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Thread: The latest superhero -- U.S. firefighters

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    The latest superhero -- U.S. firefighters

    AN AMERICAN PORTRAIT;
    Sept. 11 - Aug. 7;

    The latest superhero -- U.S. firefighters;

    Celebrity status spins wheels of capitalism

    Copyright 2002 The Chronicle Publishing Co.
    The San Francisco Chronicle...08/18/2002

    Suzanne Herel

    AMERICAN PORTRAIT

    Since Sept. 11, the nation has grappled with what it means to be an American in the wake of a historic tragedy. Our staff is traveling across the U.S. and the spectrum of the American experience for American Portraits, which will appear through Sept. 11, 2002.

    ------------------------

    First FDNY firefighter: "Are you telling me you wouldn't want to be a superhero if there was a way?"

    Second FDNY firefighter: "Mick, I am a superhero! I'm a New York City Fireman!" -- from Marvel Comics' "The Call of Duty: The Brotherhood"

    From the ashes of the World Trade Center has arisen a larger-than-life folk hero: the American firefighter.

    As some merchandisers rushed to honor New York's fallen firefighters, and others cashed in with tacky tchotchkes, the terrible reality of Sept. 11 has merged with American capitalism in a tableau worthy of film director David Lynch.

    The same television channels that belched smoke and screams for days after the attacks now ring with the bells of game shows featuring firefighters vying for cash and Cadillacs. The city of New York has even taken the step of hiring a marketeer, formerly associated with Disney and Revlon, to license the FDNY brand.

    Deputized as a celebrity, the blaze-buster is starring in everything from political campaigns to Ananda Lewis' matchmaking show.

    "What's happening is we're getting tired of being reminded of what a terrible tragedy it was," said Joe Quesada, editor in chief of Marvel Comics, which has launched a new comic book line honoring New York's firefighters, police officers and emergency medical workers.

    Stephen Dubner, a former New York Times Magazine editor who just penned "Confessions of a Hero Worshiper," to be published in January by William Morrow, attributes the wild popularity of firefighters to what he calls the psychological "urge to merge."

    "Heroes take on the projection of things you couldn't physically do yourself," Dubner said. "Each of us has a pressing need to connect with someone or something outside ourselves to complete ourselves. I think we are hard-wired for hero worship."

    Quesada, of Marvel Comics, said firefighters were a natural for the new series "The Call of Duty."

    FANTASY VS. REALITY

    "Right now, the difference between Peter Parker putting on a costume to become Spider-Man and a man off the street putting on a uniform to become a fireman is really wafer-thin. Fantasy is almost matching up with reality," he said.

    Matthew J. Friedman, executive director of the National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, said Americans are reaching out to firefighters because of what they represent -- and because of the comforting presence they provide as America prepares for future attacks.

    "They embody in some metaphoric, symbolic way the aspirations of the human spirit," he said. "What do we need most at dark times of the soul? We need something to believe in."

    Behind the silly novelties -- the bobblehead dolls, stuffed FDNY monkey and helmet-capped antenna balls -- are real firefighters, many of whom say they are finding it difficult to adjust to their newfound status.

    "I never in my career would have anticipated the amount of accolades and attention I've been subjected to," said Capt. Harold Schapelhouman, division chief for the Menlo Park Fire District.

    "I've had dinner with former President Clinton and Barry Bonds and Ronnie Lott, and was a guest of Willie Mays," he said. "That's just a small picture."

    In the days following Sept. 11, Schapelhouman directed an Urban Search and Rescue Team that looked for survivors of the World Trade Center collapse.

    SERVED BY CELEBRITIES

    "Harrison Ford served me dinner, 'Hot Lips' Houlihan served me breakfast. We had Playboy bunnies. It was surreal," he said. "You've got to keep your head in the game. We walk a fine line between reality and the fiction that can be created from these events."

    Though Schapelhouman appreciates the respect and believes it's deserved, he said there's something unnerving about it all.

    "It's an honor," he said, "and at the same time it's uncomfortable, because the only reason we're there is because of a tragedy."

    Whether it's for love of country -- or of the collectible -- everyone wants a piece of the new American hero. And there's no indication the five-alarm craze will burn out anytime soon.

    The terror attacks sparked such overwhelming demand for FDNY-related products that the city hired licensing maven Marjorie Morris, known for having grown the Disney, Revlon and Halston brands.

    "The FDNY brand is a hot commodity," said Mike Watts, director of retail for the FDNY Fire Zone store, which has seen its average daily sales skyrocket from $ 600 to as high as $ 25,000 since Sept. 11.

    When Morris came on board, FDNY held one license, for Code 3 die-cast toy cars. Now it officially endorses 17 products.

    The blue-collar icon easily transmogrifies into a 3-inch plastic fireman (set of six, $ 5.70), a Bendos fire chief key chain ($ 3) or a Real Heroes Action Figure ($ 39.95, African American version available).

    "It's a noble brand, and it's for a wonderful cause. We are developing this brand because we really want to honor those who have been lost and those who continue to serve," Morris said, noting that all proceeds benefit a public fire education fund.

    ENDLESS POSSIBILITIES

    For the first time this summer, FDNY -- along with the New York Police Department -- took its wares to the annual trade show sponsored by the International Licensing Industry Merchandisers' Association.

    The possibilities, Morris said, are endless.

    "I see lunch boxes, backpacks, coloring books, bedding, sheets and towels, watches, jewelry," she said. "And I want do to swimwear and lounge wear, men's underwear. . . . There are a lot of cute things you can do."

    Already in the works are French Limoges pillboxes in the shape of helmets and FDNY golf umbrellas.

    As guardian of the FDNY name, Morris has the luxury of being choosy. Superheroes, after all, have their standards.

    She declined to license tattoo designs. And she pulled the plug on the unlicensed Bobble Dreams dolls that had toddled onto EBay. (That company still makes a bobbing Rudy Giuliani.)

    "Someone approached me with Zippo lighters," she recalled. "I said, 'You must be kidding!' "

    ----------------------



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    Thumbs down�����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������

    Is anyone else a little disgusted by this, or is it just me?
    Also, it WAS NOT your "ordinary" tragedy. It was an ATTACK people. A hatefilled attack of the most evil kind on our country. And it could happen again. I keep seeing where ff were killed doing their job & these things happen as though it was a tenement fire or the drug store fire. This is not the same. I'm not denying that this is a great country--but why must they turn everything into a 3-ring circus??
    I'm just starting to feel angry. Sorry.

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