How Filipinos can relate their own lives to the Superman universe

Reboots, it seems, are some of the in things these days when it comes to what Hollywood has on its plate. It has been done with Spiderman, Batman, and now Superman. The latest picture, Man of Steel, has just recently come out and is now showing in Philippine cinemas.

A lot of us are familiar with the general story of Superman. For a while, Kal-El was the only known survivor of Krypton after his home planet exploded. The escape vessel he was put into found its way to Earth, where it crashed somewhere and was discovered by the Kents. They raised him up as their own son, and while growing up, the boy comes to terms that he has superpowers. These superpowers came about as a result of the atmosphere of Earth being beneficial for the Kryptonian. In his grown years, he faced off against a whole lot of supervillains, has encountered other survivors of Krypton’s destruction, and was given a love interest in Lois Lane, his colleague in the Daily Planet.

Superman has become one of the most identifiable American cultural icons, and for Filipinos, I guess that would be reason enough for them to strongly identify with it.

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I guess one can say that there are several themes/topics within Superman which, if Filipinos think hard enough, can use to relate their own lives to the superhero’s universe.

Take note that the idea is not to find as much parallelism between the two as possible, but simply, to make people go “hmm…” about their own reality.

A world that eventually died

For the longest time, Krypton was portrayed at the point of its imminent death but as time went by the authors added more background story about the planet, its inhabitants, and its eventual death. The Kryptonians had science and technology far more advanced than Earth’s. Ultimately, however, their society increasingly tipped toward decadence and eventually crumbled under political strife and a succeeding war. After the war, Kryptonians emerged as a sterile, emotionally dead civilization, and were faced with an increasingly unstable planetary core.

Filipinos, on the other hand, have anything but a scientifically advanced society. Science and technology are not placed in very high regard here in the Philippines. Whether they are just naturally fearful of change, or fear the loss of ancient traditions and ways of livelihood, this aversion to the whole scale adaptation of science and technology to Filipino society has proven detrimental to it. Yet they do have the political strife as part of their daily lives.

The greatest challenge that Filipinos currently face is that the land they currently call home, the Philippine Islands, will soon be rendered uninhabitable due to their apparent inability to control their numbers. The resources provided by their land do not regenerate as fast as they multiply. If Filipinos don’t want to see their own homeland die, they first need to control their population, then find ways to live sustainably off it. No, more and more Filipinos going abroad to feed their uncontrollably rising numbers is not a long-term solution

A stratified society

Kryptonian society is depicted as loosely having a caste system. There were religious, military, artist, science, and worker castes. On the other hand, while not even a loose caste system exists in the Philippines, Filipino society is not one that is upwardly mobile. If you are born into a certain strata of society, you are most likely consigned to stay there for the rest of your life. Only a few truly control the power in this country, yet they are not using this power to help the rest of society. Neither do the less-privileged feel that they can do something about it. Filipino culture and society encourage its inhabitants to act like victims of fate (tadhana) instead of inculcating the mindset to be the master of their own fates.

”The nail that sticks out…”

…gets hammered down. Though this proverb is translated from Japanese, many cultures have their own version of it. Clark Kent’s parents, especially his father, knew all too well the consequences for the young boy if he revealed his evolving superpowers to others too soon, and too often. The young boy was treated as an outcast. He was considered a freak, and something to be feared. No matter how hard Clark tried to fit in, his superpowers would always make him stand out. He just wanted to help; his upbringing has taught him to use his powers for good, but people fear what they don’t understand.

Filipinos go one better (or worse); they don’t just refuse to understand; they judge prematurely.

Let’s face it, nobody in Filipino society can leap tall buildings in a single bound, or has heat vision or superhuman strength. But there are among us who want to use what we know, and what we have to help our fellow Filipinos. This may not necessarily come in the form of dole-outs, but suggestions on how to make their lives better. Some of us point out the flaws in Philippine society so that Filipinos can take the corresponding steps to correct these flaws.

Unfortunately, Filipinos don’t take to such suggestions really well. They consider such help as put-down patter. They consider those who point out flaws in Philippine society as unpatriotic, as treacherous and traitorous to their fellow countrymen. For Filipino society, it is better to go with the flow and shut up. If you question beliefs and practices that may be outdated, you are an outcast. If you question prevailing wisdom, to them “you’re not helping”.

