Heroes are characters that are idolized and looked up to for their greatness. Heroes represent morality, they are virtuous, and a symbol of what everyone strives to be. As people begin to mimic the characteristics of these idols it shows that they have a profound influence upon the population. Richard Slotkin in “The Fatal Environment” argues that these idols are a consequence of American exceptionalism and used to persuade or distract the population from class conflict. (Slotkin, Richard. 1985.) The great entrepreneur, our modern day hero, has shaped the behavior of people within the United States; this report aims to answer the question of whether or not this modern hero persuades us to fall into American exceptionalism resulting in the distraction from class conflicts. First, an evaluation of Slotkin’s argument and the great frontiersmen will be provided. Then, an overview of the great American entrepreneur will provide examples of how this theory still applies to present day. This report will then conclude with the consequences of American exceptionalism and the myth of the great entrepreneur.
II. “The Myth of the Great Frontier”
The foundation of Slotkin’s theory rests within American exceptionalism. With this theory it is said that America is different from Europe in many ways: land, resources, and no establishment of a classes system or aristocracy. “The root of American exceptionalism rests in the fact that American society originated in a set of colonies, abstracted and selected out of the nations of Europe, and established in a ‘wilderness’ far removed from the home countries.” (Slotkin, Richard. 1985.) This theory promotes manifest destiny, opportunity, and the use of resources. Within “The Myth of the Great Frontier” Slotkin argues that there is a problem with American exceptionalism. This is due to the myths that develop, in this case the myth of the wild west and the great frontier.
These myths help justify the problems that arise because of American exceptionalism. They develop characters that represent the heroes of the great frontier, Daniel Boone and Davy Crocket. They all have characteristics that are not necessarily appealing but since they are thought of as heroes they create a desire to obtain these qualities: loners, regressive to primitive state (Native Americans), antisocial, and able to handle difficult situations. These heroes then create a path for the American identity causing the American people to mimic the qualities they represent as they expand westward. These qualities used to create the American identity also divert us from politics. A lonely frontiers man is not likely to participate in politics but rather move westward and be a part of the great expansion despite the qualities of the west that would in any other situation be unappealing. Making these men heroes also justifies their actions and distract us from the real problems of American exceptionalism. These real problems include the working conditions within the cities, or as Slotkin calls it the “metropolis,” and the horrific treatment of Native Americans. “The major cultural tasks of this ideology were to rationalize and justify the departures from tradition that necessarily accompanied these developments.” (Slotkin, Richard. 1985.) As American exceptionalism continues within president day we see the development of modern heroes with similar qualities that once represented the “great frontiersmen.”
III. The Great Entrepreneur
The qualities of the modern day entrepreneur represent hard work, isolation, sacrifice, greed, and they are individualistic. This is the modern day Davy Crocket and Daniel Boone. Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerburg, Bill Gates, and Donald Trump are the modern day heroes of the new frontier. The only differences between these frontiersmen and the ones presented by Slotkin are what they try to persuade. Instead of expansion of the west these men are promoting expansion of the economy. They share similar characteristics and divert us from politics. Slotkin believes that this theory of American exceptionalism and the heroes they produce encourages those without a political voice to move westward. (Slotkin, Richard. 1985.) Now, the entrepreneur encourages those without a voice in politics to get rich. As people try to become these great heroes they become distracted and only focus on themselves causing them to be less observant of the political changes around them. As we strive for success we neglect our involvement in politics.
Mark Zuckerberg, the creator and founder of Facebook is an urban entrepreneur that is considered to be a modern day hero. Zuckerberg holds all the qualities in which would make him an entrepreneur hero. His greed is shown when discussing the law suit involving the allegations that he stole the idea of Facebook from fellow colleagues at Harvard. (Rouse, Hana. 2010.) He is portrayed as hard working, a loner, and determined in the film “The Social Network.” In the center of the May 2013 issue of Vanity Fair magazine is an entire eleven page spread idolizing the man for his accomplishments. Written across the third page in bold letters he is quoted saying, “I spend almost all of my time on the products that we build.” (Eichenwald, Kurt. 2013.) Mark Zuckerberg is everywhere. He is in the movies, diverse magazines, newspapers, internet, and television. This influence from every media outlet leaves a profound impression on the American people causing him to become a new modern day hero influencing the people.
