Wednesday, October 30, 2013

In Defense of the Batman: Again

Sometimes I'm a hair's breadth from unfollowing Cat Valente on Twitter. That would make very little difference to Cat Valente in the long or short-run, but I feel sad about it all the same, in my own way. I am an artist, and I love partaking and consuming art. All art, however, must be taken with a grain of salt--a big, suspension-of-disbelief grain of salt. The kind you have to take insulin for. My art will have to be divorced from my personality. I can, and do, often divorce art from the creator's flaws. Case in point: Batman.

Make no mistake, I am in fact a huge Cat Valente fan. I read her blog. I applaud her efforts to become a happier person and respect her as one of my all-time favorite female roll models. When I set out to write my own novel, I hoped that I could do so with as much grace as Cat Valente. I loved Deathless and I can't wait to read Six Gun Snow White (it's on my to-do list, but Scott Lynch published another book too. I have my priorities when it comes to which witty author I'm going to give my money to). I respect her as a feminist artist (go ahead, tell me all the ways that term offends gender equality advocates), but anyone who profits from the sale of literature as a form of employment should temper her opinions with the same grace with which she writes such astounding poetry. I agree with her opinion yesterday: no one should take Batman seriously as a social allegory. That would be like handing Brad Pitt a Batterang and saying, "Go out there and defend our the people against us, but don't let anyone know you are really a rich playboy because we'd lose all credibility!" It's as hypocritical as I make it sound, but in defense of the Batman, I feel that if you take away the equally classicist assessment of Bruce Wayne as multi-billion dollar playboy and divorce the comic, the show and the movies from their myriad creators' many, many, many flaws, you will see that Bruce Wayne feels obligated to protect those less fortunate because he is wealthy. I believe the purpose of Bruce Wayne's millions is to further the plot and deal with the escalation mentioned by Lieutenant Gordon at the end Batman Begins. I also believe Batman stands as an example to all of those with wealth, proclaiming that their money could be better spent making the world a better place for all people. The character, not the social position, is always in question where Batman is concerned. Notice no one criticizes the Batman for having his technology nor do they question it's use, except by those who feel threatened by Batman's presence; those who control the wealth of Gotham shift the focus from their corruptibility to the Batman's own moral code. "Is the Batman any better than the average citizen? Is the Batman no better than the scum he puts away?" Perhaps not, but that isn't the point. The criticism the Batman faces within the comics, the show, and the movies is deflected to Bruce Wayne, and Bruce Wayne did that on purpose to keep the public's eye off the Batman.

But an opinion expressed in the same thread on Twitter yesterday downright made me mad, and that's why this blog post is a day late. I had to stop being angry. The description of Nolan's Batman as a "fascist militarized prosthesis of the elite" is really quite beside the point. The ideology of entertainment specifically states that one can be as amused by Batman pwning the shit out of Bane as one can be with a gendered reading of Persuasion. I feel, in a most educated opinion, that those who view Batman as an extension of the interests of the elite miss the point of the character entirely. Given Batman's inception in 1941, at the most crucial point of WWII, behind the Incorruptible Himself, Captain America--who's own ideology bears more scrutiny than Batman's--one can hardly wonder at the flaws in his design. Batman came to Gotham at a time when the very foundation of American politics was being tested. Roosevelt had just been elected for a third term, making him the only President to ever reign for more than eight years, and a nervous Congress crushed his hopes of expanding the Supreme Court, which would have limited States' powers of legislation. The Soviet Proletariat had beaten it's Bourgeois back to seemingly it's rightful place in 1919, turning the idea of free market Capitalism into the proverbial joke. War was never far from anyone's mind. