Sunday, February 7, 2016

An Occidental Asian Geek: The Hardy Boys

It is hard to overestimate the impact of my Saturday trips to the bookstore with my grandmother. Every single Saturday, her day, she'd take my sister(s) and me to a bookstore to buy at least one book.

One of my early reading genres centered around mysteries, and I suppose that's where the Hardy Boys came in.

The Appeal of the Hardy Boys

Setting aside for now why a Filipino boy would identify with two brothers set in a generic American city, somehow continuously getting into adventures -- let me lay out why I liked 'em.

  • Brothers and friends: early in Grade School, with only three channels to watch (and usually only one good thing to watch on any given night, if lucky), there was a lot of time spent with siblings, cousins, friends and sorta friends doing stuff. This makes it natural to want to go on adventures with them -- especially when you're young and think you're immortal.
  • Semi-autonomy: with their famous detective father, Fenton, usually gone, Frank & Joe often get to do stuff that they can't do when given a direct order by their parent. Aunts and Uncles giving orders were often loopholes because they weren't parents; the important thing is that they could go out and do stuff without technically violating their dad's wishes.
  • Be a detective: as a kid with little true influence or control over their lives and the world at large, there's a bit of wish fulfilment in the areas of righting wrongs, being recognised for it, and cleverly outwitting the adults committing crimes. Also, it was great to be exposed to the (somewhat outdated, somewhat stereotypical, sometimes accurate) work of a detective.
  • Collector Mentality: somehow, the appeal with the episodic nature of the books, and the great appearance of these books on a long shelf, made me very focused on completing my collection (and reading every single one).
  • Cozy Adventure: of course, the concept of a different adventure every novel was fantastic. I loved having that feeling that the boys and their friends were in danger, but -- in the back of my head -- I always knew the rules that the heroes never die, the heroes never lose were enforced and I just wanted to see how they'd get out of their scrapes this time.
Someone Like Me

Okay, here we go on the Filipino angle on this bit of Americana. Arguably, there's no way that one can concievably think that either of the Hardy Boys would look like me. But somehow I identified with it.

Sure, there is a strong influence of the U.S. over our culture: TV shows imported, books brought in, American Top 40 countdowns on our radio. But I felt that a large part of it was that child(ish) desire for independence, for relevance, for autonomy in my life and a sense of adventure.

And yet, the American Dream was very much imported into our country (as it has been into many countries), so there's a bit of that also in certain places. The dream of a stronger middle class, rather than that horrible gap between the rich and the poor; the dream of a better functioning system of law & order; the dream of a world where the guilty will ultimately be found and punished.

So is it possible that I can't really draw that line of division easily because of that long-standing influence.

However, I do recognise that this series of novels really did draw me into the world of Pulp adventure tropes -- and I liked it, and look fondly back on it these days. I'm curious to see if I can catch that old TV Show and see how it holds up.

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