The word 'hero' is thrown around these days with reckless abandon. Jade Goody is a hero, for dying of cancer. Tony Blair is a hero, for killing thousands of people in the Middle East and destabilising the region indefinitely. Coca-cola are heroes, for abandoning New Coke and sticking to their delicious Old Coke roots. Soldiers are heroes, for pissing on and torturing prisoners. (Okay, the last one is going to upset someone, but since when did doing a job you chose to do and are handsomely renumerated for make you a hero?)
Anyway, with this proliferation of heroes, the question arises: who is really deserving of the title? Well, a huge buzz in New York last week surrounded two bona fide American heroes.
The last few weeks has seen the greatest sports tournament on earth take place in South Africa: the FIFA World Cup Finals. Football, a sport of such simplicity it is understood, played and watched on every continent by several billion people; the only sport whose championships really deserve the 'World' moniker; the beautiful game. This tournament of tournaments was played out in Africa, by far the largest sporting event ever held on that continent, and to many a symbol of Africa's redemption.
What event - what catastrophe, what apocalypse, what alien invasion - do you think it would take, then, to outdo the World Cup? How could the greatest show on earth surrender column inches to anything else?
As it turned out, in America, one man had the power. That man was LeBron James, the most dominant basketball player in the sport's history. Now, 'King James', as he is known, hasn't played a game in months; we are in the NBA's offseason. Nevertheless, James managed to grab a nation's consciousness by bringing to a head month's of speculation, and announcing which team he will play for next season. His contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers, James' hometown and home club since he entered the league, ended on 1st July, and last week the only issue of note in these United States was where he would go next. The whole debacle came to a head Thursday, when James announced, on a live ESPN special, that:
This fall I am taking my talents to South Beach and play with the Miami Heat. The major factor was the best opportunity for me to win, to win now and for the future also. Winning is the most important thing for me. I feel like this is going to be the best opportunity.
Thank God it's over. The last couple of months has been faintly ridiculous, from Michael Bloomberg, Mayor of New York, publicly trying to woo James, to the Knicks' head couch flying across the country with, I assume, suitcases full of paper and cocaine and strippers. Five teams tried to ensnare James, and the amount of money they spent doing so - as well as the amount that the Heat are going to be paying him - is faintly sickening.
A campaign T-shirt for attracting LeBron to the Knicks. Sadly, it wasn't to be.
I mentioned two heroes. The second was a woman who, for reasons unknown to the sane, goes by the stage name of Lady Gaga. Hailed as the 'new Madonna', Gaga has managed to reinvigorate pop with her brand of virulently infectious electropop. Rising out of the shadow of many another popstar - she worked as a songwriter for years before someone decided her plainness didn't much matter if they dressed her like David Bowie's poodle - Gaga has become monumentally successful, breaking all sorts of records and positioning herself as the champion of the freak in all of us; a sort of latter-day, family-friendly Marilyn Manson.
Last Friday morning she played a free concert at Rockefeller Plaza, and I was amongst the rabble queuing through the godawful hours of the morning to see her. It was sort-of enjoyable, and I'm sort-of glad I did it, but she reserves her best theatrics for audiences who are paying, and for programming broadcast after the watershed.
So, given the slavish devotion I witnessed all week, have I identified two real heroes? 300 million Americans can't be wrong.