The nail that sticks out indeed gets hammered down in Filipino society. Such is the way of life here.

Does anyone remember Superman’s biggest weakness, Kryptonite? Now, the average Filipino likes to think that he/she is Superman in a way: he is seemingly invulnerable and impervious, thinks he is capable of great things but does not follow through, feels like he has superpowers, and can’t help but attract attention to himself.

What then is the Filipino’s Kryptonite: Criticism.

For as long as Filipinos have existed, this it seems is one of the tragic character flaws that they have been unable to overcome. That and their sense of unsubstantiated pride. Whenever someone who has a semblance of Filipino blood makes it big outside of the Philippines, the Filipinos attach themselves to the success of that person even if they directly had nothing to do with it. They consider it a success of the Filipino people as a whole, where in fact they are only looking for validation from other ethnic groups that Filipinos are a capable and important people.

Thus, this brings us to one of the most poignant themes in the Superman universe that Filipinos can somehow relate their lives to:

An overarching need for heroes

Let’s face it, it’s easy to take superheroes for granted once we’ve discovered that they exist among in our community. We think we can be more reckless and less cautious with our daily lives, because someone will come to save the day anyway. However, did we ever stop to think about what do we do, how do we carry on if, one day, these superheroes simply cease to exist?

Filipinos have never stopped searching for heroes they can prop up on a pedestal. Whether this hero turns out to be a boxer who just won a match abroad, a politician who promises the moon and beyond, or even the overseas foreign workers who bring home the money that feeds our society’s consumerism, our society attaches the label “hero” all to easily to people who simply do what they’re supposed to do properly, though I might take exception with the politician.

It seems that doing things properly is not the norm here in the Philippines. Yet the bigger tragedy that exists is that Filipinos have not realized and actualized one simple, undeniable fact. Our destiny is squarely in our own hands; to a large extent, it is in our control. It is not in the hands of some athlete or celebrity who is part Filipino, nor is it in the hands of politicians whom we vote in based on promises they don’t really plan to keep.

The symbol on Superman’s chest, the way the latest movie portrayed it, wasn’t simply an “S” symbol back in Krypton; it supposedly meant hope. Now Filipinos have no shortage of symbols of hope; what they do lack, however, are things that indicate how they plan to substantiate such in what exactly? Such is the hard question for which Filipinos generally have only head-scratching as an answer.

Being a Man of Steel in one’s own way isn’t impossible; we just have to find it in ourselves to do things properly. Discipline, rule of law, sense of responsibility, putting others on par or even above one’s self, and a sense of morality without the double standards – these are just some of the things that Filipinos need to inculcate in themselves.

2 Replies to “How Filipinos can relate their own lives to the Superman universe”

  1. I prefer the people in “Filipino society (who) can leap tall buildings in a single bound, or has heat vision or superhuman strength” that just bow out after doing their job anonymously. There are too many Filipinos who believe DOING WHAT THEY ARE SUPPOSED TO is contingent on public recognition and being celebrated in public with parades and year-long fiestas. Pretty soon you realize you’re worse off because nothing else got done.

  2. I did enjoy the sporadic flashbacks that showed you how young Clark Kent picked up the values that helped him function as Superman. A constant theme in them is also a constant theme in the training of the Jedi Warrior Luke Skywalker. Which is keep your emotions in check. Do not give in. Pinoys have all but tossed that lesson out with disco roller skates. Emotions can serve but can also cloud reason and we always see that clouded reason when it comes to things like Jessica Sanchez and the “banning” of Justin Beiber.

    In the comic and in the older movies, Superman had his fortress of Solitude. Almost impossible to experience that in Manila where if you don’t have a sound proof place your obnoxious neighbor is likely imposing his or her lousy taste in music on you. This goes on in the malls and even during working hours in the office. Which speaks to pinoys sense of taste and consideration. Or lack of it. In their mind just because they like crap you will like them more if they force said crap on you. So tacky, so gaudy so pinoy. One thing obnoxious music does not allow you to do. It is like that scene (slight spoiler alert) in the movie where the Krypotonian senses are overloaded. You are not allowed to think. Pinoys if you look at their elected officials and political rallies do not think.

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