David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 244: Tina Turner (We Don't Need Another Hero)

April 19, 2023

In 1985, when Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, and its massive hit, "We Don't Need Another Hero," by Tina Turner, ruled the screens and airwaves, I have to admit I didn't quite understand the sentiment of not needing a hero.  Heroes were still something that I idealized. But not necessarily the superheroes; both Superman and Batman bored me to tears. No, heroes were regular people somehow transcending their human-ness. On the fields, they were Willie Stargell or Franco Harris. On t.v., they were Captain Pierce or Lieutenant Columbo. On the big screen, they could be Indiana Jones, Luke Skywalker, or Ellen Ripley.

So, when Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome posited that we didn't need such heroes, even if Max himself seem to fit that "common man" persona, I was certainly perplexed. With the movie a bit over the top, I had little interest in seeing it again, and placed Turner's "We Don't Need Another Hero" rather high on my list of favorite Turner songs, but thought little more about it.

However, almost 40 years later, time and context have changed my thinking. While ultimately I will address the broken (mostly the political) system that is America, the micro-focus is, as usual for this site, on my own industry, higher education.

Anyone with even a slight cognizance of higher education, and certainly anyone who reads this website's content related to academia, knows higher education is under a lot of attack. We are too expensive. We are too Woke. Our degrees are worthless. We ignore what companies want from employees. The list could go on, in part because as with every topic, such statements have a minimum of truth. In our pursuits to be something ideal, colleges and universities can seem out of touch with narratives rooted in some kind of socio-economic reality.

Then this week, I read where Pen America, a collaborative network that "works to ensure that people everywhere have the freedom to create literature, to convey information and ideas, to express their views, and to access the views, ideas, and literatures of others," has coordinated a group of 100 former college and university presidents [to] affirmatively promote a positive vision of American higher education as an essential guarantor of free expression in a democracy, and defend the autonomy of educational decisions made by colleges and universities against political and legislative incursions." This group loosely calls themselves The Champions of Higher Education.

Let me say first that before I saw the Inside Higher Education blurb about The Champions of Higher Education (I wonder if we should insert thunderous intro music every time we utter that phrase), I had never heard of Pen America. Its general purpose related to writing, literature and freedom of expression is without criticism, and if I can get past (almost literally) The Champions of Higher Education, I strongly intend to look into the organization more.

However, right now I can't get past the "We are The Champions of Higher Education, my friends" philosophy, a vision akin to Captain America: "We will reconfirm public faith in America’s institutions of higher learning and rally public support against censorious legislation aimed at colleges and universities." Or, maybe my better comparison is with Underdog. "To right this wrong with blinding speed goes UNDERDOG!" Yeah, but then again this is higher education, so blinding speed is not in our DNA, let alone an apt speed for our septuagenarian and octogenarian pack of Avengers.

The problem is that in a post-Truth America, our children are suffering, especially with education from Kindergarten through Graduate studies. We need Tina's voice as our children wander lost and confused in this intellectual desert: "all the children saying, 'we don't need another hero,'" kids who, given the very obvious effects on their education post COVID, will be the "ones they left behind." Hyperbole always bothers me, so trust me that I don't say lightly that our children are climbing "out of the ruins/out from the wreckage."

Yes, higher education needs champions. Of that there is no doubt. However, a bunch of retired presidents may not be the champions of change, which is what our children's choir wonder: "when ever are we gonna, gonna change?" 

Change is evolution, but I am not sure we are going to get that with guardians (retired at that) of the higher education galaxy driven to "coordinate communications and coalition-building efforts to fight political interference and government overreach on campus . . . . [B]y drawing on their relationships with leaders across key sectors, the former higher education leaders will rally the public to maintain academic independence on our college campuses and reclaim popular recognition of higher education as a democratic and societal good." "Rally the public?" Have they met us? We barely want to get off the couch. More importantly, we don't need to get back to what higher education once was; we need to carve out a new identity.

As Tina (and her lovely children's choir) sings, "we don't need to find our way home." They long for life beyond Thunderdome, which is the daily cage fight between conservative and liberal; whites and blacks; coastal and middle-America; naturalized and immigrant; Millennial and Gen X.  Please, our kids do want to believe "there's gotta be something better out there/love and compassion/their day is coming." It may not be by going home to a system established almost centuries ago.

However, like Tina, we may just need to walk away from Ike and the system he represents. Our champions of higher education should be from within the current ranks, not retired presidents, but people knee deep in the cage, but willing to do whatever it takes to blow it up. As an opinion piece in The Chronicle of Higher Ed has posted all week, at least in Florida, where the Thunderdome is most noticeable, current college presidents are afraid to get in the cage with Governor DeSantis.

By the way, I know four fingers are pointing back at me here. Turning 61 this week, I know I am probably not part of the solution. There was a time I could have imagined myself as a hero. Now, I see myself more as a ham sandwich on white bread (ba-da-bump).

We don't need another hero. We need throngs of everyday people willing to figure out "what we do with our lives." All else really becomes "castles in the air." 

Tina Turner. "We Don't Need Another Hero (Thunderdome)." Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. Capitol, 1985. Link here.

Day 243: Stan Ridgway "Drive, She Said"

Day 245: Lou Reed "Coney Island Baby"

See complete list here.