"From Darna to Zsa Zsa Saturnnah: Desire and Fantasy"
Below is a summary of this essay by Rolando Tolentino.
After World War 2, Tagalog magazines returned to publishing stories that majored on realism. Around this time, Mars Ravelo’s Darna came out in Pilipino Komiks** magazine. At the time other magazines in Tagalog such as Liwayway, Aliwan, and Hiwaga fed popular consciousness with tales that bespeak of grim realities besetting the community – in particular, many stories caricatured women as victims in a highly masculine world.
But Darna was, by all counts, a subversion of all such story arch. Darna is not a wimpy woman but a child [Narda] who turns into a super woman stronger than 20 men when she swallows a magic stone. Darna fights a series of out-of-this-world villains—some, like Valentina, ang babaeng ahas, has also become iconic. In his essay, Tolentino proposes the idea that Darna’s entry into popular culture is more symptomatic of a desire, of women in particular, to deviate from the roles streamlined for them as women in a society always hailing the supremacy of men in its narratives.
Some questions about Darna’s “creation” is answered by some background understanding of her “creator”, and by insights on the map of the reigning literatures at the time. Why a superwoman: because Mars Ravelo is raised by a single mother who was a super Nanay (Mother). This alone breaks the notion that the men rule in this country. When it comes to the gist of it all in our daily routine, it is the women who factors in more energy and creative adaptations to the everyday challenges of our homes. But more than this, Tolentino comments that Darna exemplifies what a critic refers to as “DESIRE”. Reading about Darna, people imagine a world where there is a clear delineation between good and evil, and they feel nostalgic for the “good-old-times” of the idyllic patterns of rural life.
A question persists: Does this fantastic creation mirror the lives of the people at the time (post-war) and provide mimetic details of social and political realities? In the beginning of his essay, Roland Tolentino seems to poke at Philippine critics of literature raising their eyebrows on texts which do not conform to the realist mode. Beginning with a quizzical probe on the reactions of Film buffs on Enteng Kabisote’s winning the Metro Manila Film Festival, and ending with an analysis of popular graphic novel-turned-film-turned-play Zsa Zsa Saturnnah, Tolentino argues that indeed, while popular literatures took on escapist forms and forego realities, the escape route of fantasy did make reality even starker, causing the masses to begin to desire for the ideal.
While Darna feeds the women’s desire for superiority, Zsa Zsa Saturnnah feeds the cross gender’s desire to actualize the impossible dream of becoming a full pledged woman. Some other characteristics of this desire feed on the story of the super gay with a funny take on the superstars of popular Filipino movies. (The height of villainy in this graphic tale is perpetuated by aliens named Sharon, Vilma, Nora -- all of them are men haters in this graphic novel.)
Both Darna and Zsa Zsa , Tolentino writes, are deviations and subversions. Darna has become an icon in Philippine popular culture, and her versions may yet get as fantastic as technology will take her. Meanwhile, Zsa Zsa Saturnnah is one among recent subversions against literary conventions considered standard and canonical. These two "popular artifacts" may not be considered “mindless frothy” although they “offer no moral certitude” and “are not serious representations of life.” Their forms are not vehicles that offer any simplistic answer to the troubles of this world; neither are they exposes of anything that is already being experienced by a great number of people. Rather, they expose the different forms of desire as these occur in popular consciousness.