The jeering and laughter fills the air as I stand in my school washroom, humiliated. I have been stripped of my trousers and my head is bent down in shame while the people around me scream with glee. Someone comes and whips me on my backside while another person throws a handful of water at my genitals. I know I am crying, the tears are out of my control now but there is something else that I feel, and overwhelmingly at that.
Being old enough to know that this means I am having suicidal thoughts and I welcome them. Death would be a welcome reprieve because if life is like this, I don’t really care for it.
The bullying carries on for another, excruciating, half an hour until the lunch break gets over. They leave the washroom and a friend of mine gets some trousers for me. I go back to class, my tears dried and see that my lunch box has been vandalized and so have my notebooks. I look at them, feeling nothing, just a cold and dull ache. Not knowing what I’ll say to my father, who sat up late in the night, covering them and putting labels on them. It was the first day of a new class, after all.
I go back home sitting in the cab, ignoring the jibes that come at me again. I am the outcast, the loner, the introvert, the silent kid whom it’s okay to pick on. Everyone follows these words like a doctrine. It’s only when I finally reach home do I feel a little safe.
My mother knows something is wrong instantly. She asks me, and I hear a voice inside me scream itself hoarse, pleading me to tell her. I say that I have a headache, have lunch silently and go to sleep. Two hours later, I wake to the sound of music. My mother has switched on the television and for me, it’s time for cartoons.
Superman: The Animated Series.
This is the first time I am watching it and I watch how Jor-El pleads to the elders of Krypton about the planet’s unstable core and how it’s going to collapse unto itself. Forty five minutes later, I watch how his son, Kal-El aka Clark Kent. He becomes a superhero on Earth, with God-like powers and starts saving the world. The animated series is my first experience with superheroes.
I switch off the television. Bullshit, I hear myself say. I wish I was a being with such power. Nobody would dare touch me or hurt me. I would be like a God to them, making them wish they had never been born. My mind enters into a twisted fantasy of myself torturing and hurting them but a second later I feel disgusted. I forget about Superman. He’s not real. And even if he were he would never have to face something like this.
I don’t know how much time had passed since that day till 2013. I am sitting in the movie theater with my girlfriend. And since we don’t have a lot of choice, we’ve decided to watch Man of Steel, Zack Snyder’s much controversial and debated version of Superman. This is the movie that changed my life.
The scene is simple. A young Clark Kent is shown to us in a very different manner than before. His x-ray vision starts manifesting itself in the middle of the classroom as he begins, to his horror, seeing right through his fellow humans’ skins. As he grows older, he saves a bus filled with children by simply raising it out of the water. Steadily people grow afraid of him and as is always the case, their fear of him results in hate. Their hate spills out in anger and I am painfully sent into the past as I watch a trio of bullies shove a young Clark around.
I watch, an inexplicable anger rising within me. This is, somehow, the moment I’ve been waiting for. I wait for Clark to block the punches coming at him. Wait for him to just shove those bullies aside like the worthless scum they are. I wait in vain. Clark does nothing and lets everything happen.
I go back home in a daze and at night, I sit and think about it. Why doesn’t he fight back? And why on Earth would anyone be mean to a person who has done so much good? I can’t understand why would his father tell him to hide his powers from the world until he is ready? Why? The answer comes to me at three in the morning.
It’s because he’s different.
This is the world we live in. A world that needs love instead of wanting it. And it needs love because all around us, there is nothing but hate. Hate reigns in everything we experience. If I put on the television, all I see is people screaming about each other or television shows about how messed up the world is. Newspapers are filled with useless stories of celebrity antics or extensive coverage of messy and downright dirty politics. As for the Internet, mere words will never suffice.
There are horrific diseases in countries we haven’t heard of, humanity being trampled upon in places we do not care about, the essence of our planet being destroyed on a daily basis and greed being manufactured openly by people we ignore even more blatantly. People die in the name of religion, money, power or sheer pettiness. But all we care about is how something someone said hurts our entitled sensibilities.
This is the world in which we live and I ask the question, “What happens to the outcasts? What happens to us, the dreamers, the thinkers, the ones who are different? What happens to those who wish to do something good and have the power to do so?”
We all know the answer.
Now I understand why those things were done to me. I am different. Always have been. I have never seen what society wants me to or the world wants me to. All I see is what my eyes show me and there have been many times I have seen right through things. Just like Clark. Just like Superman.
And for the first time in my life, I relate to a fictional character like I never have. I understand why Clark doesn’t fight back. He’s afraid and not of what the boys do to him but of what he might do to them. He is stronger than what a human can perceive and can do things none of us can imagine. To him, human life is fragile. As a result, he understands its value more than most of us do and that makes him more human than any of us.
I relate to him because instead of showing the world looking up to him in wonder and joy, he receives only hate and paranoia. Because if I have always felt like the outcast, I can only imagine what an actual alien would feel. Because despite all the hate that he sees around him, he still fights for good. He may do this only because of his love for one woman, but then, aren’t all good deeds done for the ones we love? A lot of the criticisms I read say that he is supposed to be a symbol for hope but instead all we get is an angry and violent God-like figure.
I believe this is where the director’s genius lies. Zack Snyder has done masterful work in creating a Superman for the 21st Century. I grew up with a lot of anger and I see a lot of that in his Superman. Why wouldn’t there be? But in all that anger, I found someone, just when I thought of ending it all and forgoing this world. And that someone made it all better by making me realize, simply, that the world wasn’t so bad after all and in fact, could even be better.
In Clark’s case, it was Lois who made him see but more than that it was Lois who became his world and the reason he will always fight to keep the world a good place, despite its many shortcomings. And fight he does, towards the end of the film, and even today, I remember that moment fondly. I remember the moment when the boy stops being scared of his abilities and the man embraces them to protect his home and above all, the people he loves. There is mayhem and destruction and you see why the world fears him, but he no longer fears them.
I feel chills going down my spine as I realise it is exactly as what I am today, unflinching in the face of whatever the world throws at me and unrelenting in my ability to be myself. I have embraced who I am and have been reviled and cast away for it, but in a few instances, rewarded immensely. It is those moments I live for and be what I am for. They define me and I revere them. I will face adversity but as long as I do not lose myself, the world won’t scare me.
I would like to end by thanking Mr. Snyder for the Superman he gave us. Not a God or an all good figure or another wisecracking superhero but a man. I thank you for giving us the Superman that fits the world of today and in some ways is needed by it, desperately.
Thank you for making me realise that it’s okay to be different and despite all that is dark and grim, there is always something to keep the light alive.
Thank you for giving us hope.
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