On Superheroes and National Identity
Updated: May 17, 2019
Superheroes are most widely known as quintessential American icons. When we think of them, we think of the classic ideals of: Truth, Justice and the American Way. However, the concept of the 'Super-Being' or 'Super-Hero' is something that can be found in every culture, spanning back to the days of ancient mythology and folktales. They are different than us, and yet they are often also one of us. They are gifted with their divine powers and use it for the greater good of society. They grapple with the problems of every day people, while knowing inside that they will never truly be the same as everyone else.
In an increasingly globalized world, I believe that the superhero's struggle with identity and belonging is something that more and more people resonate with. Whether they are displaced from their countries, separated from their families, trying to find a new one, or even out on an adventure of their own, starting a new chapter of their life, people are constantly re-evaluating and re-shaping their identity to fit the wider society around them.
Superheroes are also often an exploration on national and racial identities. In American comic books, Jewish creators were responsible for the creation of Superman, Captain America and the Fantastic Four, among other characters. The Jewish roots of these comic book characters cannot be ignored as superhero narratives often critique these ideas of belonging somewhere: a team, a society, a group of marginalized people, a country. What are your responsibilities to these groups? Where do these groups intersect? What role are you expected to play? What role will you create for yourself? Superman is an immigrant, an adopted alien to a family in Kansas. Aquaman was raised on land, a biracial Atlantean-Human who learns to unite these two worlds together.
Indonesia is a country whose motto Bhinneka Tunggal Ika translates into Unity in Diversity. Upon first glance, Indonesia seems to be a country that is so easily divided: the physical geography of the country is literally fragmented, into thousands of islands, some that we will never know of or set foot on. One of my favourite films from recent years is Moana (2016). Apart from being an important movie showcasing aspects of Polynesian culture, I loved the sense of community and family portrayed, both of which are extremely important values in Indonesian cultures.
I refuse to portray Indonesia as a monolith because we simply aren't one. I can only offer one perspective. We are a people of many cultures, religions, languages and ethnicities. In ROSANA! one of the key things that I wanted to do was to make this as much Rosana's superhero journey as it her journey towards understanding the world around her better. In today's world of political divisions and anxieties people are struggling to understand one another. In fact, the very act of trying to understand someone else is a skill that a lot of people have lost. To those that do have it, or are trying to develop it, it becomes a superpower in this age of antagonism.
As a writer, my main goal is always to reflect on the human condition and in 2019, that condition is becoming more and more complex. However, I believe there are beautiful stories to be told by so many established and emerging Indonesian writers. I can only offer one, and it starts with the simple act of a very strong girl from a small island, asking herself: "What is my place among these people and what can they teach me about being who I need to be?"