In the 1960s, Simon and Garfunkel's popular song, "Mrs. Robinson", posed a rhetorical question, asking a nation of listeners where the great Joe DiMaggio had gone. But, what does that inquiry really mean? Joe DiMaggio is still alive, and while he has certainly "gone" places, haven't we all?
But, Simon and Garfunkel were right to ask. Joe DiMaggio, the man, had not gone anywhere, but the ideals he represented, the inspiration he provided for the public, and the heroic role model he embodied, left the American scene when he left his spot from the focus of the American public eye, and no one, in any facet of life, has seemingly been able to replace him. Simon and Garfunkel, writing their song in the turbulent and troubled 60s, identified Joe DiMaggio's abscence as a grand national problem, an abstraction that had valid reason for concern.
Americans today simply do not have heroes like Joe DiMaggio. While he lives on for many who never even saw him play through the stories and tales of their parents, the new generations of Americans just can't possibly understand what it was like to live in the United States of America with Joe DiMaggio as its pinnacle figure.
There no longer is a hero that transcends class, racial, gender, and ethnic barriers. No longer a man that embodies everything that was good about America. Heroes are created by the longings of the public. Without a need for and a desire for a certain type of hero, one will not exist, regardless. In the 30s, 40s, and early 50s, America asked for a Joe DiMaggio, and he met and went beyond all of the qualifications needed for American stardom. He was a strong, stoic, silent superstar, who played with unparalled grace. He played the "right" game, for this was an era when baseball was accurately dubbed "America's past time." He played on the "right" team, the "Immortal New York Yankees", the perenial lords of the game of baseball. He played in New York, the city that never slept, a location where everything worth anything in America took place. When his astounding playing career ended, he fell in love with and married America's leading lady, Marilyn Monroe. Joe DiMaggio was America's hero, because he deserved to be. How could any other man possibly compare? He attained the status of "America's star" because he fit all of the needs of the nation.
And that is why we ask where he has gone. We wonder with pursed lips and a nostalgic longing for the past why our old heroes have left us and new heroes have ceased to emerge. Proverbially speaking, Americans were given the clay that is Joe DiMaggio, and then, with their individual hands, molded him into their hero. Their needs were simple, and uniform. They wanted a shining star to make them believe in the beauty of their dreams and to guide them toward their ideals. Joe DiMaggio was a real-life fairy-tale, and the American public excitedly read him every day.
Perhaps today, a time arguably less simplistic, more demanding, it is impossible for one person to embody the needs and hopes of a complex nation. But on the same token, perhaps that is why Simon and Garfunkel assert that "Joltin' Joe has left and gone away." The American people indirectly create and cultivate their own heroes. We as a people can't seem to decide on the qualifications necessary for a new one. So the DiMaggio myth will live on, until a new hero or heroes can emerge. Until then, we will unconsciously yearn for the hero of yesterday, and for an America we have only heard about, an America so unified, so certain of what it wanted, that it could create and embrace a hero like the great DiMaggio.
Yet, we have not forgotten him, our memories simply won't allow us to. At an Old-timer's game one year, a pudgy bald-headed man half shouted, "I was there. You hit those bullets and (Ken) Keltner robbed you and I was there."
"Were you?" asked DiMaggio.
"Yeah, I was just a kid then, and I was rooting for you to get a hit because it would have been fun to see you go all season with a hit in every game. I remember it Joe, I really do."
"I do too," said DiMaggio softly.