Heroes Vox Pop


When I first thought about contributing something for this issue of Peril, I did it with an eye towards amalgamating nifty pop culture moments and oh-so-clever intertextual references involving KITT, MacGyver and Fu Manchu.

The more I thought about the theme, though, the less this seemed to fit. For a start, I had a dilemma about what a hero actually was. Was it a role-model (i.e. you want to be like that person/character), or was it someone you wouldn’t mind hanging with because you thought they were über-cool?{mosimage}

Take my relationship with Superman, for example. I’ve always really liked Superman; I never wanted to be Superman. As long as I could imagine him saving the world from various despots, I didn’t need to embody any Superman traits myself. After all, as most enduring comic-book heroes demonstrate via some teasing backstory, being a saviour of the universe is a lonely business, full of angst. It’s not the kind of thing you do if you want to go steady with anyone, or go to the prom. The more I pondered the hero motif, the more I realised how gender-entrenched some of my ideas surrounding heroes are. We’ve all seen variations of the (usually) blonde-and-buxom woman sighing, “Oh, Gigantor, my hero!”. I’ve yet to come up with an instance where a correspondingly blond-and-six-packed man sighs, “Oh, Foxia, my heroine!”.

Grappling with these issues to no avail, I did what any other intrepid reporter would do: I decided to conduct a vox pop so others could provide insight that I seemed to be sorely lacking. The short survey I sent out asked people to tell me about their childhood and current heroes, and how they might have expressed such hero-worship. My survey sample consists of Asian Australian friends and family, as well as various members of the asian-australian_discuss group.

There was a common thread in heroic childhood figures: those chosen were often cast in superhero style, with larger-than-life powers and traits, and resumés that included saving large-scale populations. Bruce of Canberra has been a consistent fan of Wong Fei Hong (Once Upon a Time in China I, II, and III) since he was a kid. He says it’s because “[Wong Fei Hong] could take out fifteen bad guys, defend against a flying pot of hot soup and jump out of a 2-storey building, armed only with an umbrella.” To emulate his hero, Bruce bought himself a black umbrella and admits that “when no-one is watching, I relive my favourite Wong Fei Hong moments (although I have yet to jump out of a 2-storey building).” Condor of Brisbane, was a “huge comic[s] nerd” who went from a childhood diet of Superman, to a teen appetite for the X-Men, to a university habit of Sandman and Darkhorse comics. He gives an example of hero worship at a very young age:

I remember when I was four or five I was so into Battle of the Planets that, for my birthday, Mum made these capes for me and my family friends. I have a mental image of five crazy Asian kids running around our front yard wearing transparent silver capes that looked more like fairy wings than anything else. But when you’re a kid, you don’t care.

Thurston of the Never-Never admits – reluctantly – to a childhood idolisation of Humphrey B. Bear. Although the bear was such a good role model, she insists (a little too strenuously?) that she never dressed up like him

Indi of Brisbane does admit to dressing up to copy her idols. They were often villains, so much more interesting than the plain and simple heroes who followed “truth, justice and the American way.” She says:

As far as villain stuff, as a kid I wanted a cool black latex outfit like Terrance Stamp and the baddies in the Superman movie or Catwoman in the Batman series. I went to work making my super villain outfit out of a black plastic garbage bag and sticky tape. I ended up looking like a bad extra from an Ed Wood film.

Unfortunately for us all, Indi says that she is “now too old for shiny clothes.”

Wolfy of Melbourne, on the other hand, says that he can’t remember having a childhood idol but he seems to have many items covered in Smurf stickers. “Does that count as hero worship?” he asks. All I can say is: if that counts as hero worship, Wolfy, you’ve got more problems in your life than that strange rash.

When the focus shifted to heroes in adulthood, most respondents pointed to real world examples of ‘heroism’ and broader forms of bravery than trouncing the bad guys and saving the world. Indi says:

As Public Enemy say, most of my heroes don’t appear on no stamp! I identify with subversive, revolutionary and cutting edge writers like Gloria Anzaldua, who wrote that her intellectual work saves her from complacency and compensates for what the real world does not give her.

Condor responds in a similar vein:

For me, a hero is someone who presents traits that embody the human spirit. Getting older, I realise how many people there are who are just wonderful, purposeful human beings. Of the ones I don’t know personally, it would be a long list, but would include activists, artists and filmmakers such as Nina Simone, WEB Du Bois, Arundhati Roy, Andrei Tarkovsky, Aung San Suu Kyi, Hayao Miyazaki, etc.

Roo of Sydney mentions real-life figures such as her parents and grandparents; she describes them as “those who struggled without fanfare, with no expectation of recognition.” Thurston vacillates between being earnest in her choice (Nelson Mandela), and honest (Olivia Benson from Law & Order: SVU).

Some respondents requested that I not use their answers in this particular article. They didn’t respond to the specific questions in the survey, but sent me notes saying that they were too embarrassed about who their heroes were, or didn’t have anything enlightening to contribute to a piece that examined heroes and heroism. The notion of being self-conscious about one’s heroes gave me pause. What was the basis of this embarrassment? Was there a fear of others dissing, or laughing at, your hero, and by extension, yourself? Perhaps it was the merging of a particular hero’s brand of heroism and their values that became too close a reflection of one’s own?

I want to give the last word on heroes to Condor who, with a wisdom beyond his tender years, totally eclipsed my attempts at a conclusion:

Some people define a hero as someone who struggles to live their life true to themselves, or someone who finds power to create beauty and/or to inspire others. They figure heroism is a quality possible in all of us, not because it represents actions or notions beyond reproach, but because heroism is bound to human endeavour.

Author’s Note:
Many thanks to those who responded to the vox pop survey, on and off the record. Names used were those chosen by the respondents themselves and are often pseudonyms and pseudo-sites. I couldn’t use all the material that came in, but your responses helped shape this final piece – thank you!

Author: Tseen Khoo

Tseen Khoo is a Peril founding editorial advisor, and is the founding convenor of the Asian Australian Studies Research Network (AASRN: asianaustralianstudies.org). Her academic work focuses on diasporic Asian cultures and communities, and she is currently working as a lecturer in research education and development. Tseen is very much on Twitter (twitter.com/tseenster) and blogs at The Banana Lounge (tseenster.wordpress.com).

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