I would love to be a fly on the wall at the Constitutional Convention. I have often dreamt of hosting a roundtable with C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and G. K. Chesterton. If I could travel back in time, I would speak to James Madison and Ulysses S. Grant, two of my personal heroes. If lucky enough, I would accompany Colonel Roosevelt on his 1909 African hunting trip. Between him and his “more fragile” son, Kermit, killing over 500 animals, I would probe him about the “strenuous life” and take any lessons learned back to today’s boys and men.

Perhaps the reason I find myself so fascinated by history is that it was richly populated with heroic characters, high-caliber men and women who led meaningful and genuinely great lives, and such people often seem to be in short supply today.

Have you ever noticed how lists of American heroes take a marked and sorry dip post-World War 2? Prior to the 1940s, we honored presidents, statesmen, pioneers, and war heroes. We looked up to men of exemplary character and courage. Since then, our “heroes” have been athletes, actors, and other entertainers, men and women usually of low character. The people we look up to nowadays, far from inspiring us to be better or make anything of ourselves, often are—to quote your mom—“bad influences.”

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There’s a popular American adage that we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. In some ways, it seems to me, the same is true of who we idolize. Now, this does not mean that because I admire Grant I will become a great military tactician nor that someone who admires Whitney Houston will become a great singer. I am referring not to their peculiar talents but to their principles and ethics. We tend to be attracted to people who share our values and uphold them in some exceptional way. Whether for good or ill, we admire the people who make the things that we believe in look good. As I have previously argued, for example, “If… a culture venerates its athletes more than it honors its veterans… that culture prefers comfort and entertainment over sacrifice and service.”

So ask yourself: who are the five people—whether living or dead—you most idolize? Be honest with yourself. Do you idolize the rich, swank, and ritzy? Or the virtuous, reputable, and brave? YouTube stars and Instagram celebrities? Or the heroes that risk their lives for your freedom?    

Now ask yourself: if you were the average of those five people, would you be a better person? Would you be someone your ancestors could be proud of? Would you increase or decrease in greatness?

For most Americans today, I’m afraid the answer would be less than commendable. In fact, it would be outright shameful.

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For those of you who are “behind the times” when it comes to what’s idolized in America today—and you ought to be thankful that you are—let me fill you in.

These days, to begin with, Americans have a weird obsession with “What I Spend in a Week” videos where young people—of no note whatsoever—frivolously waste obscene amounts of money living senseless and inane lives. In one particularly horrendous example, a young influencer documents how she spent just under $6,000 in a single week. A single week. Watch a few of these videos for a taste of the idiocy. Tragically, millions of Americans are squandering their lives away, eyes glued to this kind of content. 

Another popular YouTuber, Piper Rockelle, is only 15 years old and already boasts 11 million subscribers and billions of views. But her videos (especially in light of her age) are absolutely appalling. With titles such as “Doing The OPPOSITE of what my PARENTS SAY for 24 Hours,” “I Kissed My Ex Boyfriend And GOT CAUGHT,” and “REACTING TO People CAUGHT CHEATING On CAMERA,” the minor’s content ranges from shockingly stupid to shockingly inappropriate (the 15-year-old girl is often shown making out, and in at least one video, taunts her boyfriend to touch her sexually). Is it any surprise, therefore, that Piper’s mom has been sued for sexually abusing, molesting, and exploiting her daughter’s co-stars? Yet negligent parents keep letting their kids watch her videos, numbing their minds into indelible senselessness.

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On and on I could go. So what’s my point?

In short, we are doing ourselves a massive disservice by propping up celebrities and entertainers of low character and less wisdom whilst relegating heroes—true heroes whose influence could actually better our lives—to the ash heap of history.

Do our kids know about Pat Tillman? Have they heard about the selfless heroism of Kyle Carpenter? Do Margaret Thatcher, Audie Murphy, or Booker T. Washington ring a bell? Are they learning at the feet of truly wise heroes and mentors? Or have these names been overshadowed by the likes of Piper Rockelle?

Who are your heroes? Who do you idolize? If you became the average of those five people, would you be proud of who you were?

I, for one, thank God I don’t have to look to YouTube or Hollywood for my heroes. As an American, I have an impressive selection at my fingertips. We all do.

Jakob Fay is a staff writer for the Convention of States Project, a project of Citizens for Self-Governance. 

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