Steve Jobs is another perfect example of a modern day hero promoted by American exceptionalism. A journalist for Forbes Magazine, Quentin Hardy, discusses why this man is so incredible in comparison to other entrepreneurs. Hardy honors Steve Jobs for these characteristics: hard working, determined, and isolate. “Jobs is someone who never gives up on details, never stops making that next call, pushing one more thing a little harder. It is a habit of his greatness…He was up one Thursday at 1 AM working on a presentation for the following Monday…Here is a guy who’s up late working on his material days ahead of time. Most chief executives look at a speech somebody else wrote about 20 minutes before they give it.” These qualities are set on a pedestal by Hardy, as if they are virtuous. But is late night preparation, dedication, and hard work all you need to build a multibillion dollar corporation in today’s world? And does building a corporation from the ground up make you a virtuous person?
Slotkin uses American exceptionalism to show the justification of genocide upon Native Americans, pushing them off their land, and taking advantage of them; however, in terms of today the growth of the economy is used to justify other exploitations. Unlike Slotkin’s theory, there is not an expansion of land but there is still expansion, growth in the economy. (Slotkin, Richard. 1985.) There is this idea that the economy must always grow and continue to grow. This then justifies unethical behavior: pollution, cheap labor, depletion of forests, and the overuse of resources. The use of these heroes as a course for American identity also has the consequence of distraction. With these distractions we no longer are participating in politics, which allows these issues to continue to occur.
Mark Zuckerberg is a hero that portrays someone that does not have a political involvement. Facebook is known to be the place to put your identity on the web. Your marital status, alumni records, hometown, and even your favorite books and movies are all published on your “wall.” One aspect of your identity that Facebook also reveals is your political views. You have many options to choose from and can even insert your own political identity. In May of 2013, Mark Zuckerberg became a supporting member of an opposition group against Obamacare, supporting the expansion of Keystone oil pipeline and drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. This followed with much backlash, threats to pull ads, and hesitation to continue to buy ads. This backlash led Zuckerberg to climb back in the political closet and set his political status on Facebook to “it’s complicated.” This backlash from the liberal public is just one example of how we view these heroes solely as an economic voice rather than political. Even when speaking of politics publicly it’s taboo. (Falcone, Michael. 2013.)
Another example of an entrepreneurial hero with consequences is Steve Jobs. He is looked at as a hero but also the CEO of a corporation that is known for exploiting their workers in China. In the Spring of 2011, workers in a Chinese factory producing iPads were jumping off the roofs of their own building. This was done because of the severity of their working conditions. “Nine Chinese sociologists wrote an open letter to the media calling for an end to regimented and restrictive work practices which they condemned as ‘a model where fundamental human dignity is sacrificed for development.’” (Chamberlain, Gethin. 2011.)
We honor both Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg but fail to look at whether or not our lives would be better without them. In an article published by the Huffington Post, Tom Green states, “… the human condition is beginning to devolve. We have become addicted to the vanity of social media unable to stop exposing our lives to the world. We post photos of ourselves pretending to be happy on Facebook and speak in 140-character tweets to people we don’t know and will never meet in person.” (Green, Tom. 2013.) Tom Green continues to discuss our disconnect from society as new modern technology is created by these modern day entrepreneurs. We live in an era where a computer replaces a human being and our intelligence encompasses all that is available to be searched on Google. But because these values of individualism and hard work are praised through our modern heroes we see nothing wrong with sitting alone for hours disconnected from our world while connected to our Wi-Fi.
When we look at modern day heroes and continuously work to imitate them we often get distracted from our political world. Self-interested, self-involved, hardworking, and determined people make up the qualities of the urban entrepreneur, our modern day Davy Crocket. If you are someone much like these idols you are considered virtuous, even if you engage in unethical behavior to achieve that virtue. The solution to this problem is to be active in political discussion. The more active we are in politics the more aware we are of the changes that are occurring in the world around us. When we are active in politics we have more control over our working conditions and the conditions of society. If we neglect to become involved in political discussion others will only continue to shape and create our world. The consequence of this is the neglect of problems that are harmful to others and our environment. As we continue to face this problem of expansionism and growth we will continue to have these idols and not be bothered with the consequences of these actions.
VI. Works Cited
Chamberlain, Gethin. 2011. “Apple factories accused of exploiting Chinese workers.” http://www.guardian.co.uk.
Eichenwald, Kurt. 2013. “Facebook Leans in.” Vanity Fair.
Falcone, Michael. 2013. “The Liberal Backlash Against Mark Zuckerberg Intensifies.” abcnews.go.com.
Green, Tom. 2013. “Did Steve Jobs Ruin the World?” http://www.huffingtonpost.com.
Rouse, Hana. 2010. “Mark Zuckerberg Continues to Face Lawsuit.” http://www.thecrimson.com.
Slotkin, Richard. 1985. “The Fatal Environment: The Myth of the Frontier in the Age of Industrialization.”
Schoeller, Martin. 2010. “Person of the Year.” Times. Photo.