TV

'Heroes' and the Coming Out Narrative

At first I was afraid/I was petrified

Claire Bennet can heal. Cut, stabbed, scrapped, slashed, electrocuted, diseased, burned, beaten and hurled from high places, the obstacles that this young heroine faces show us that she girl can always bounce back. The only other super-being like Claire in the TV series Heroes lived for centuries and manipulated a major conspiracy to take over the world. Yet, the super power to heal cannot mend the heart. Being different is her constant, imposed strain.

Save the Cheerleader, Save the World

An ongoing theme in Heroes calls ‘fate’ into question. Are we victims of fate, or, are we making history? The answer would seem as plain as the show itself: We manifest destiny. In other words, there are indeed several seasons of the show. The show must go on, and so in the Heroes world, we make history, both in the literal and proverbial sense.

By seizing opportunity and stepping up to the plate, by starting where we are, using what we have and doing what we can, we can all be heroes. This is another clear message of the show: Mutant or mortal, normal or not. Indeed, the Heroes narrative crosses that of X-Men and even Stan Lee, creator of Spider-Man, Hulk, Fantastic Four and X-men made a candid appearance.

As an ongoing series, we get to see the many faces of each character, and see the development of each individual from normal person to hero. Hence, we are shown many "coming out" narratives vis-à-vis friends, family, school, work and, importantly, coming out to the self.

In season one, the immortal hero, Claire, finds out about the Heroes world on the night she was to be killed. A man who the show ultimately reveals to be her paternal uncle saves her life. She is adopted, and in addition to not knowing her roots, her adopted folks actively isolate her from biological kin and friends alike. All this sounds like coming out in normal American families, just the sort that adopted the unlikely superhero.

Claire grew up in an average, middle-class-looking household, where people forget instead of forgive. Her dad even co-opts a big, black henchman who does all the dirty work and says little of his own intentions. Through three seasons, “The Haitian” never gets the luxury of a name: He’s just a stigma, yet the first of only few in the show to accept his own difference as divine; he’s Claire’s first ‘out’ mentor. He freely offers moral support, despite doing the dirty work of ‘The Company’. He’s a powerful n**ger on a leash awaiting the command: Sic ‘em!

Throughout the first season, Claire lives in a home where people keep secrets and never learn to rely on one another until severe crisis strikes. The father even erases his own wife’s and daughter’s memories in order to protect the façade of normalcy. The poor women’s health is ultimately so dilapidated that she faces collapse. And, in addition to her biological parents, the prejudice and secrecy at home leaves those adults to abandon Claire of care as well. And then there’s Claire the super heroine.

Come out, come out, wherever you are

Like the classic coming out narrative, Claire’s only real issue is feeling out of place, and being made to feel out of place by those who would normally express care, but are totally out of their league. Despite the violence and heroics of the show, it is the feeling of abnormality that regularly haunts the invincible girl.

Parents, teachers, friends and classmates consistently abandon her for being a freak. No one, including her own father, who not only had suspicions as most parents do, but grounded proof that Claire was special.

Yet, in Claire’s father’s silence and silencing left the young heroine to fend for herself. To drive the point home in season one, Claire’s best friend at school is gay, and makes poignant and ridiculously mature, ‘heroic’ statements about accepting people as they are. Claire’s gay best friend helps her make a video, proving to the world that she is not crazy. He helps her come out.

“You knew all this time,” she accuses her father, who readily dismisses the question. The show’s writers abandon the answer. “We can’t tell anybody,” the normal looking dad says. With blood on her face, he tells her that he’ll ‘handle’ anyone else who has found out, and orders her to destroy any evidence. Is this what parents do when they know?

How do responsible adults behave when they think that a child is queer? Silence? Secrecy? Stigma and labeling? These are the normal ways in which parents and educators deal with queer youth. Worse, fearing their own inability to judge character and threat, many parents and educators take the even greater step of sanitizing environments of anything queer, and going out of their way, like Claire’s father, to maintain an appearance of normality.

The Cost of Normality

This normality comes at the cost of many. The currency is violence through physical abuse and coercion. The reality is that most queer people are born and reared by vehemently heterosexual families, all of which gets reflected in schools and societies. Each Hero is born into normal families as far as they are concerned.

As adults, we regularly abandon kids when it comes to sex and sexuality. We relegate both sex and sexuality to gender, and then enforce and reinforce ‘normal’ gender roles even before birth. Normal boys and girls are given clothes in gender-appropriate colors. Adults buy toys appropriate to gender, teaching boys hierarchy, violence and domination, and girls skills of negotiation and care. It’s easy to feel abnormal in the face of this narrow idealized sense of normality.

Even more hypocritical, our society laments over why men are more apt at using their fists than words, both on the inter-personal and international level. Are we all awaiting a heroine or hero to save us from the apocalypse? Certainly, we are, as most of our sci-fi reveals that we are genuinely fascinated with our own eventual destruction; as if life were a series of Biblical style Revelations. The Earth can take care of itself, it is humanity which needs salvation- hence the litany of resurrection stories.

Rounding off the message, as in-school educators we bring the very same gender, race and class baggage, dealing this hot garbage out to our kids. Normally, though girls both outnumber and outperform boys in classrooms, as adults the story of success is different. Men normally out earn women as well as perform most of our physically risky jobs like construction, law enforcement, mining and drilling, sewage and the high stress of being the bread-winner.

Although we have been taught that men are privileged and woman are oppressed, this simplistic view ignores that we may all feel limited by our gender-appropriate roles. Girls and boys, women and men may all find ourselves silently complying with the status quo for fear of retaliation- violence, abuse and exclusion as forms of shaming. As this TV series aptly demonstrates, we use shaming or outright violence to discourage heroes and if anything prefer martyrdom as an impetus to change.

We normally reject the idea that we all have the capacity to be heroes. All of this is as normal as the witch-hunt for queer teachers happening in too many American schools right now. Gender, including sexuality, is a serious construction area for contemporary American pop culture. Who’ll be the Hero?

All this silencing and secrecy leads to shame, and this is the message that each young hero gets. Hence, a clear moral lesson of Heroes is that coming out is primarily an exercise of learning pride and power.

From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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