‘This isn’t good. I can do better than this.’ So I thought, ‘Let me, for once, tell my story.’” Michaela Coel
The creator, writer, co-director, co-producer, and star of the eye-wateringly good I May Destroy You. In dramatising her own experiences of sexual assault and how some incidents can be diluted and dismissed, she shone a vital light on a topic that was brave with a searing honestly possibly not seen before on TV. The series was also embedded in the backdrop of her experience being the child of first generation Ghanaian immigrants, giving representation without exoticising. A true champion of diversity on screen and a beacon of strong-willed, multi-faceted female voices, she is credited with challenging the industry to be both better and braver. We’d say we’re not worthy, but she’d tell us we are.
Sha’Carri Richardson: An Authentic Sporting Hero
“A quote I like is 'Be who you are and be great at it.” Sha'Carri Richardson
It took the 21-year-old, Texan powerhouse just 10.75 seconds to sprint her way into sporting prominence. When she qualified for the Olympics in Portland, Oregon this week wearing a flame orange weave, inches-long multicoloured nails and elongated mink lashes, everyone sat up and took notice. But when she trotted up to the bleachers and collapsed into her Grandmother (who raised her after her birth mother abandoned her), the mass melting was complete. Her charisma and honesty with the media is beguiling, and her girlfriend is said to pick out her weave colour for each race. Some detractors have cited her coach’s old doping scandal as a shadow on her star, but placing the sins of the coach upon the sprinter is an antiquated mentality and it would seem her path to Tokyo is lined with cheers (and Flo-Jo comparisons).
Amanda Gorman: Writing History
There was not a dry eye nor an unraised goosebump on that planet, when US Youth Poet Laureate delivered her rousing poem The Hill We Climb at the presidential inauguration in January. Her pitch perfect, energetic and poignant recital injected an overwhelming optimism for the upcoming presidency and shot the eloquent and passionate young Harvard Graduate into the homes and hearts of millions. Her themes of oppression, feminism, race, and marginalization, as well as the African diaspora are weighty but delivered with a thread of positive representation. A living legend and phenomenon in the making - she’s since graced the cover of Vogue and her books have topped bestseller lists (before they’ve even been released).
Bimini Bom Boulash: Pushing The Boundaries of Expression
The non-binary London drag queen Bimini Bom Boulash came to prominence after appearing on this year’s UK drag race. The self-proclaimed “gender bender cis-tem offender” has brawn the love of the public and the industry alike. A true Londoner, they haven’t shied away from their working class roots and the fashion establishment brought them immediately to their corseted bosom with shoots in the high fashion glossies stacking up like platform heels. They’ve pushed the boundaries and brought education and awareness of non-binary gender expression and though they didn’t triumph in the reality show competition...Bimini was the real winner.
Greta Thunberg: An Activist for the Ages
All hail the teen climate activist, who slapped the face of the world to wake tf up to the climate crisis, (and threw some deliciously timed shade at a dangerously unhinged president along the way). If you’re not trying to be more Greta, you really should be.
(Ring)-lights, camera, Hustle!
Heroes of Gen Z are also represented strongly in the realm of content creators. The landscape of native YouTubers and TikTokers has never been more lush, and the pillars of the (not-so) micro-society are now as strong as the Pantheon’s. Seeing their generational peers make a hustle by being creative online is accessible and inspiring to young people. What’s also appealing is the perceived honesty and reality they convey. There’s no ivory tower to be scaled as perhaps with film stars. Viewers are invited right into the lives of their YouTube heroes creating a sense of camaraderie and elevating the content creators in their fans’ esteem. The entrepreneurial inspiration provided by the likes of Mr Beast, along with his “stunt philanthropy” has allowed him the become America’s most-subscribed YouTube account. Elsewhere, Emma Chamberlain’s genuinely funny YouTube output is the result of up to 30-hours meticulous editing per video, an unflinching and admirable level of graft that both inspires her fans and has her dropping a casual 4-Mill on homes in Hollywood. Slay girl.
We <3 you Britney
For many, a hero can be a survivor - or someone who unapologetically speaks their truth. This week, that moment to voice out finally came for Britney Spears in the court battle for her release from the conservatorship enacted by her lawyer and family, under which she was placed in 2008. Since the release of a 2021 documentary which brought the singer’s plight at the hands of her conservatorship to light, the world has been rooting for her to get released from the legal arrangement that presents itself as a highly problematic, and ethically reprehensible situation. Britney’s 13-year trauma has finally been heard in her own words. She took no prisoners. As a truth-sayer, and one who’s lived under the duress of a d mnbjeeply unethical conservatorship, she is a real hero for having spoken her truth and brought light onto the situation.
Spears’ breakdown in 2008 and subsequent treatment by the media in the wake of this set a precedent for how the public and media should not treat mental illness that falls into the public eye. Hearing her words has been a damning indictment that what she has suffered is gross abuse of civil liberty and should not be allowed to occur again. Britney has come the full spectrum of heroism, from pop icon to fighting for her own freedom, and that of other young celebrities in danger of the same treatment. She has rightly received overwhelming support and is a real hero for speaking out.
How can your brand be heroic? Performative altruism will be transparent, especially for savvy Gen Z consumers. Acts of altruism are authentic when they reflect the values of your audience, and also make sense for your brand. Kind acts on social media, if they are in context and appropriate, are a nice way to show you care.
There’s also an opportunity to support the actions of those who are worthy of the “Hero” title. You can choose to recognise and champion those who are worthy of being labelled as such.Genuine and meaningful support of causes is both just and rewarding for both parties.
“Brands are realising their athletes are activists in certain areas now...They need to come on board and not make excuses about not being involved, because what happens outside in society affects you as a company. It’s good to see brands who work with athletes who are willing to support them [like Colin Kaepernick and Nike] endorse athletes who are outspoken because they align to their values, not just ones that are good looking or scoring goals.” Pierre, 25
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