Monday, February 9, 2009

Name Calling

Too often in our society we fall into the intellectual trap of applying easy labels to people and ideals. We are a generally intellectually lazy society and the ability to apply a label or to type-cast an individual or group makes it easier for us to put them in a little box in our mind and not really put any more thought into our dealings with the idea or person. Labels make our lives easier. We love labels, especially pejorative labels that allow us to set up an artificial "Us versus Them" scenario. This kind of thinking is the refuge of the lazy. If you are too lazy to take the time and effort to think and educate yourself in order to make reasoned arguments, then the next best course of action is to label your antagonist with a nasty name that will inspire equally slothful individuals to avoid any serious though and deal with the clean label, not the messy ideal. This does not mean that there are not equally lazy bastards out there that will fit the definition of your label and not make any attempt to rise above it. These individuals that embrace and relish the simplicity of the label are to be held in contempt for their views and for their simplicity.

In Frank Miller's seminal BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, readers and critics have found grounds to accuse Miller's version of Batman and by implication, Miller, of being a fascist and/or terrorist. Charges that the author has done nothing to dismiss and at times has embraced. Miller is an author and artist, a creature of the modern media culture. He knows the powerful cache these terms carry. He can be forgiven for indulging in a little name calling himself, if only because it only enforces one of the powerful themes of his work; the creation of public opinion through media manipulation. The reality of Miller's work, and really all Batman stories since Bob Kane first brought the character to life, is that implications of fascism and terrorism have always been with Batman. A cursory read of historical Batman stories will reveal the undercurrent that breakthrough to center stage in Miller's work. To say that Miller made Batman a fascist or a terrorist is to not only demonstrate ignorance of the history of Batman, but also an intellectual laziness and lack of ability to see the depth of the character.

Lets have a little reality check on our vision of Batman. Batman is a rich man who has never been able to move past a formative emotional wound. He uses physical violence as his primary means of conflict resolution. He is a primarily martial character who does not let a day go by without a violent confrontation with the worst our society can produce. He is Batman more than Bruce Wayne. He is trying to impose order on a world that has shown him only disorder and chaos.

Now, looking at Batman in the light of the preceding paragraph; how can any rational mind expect Batman to be a pleasant man, concerned for any one's sense of propriety and civility? Batman willingly engages in physical combat with the mentally damaged and society's underprivileged. To state this another way; he beats the mentally ill and the poor with his fists until they are unconscious. This is not a new development, he has been doing this since 1938. To accuse Miller of writing a fascist is to let Kane off the hook.

So, if you want to label Batman a fascist, you are by implication, placing all of the vigilantes of our literary history in the same group. Scarlet Pimpernel? Even worse, he protected the rich elites from a democratic revolution. Hamlet? A severe Freudian oedipal complex who is trying to summons the nerve to confront his father's killer. Spiderman? Sexually repressed teen that beats his repression out on the criminal class.

What do we expect our Batman to be? He is a hard man, in the tradition of the individualistic American hero that takes on the psychic guilt of his society in order to fight the monsters that lesser men can not face. He is Gary Cooper in HIGH NOON or John Wayne in the SEARCHERS, except he does not get his happy ending. Batman's war will never end. He will challenge you to be better that you are, or at least a more violent you.

So, is it accurate or fair to label Batman a fascist or a terrorist? The reality is that a man or a good character is a complicated subject. Batman is a fascist and a terrorist, and he is not. By using these labels, we deny ourselves the satisfaction of coming to a deeper understanding of the character and ourselves. Sometimes the world does function under its underlying Darwinian principal. When someone higher on the food chain is at your door, are you going to criticize your savior's philosophical bent? Do we expect the man who has the audacity to go out into the dark night and confront the monsters that we have created in our society and minds to either neatly fit our bourgeois ideas of genteel society? He will be a man that is objectionable to polite company because he shows us how weak we are. He will dare to be a fully actualized person in a world of the lazy and weak. We will hate him.

Batman has survived for seventy years, attracting new readers and writers due to his complexity and his iconography. He was a complicated character even when written in the simplest of terms for a juvenile audience. We can take up the challenge of understanding the character or we can label him and put him in a little box.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. For the most part I could read through this with ease, however there are some minor mistakes with grammar and just mistyped words. I am a person that reads every word and when I am examining someone's writing I notice those things; they stick out to me . I liked the form that you put your argument in; it not only proves your point but, also raises questions for the reader to examine. Your comparisons were strong but, I think if you added references of scenes in our reading it would solidify your argument even greater. Defiantly a perspective that I haven't seen presented; gave a refreshing look at Batman.

  3. I agree that it is easy for someone to just throw a label at someone or something just because they don't approve of Batman or other vigilantes.

    Try typing your blogs in Microsoft Word before submitting them. This would take out the typos like "though" instead of thought and lets instead of let's.

    You seem to label all labelers as lazy and sloth like in your first paragraph. The prompt for this blog didn't say WHO said Batman was a terrorist; it could be a literary critic with good thought out evidence.

    I liked your use of outside examples to make your point. It’s very effective. A little lengthy, but i liked it anyway.