So let’s begin with the question: “What is a hero?”
Is the hero that dashing guy with the square-ish jaw who dives into trouble whatever it may be, saves girls and becomes a model example for the people? Is a hero that noisy kid who’s always trying to do good deeds so that the people will warm up to him? Is a hero that guy struggling against cruelty in his society and dreams of bringing down the status quo so that his people may finally prosper? Is a hero that guy who gets beat up at every turn by his enemies but struggles to do what is right anyway so that people can at least live decent lives?
In this modern age that’s saturated by wrong messages by the media, it’s almost hard to tell. The examples given above are simply the heroes (or the people called “heroes”) as told to us to by the mass media. Indeed, while they may indeed have heroic traits of their own, each hero probably has unique abilities and motivations from one another. Also note that no hero, or even saint, is without flaws as all of them will have one kind of disadvantage or more.
Take for instance that Oskar Schindler was a womanizer and would probably sit up there alongside Hugh Hefner when it comes to sheer promiscuity. Also note that George Washington, despite his noble acts was still a slave owner and didn’t seem to include them in his plans for the country. Then you have guys like Vlad the Impaler or Nobunaga Oda who are horrible people but somehow used their more monstrous aspects intentionally (or unintentionally) to improve the lives of their people such as by uniting them under a single banner or horrifying would-be conquerors with their frightening reputations.
So just what goes into being a hero? If you look at a lot of western media and shows from more developed countries like Japan or South Korea, you see that many film and series crews struggle to make their heroes as believable and realistic as possible. A lot of their heroes are often flawed individuals, similar to actual historical heroes which are mentioned above. They do this not only because of drama and ratings but because this is often what happens in real life. Take for instance Rick Grimes from the Walking Dead who goes from being an idealist to a man who is willing to commit reprehensible acts for the survival of his comrades or Gon from Hunter x Hunter who starts as your typical idyllic shounen hero but becomes a murderous and vengeful sociopath in the end of the Chimera Ant arc. There are many more examples but listing them here will probably make this article too long and boring.
Anyway, among readers and writers of fiction, there is a trope or cliche called Mary Sue or Marty Stu. These are characters, often protagonists, who are deemed too “perfect” to be believable. While they are very subjective tropes, Mary Sues and Marty Stus are often avoided in mainstream stories overseas because they fail to be intellectually entertaining and may even project the wrong values in the people who read or watch it. Now, ideal characters were quite popular back in the 1800’s but people gradually lost interest in them in the course of the 20th century because everyone knows that they probably don’t exist in real life. The two World Wars and the many mini-conflicts that took place during the Cold War showed proof to the world that any kind of struggle could turn ugly if one wasn’t careful and that very seldom do people escape unscathed from them.
Unfortunately, here in the Philippines, since the mid to late 2000s, I began to notice the trend of unrealistic heroes and heroines being featured, praised and worshipped throughout many shows. I mean before that, I got to see characters like Pedro Penduko (the Gano Gibbs version) and the likes of Don Robert from Ober da Bakod, who were flawed but nonetheless endearing characters. Well, of course there was the Panday which I mostly find funny when I look at some of the more glaring faults of the film series but its more recent incarnations definitely serve as one of the greater examples of Mary Sue-dom.
So okay, let’s go back to my first question: What is a hero?
With our local media grinding out cliche after cliche, I think the people’s idea of a hero have been muddled by escapist thoughts and ideals. Most Pinoys aren’t looking for a hero like George Washington, Jose Rizal, Harry Dresden or even Kamina (may the Spiral bless us all), they’re looking for a hero who will do everything for them. In Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, the titular swordsmen train the villagers in defending themselves against the bandits and, in the end, imparted something greater to the community as a whole. They taught the people how to fend for themselves in a merciless world which will probably not just ensure their survival but also allow for them the opportunity to improve themselves and perhaps even others along the way. These are not the kind of heroes Pinoys look for, instead, their kind of heroes are the ones who will do all the work for them and make all the difficult decisions for them. They want someone else to do all the thinking for them instead of making choices for themselves and choosing what kind of future they want for themselves and their children.
Worse yet, in more developed cultures, the idea of a hero is a man or woman who does what is right despite the odds and the consequences that their decisions entail. Like with Oskar Schindler, he was given the choice of either helping victims of genocide or risk bankruptcy and possible arrest and execution but chose to do what was right anyway. Harry Dresden, the hero of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files is often beaten within an inch of his life for meddling in other people’s business such as when protecting innocent people from vampires and demons.
I have always believed that being a hero meant making decisions that are painful but are for the good of all or many. By choosing to stand up for what is right, we will likely be hated, beaten or outright killed but go through with it anyway because that is what’s right.
Let me make this clear: Being a hero is NOT about doing what’s right only because it’s what is easy or convenient. Being a hero is NOT about who has the biggest guns or the sharpest swords. Most of all, being a hero is NOT about being related to pop culture figures.
So no, just because your parents died somewhere doesn’t make you a hero. Just because you’re a church-goer doesn’t make you a saint. Just because you’re on TV all the time doesn’t make you a role model for people.
It’s not really the circumstances that one lives in that makes them a hero, it’s what they do in the face of those circumstances…
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