Tuesday, May 22, 2007

What Makes a Hero?

I'm sure most of you have heard the story of Wesley Autrey. In January, he was waiting on a subway platform with his 2 young daughters in New York City, when a young man near him began having a seizure and fell on the tracks. While another onlooker held back his children, Autrey jumped down and tried to get the young man off the tracks as the headlights of an oncoming train approached. Upon realizing that he wouldn't be able to remove him in time, Autrey covered the young man's body with his own and restrained him from being injured by the train. Two cars passed over the men before the driver was able to stop the train, but thankfully they were able to emerge uninjured. This amazing story has caused Autrey to be called the "Subway Superman," "The Hero of Harlem," and the "Subway Hero." He received New York City's highest honor - the Bronze Medallion, made an appearance on the Letterman show, and was even invited to attend the 2007 State of the Union Address. (Read more about him at Wikipedia.) This is a true story of bravery and heroism in the midst of a culture that is renowned for its indifference and apathy, and I applaud him. (Read some of my husband's thoughts about the phenomenon of choosing to help others.)

However, last night he made an appearance as a contestant on Deal or No Deal, and I am extremely disappointed with his performance on that show. They dedicated the whole show to heroes in his honor and they had guest appearances by Medal of Honor recipients and even a dog who had saved someone's life. He came on saying that he wanted to make enough money to buy a house to build a better life for his family. Good, great, very admirable. So then he starts playing the game and he has a terrible couple of first rounds. He knocked out all of the high amounts except the top two in just the first 2 rounds. So we're already on shaky ground. But then he rallies and has a great next couple of rounds, and the offer reaches 6 figures. He says "No Deal," though, and play continues. He miraculously manages to avoid knocking out the million for the next 4 rounds or so, and offers just keep climbing. The highest offer he got was $305,000! I know that New York is an expensive place to live, but surely one could find a pretty nice house for that amount! However, the man just keeps saying "No Deal!" It's like he's not even considering taking the deal - he's going for the million. He never even hesitated to turn down each offer. He said "Well, I took a risk that day on the subway platform, and so I'm taking a risk now." Give me a break. So of course, as inevitably happens on this show, he knocks out the million and goes home with $25. That is so ridiculous I hardly know what to do with myself. He had at leat 4 chances to walk out of there with over $100,000. But he refused each time. Was it pride? Was it overconfidence? Was it his awareness that he's such a popular "hero" that someone will probably give him more money than he'd make on this show anyway? (In fact, they did give him a car to go along with his $25 just because they think he's swell.)

OK. So I realize that it's just a game and that many people before him have played this game like idiots too. But what comes to mind for me is the concept that Peter Parker expressed in Spiderman: "With greater power comes greater responsibility." If you're going to be a hero, a national public figure, touted far and wide as someone we should all be like, please try to actually act like someone deserving of that. Think of what $300,000 could do for your family instead of pridefully pushing on hoping to be the first contestant to ever win $1 million.

So all this to say, I appreciate Mr. Autrey's brave act on the subway platform that day, and he will forever remain the hero of that young man he saved. But he's not my hero. I think he let his family down last night because he was too selfish to do what was best for them. To me, that's not something a hero would do.


Corrie said...

Interesting post, Joni. Ryan and I have talked about how that game show tends to bring out the GREED in people. It reminds me of something my mom used to say. Whenever she or anyone else would give something to me and something to my brother and one of us would complain that the other got more, she would tell us to "be sanisfied". No, I didn't type that incorrectly. It was her cute and catchy way of saying be satisfied with what you've got and don't think about what others have. That advice goes a long way with me. There will always be someone who has more, something bigger, something better or something cooler, but instead of being greedy, I need to remember to just "be sanisfied"!

Ryan said...

Yikes!! GFlad I missed that one...I get really frustrated with that game...
I constantly yell!!!

Jessica said...

Give the guy a break -- he didn't ask to be the world's hero. He didn't name himself the "Subway Superman." He was just a guy who acted on impulse and helped someone in need.

That impulse landed him a spot of "Deal or No Deal" and he did exactly what the show is designed to make people do: get as much as possible.

We shouldn't expect too much from ordinary people.

Anonymous said...

You walked in with nothing, so why not go all out, and if you walk out with nothing then you're no worse off. What's the big deal.

The real sad part in all of this is that you continue to watch the bloody show.