Saturday, May 7, 2011

Super Heroes - East and West

As a kid, I was a big comic book fan.  Although I read Superman, Spiderman, The Green Lantern, and The Fantastic Four, my favorite was always Batman.  I guess I could identify better with this "normal" guy who made himself a super hero through wit and hard work rather than via a gift from nature or accident.

In adulthood, I didn't continue this hobby.  Taking their place were science fiction & fantasy movies,super hero films...and Kung Fu flicks.  Aside from Batman, the martial arts movies became - and still are - some of my favorites.  Recently I wondered why.  I came to the conclusion that I liked to watch Kung Fu movies for the same reason I enjoyed Batman: the heroes in all cases were men (or women) who, through years of training and hard work, became masters - heroes.  They achieved great things entirely on their own.

As far as I know, in the West (e.g. the US) there is far more interest in super heroes of the "accidental/environmental" kind than there is in the "hard working but human" kind - at least judging by the available movie and TV shows.  In Asia  (e.g. China), there appears to be far more interest in the "hard working but human" kind - at least judging by the movies that come from there, the few I've seen on TV while visiting China, and my wife's disinterest in movies involving the other kind of heroes.

Does this difference in preference say something about the two cultures?  Does the idea that Westerners prefer super heroes who got their powers through accident (e.g. "Hulk", "Spiderman", etc.) or by nature ("Superman", "Heroes", etc.) suggest that Westerners believe that everything is possible (a good quality) or that they expect/hope things to happen "for free" (not needing to work for things - a bad quality).  Conversely, do Chinese believe that everything is possible with enough hard work (a great attitude) or do they lack the confidence to say "everything is possible"?  I don't have an answer - but I think it's a neat lens through which to view the two cultures.

Another difference between east and west is the depiction of the super heroes' personality.  Whereas the Eastern kung fu master is almost always serene and wise, western super heroes are often just like you or I - they have complex lives that they cannot always cope with.  Having to constantly hide their identities (another difference with heroes from the east) definitely causes them stress.

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