American Hero isn't just a forgettable Nick Love superhero movie; it's also a cultural concept that stretches beyond a common definition. It's the presidents and the senators, the actors and actresses, the soldiers of every war, unwaveringly. The men and women of industry who laid the foundation of the most terrifying capitalist behemoth the world will likely ever see, a Usain-Bolt-like GDP stretching out in front of all global competitors.
But where are the American heroes now? From where I'm sitting, 3,500 miles away at a desk in London, it feels as if the USA is going through a low ebb in terms of heroism. Every major piece of news is more God awful and agonising than the last. An injured beast of civil fractures demanding to be made Great Again. It is hitting itself in the face and telling everyone to watch. It's hard to look away.
But there is one man bucking the trend. If you want an American hero, then don't look to celebrities, politicians or businesspeople. Don't look to the soldiers or the doctors or the lawyers. Instead, look to YouTube, and the channel of competitive eater Randy Santel.
Randy Santel is a man on a mission. If I didn't know better, I would say the mission is a result of pure Providence. For the past five or six years, Randy Santel has been doing food challenges. He goes to restaurants, films himself eating and leaves. Before he does each challenge he goes through near enough the exact same routine, which includes an introduction, the swerving of his hat (which bears the name of his alter-ego, "Atlas") and a crossing of himself.
Randy played college football but gained a lot of weight. His life changed after he sculpted a new body for himself and escaped – as a butterfly would, breaking free from a flabby cocoon – his obese life, landing a role on Spartacus: Blood and Sand. After that, he began doing food challenges in restaurants in his home state of Missouri with his friend "Magic" Mitch Dombrowsky, who also edits his videos. It was here that Randy decided that he would be The Man. He would be The Man who does food challenges – who travels to the farthest reaches in pursuit of a holy goal: to have defeated more food challenges than anyone else on Earth.
But it isn't just his raw dedication that makes Randy Santel such a pioneer; it's his sense of exploration and curiosity. Americans gush over their history of discovery, yet by and large they're quite content to stay in the plot they've carved. Randy, in the chasing of his dream, has been to places in the UK I've never even heard of. He has met and eaten with a greater cross section of people across the world than probably every living politician. He's an international man in every sense. But he's also a charitable one. Though the goal of demolishing even the most base food challenges in the world is a personal feat, he does everything in his power to promote the restaurant he does it in – a globalist one-man ad campaign.
Randy Santel is a real American. Gregarious, a lone wolf, braving terrains he's unfamiliar with, rapaciously hunting his desires and goals. He calls French fries "chips" when he's in England, he talks with a broken Czech accent when he's in Prague. Have you ever known an American to behave with such respect for the nation he's visiting?
Randy's dream is an American dream, maybe The American Dream. It's the belief of anything being possible if a superhuman amount of effort and love and thought is pumped non-stop into it. To become a celebrity – even an internet one – to earn a living doing what you want through sheer force of will. It's domination at all costs, but for the harmless aim of being able to eat more food than anyone else.
While his home country encircles itself with petrol and holds a Zippo with a shaky hand, Randy rises towards the heavens, the light of the sun beaming from his shadow – a beacon we can all follow. Randy Santel is the hero America needs.
(Top image: Screengrab, via)
More from VICE: