While there's a real trend towards iconoclastic, irreverent, confrontational, reactionary characters in fiction today, there are still a few characters from contemporary popular culture that I see as true role models. These are folks I'd be glad to know in the real world--and while they don't exist, we'd all be a little bit better off if they did. And now, without further ado, the Top Five:
5. Chloe Sullivan - No one could ask for a better friend than Chloe—loyal, reliable, indomitable, compassionate, selfless, she is the defined by her empathy and devotion to those who are close to her. She may not be the star of Smallville, but she's certainly the show's heart.
4. Earl Hickey - Earl is the rogue redeemed, a simple man whose moment of enlightenment led him to abandon selfishness and dedicate himself to restoring a karmic balance. This season almost strayed from the formula that defines Earl; thankfully, someone realized that they were about to entirely lose the focus and charm of the character, so they returned to the show's roots in the season finale. Earl's most endearing trait is his unyielding dedication to his brother; not only is he his brother's keeper, but he is happy with the responsibility.
3. Hank Hill - In a medium where most television fathers are dolts, fools, or adversaries to the rest of their family, Hank is a refreshing flashback to the days of Rob Petrie, Ward Cleaver, and Steve Douglas. He's a man who truly cares about his wife and his son, and never forgets them. Even when it becomes clear that Bobby isn't going to turn out to be the man that Hank had hoped he would be, his love for his son is unyielding. He tolerates his friends' imperfections without condemnation; rather than try to browbeat others around him into following his rules, he leads by example.
2. Captain America - Forget the current storyline; no matter what Marvel says, there's only one Captain America, and that's Steve Rogers. He's a man out of time, and perhaps that's why he typifies timeless values. Steve Rogers is an apolitical epitome of what America should be--caring, concerned, devoted, and driven by his own ethos.
1. Superman - The most admirable man in popular culture is still an alien from Krypton. Kal-El typifies every quality that a human would hope to find in others and in himself; in many ways, he is the superheroic Christ, a savior in the physical sense over and over again and at the same time a spiritual redeemer who brings out the best in almost everyone who comes into contact with him. You just know that you'd be a better person if you could spend some time in his company...