In the introduction to The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joe Campbell provides a blueprint of his theory of hero archetypes and their various journeys, a term he coined the “monomyth”, which contains 17 stages that can generally be grouped into three different chronological groups: 1) Departure, 2) Initiation, 3) Return. “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder,” Campbell writes. “Fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.” It’s a thrilling and influential book, and the path he outlines is a familiar one, seen in narratives ever since people have been telling stories, from Buddha and Christ all the way to Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.
Last Sunday the Denver Broncos beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in a football game which was, to put it mildly, a pretty big fucking deal. By this point everyone (everyone) kind of knows why: Timothy Tebow, who is at once a barely mediocre quarterback (the stats back this up: his regular season QB rating of 72.9 puts him in the bottom tenth of the league, sandwiched between luminaries Colt McCoy and Rex Grossman), who somehow finds a way to win games. He is also a pop culture phenomenon (the stats back this up too: his game-winning overtime touchdown pass against Pittsburgh generated more tweets per second than the Royal Wedding and the death of Osama Bin Laden did combined), who has captivated the American conscience solely by rejecting it. He is a Christian, a virgin, and above-all an earnest football-playing robot — values that are no one’s idea of the perfect modern man.
As a Christian, his salvation lies in his beliefs. But as a cult figure, his salvation lies in his self-awareness. One of Campbell’s biggest principles is that of a hero and gained knowledge: Luke Skywalker starts on Tatooine, really having no idea about anything, and he ends up a Jedi amidst the rubble of an evil empire. Tim Tebow started out in the swamps of Florida, tossing pigskins and bible verses, and now he’s in Denver — but has he learned anything? There is something to be said about sticking with your convictions, but it is dangerously close to a hallmark of ignorance: a refusal to see any other reality. At this point Tebow is an outstanding cultural artifact, but it is hard to think of him as a human being, much less a hero.
Being stuck in the middle of something makes it near impossible to gain perspective, and, at the moment, there is no real way to discuss Tebow that isn’t either petty, sensationalist, or redundant — the closest anyone can get to grazing even a semblance of truth is to acknowledge that what is happening is a part of a much larger narrative. And that narrative has nothing to do with football.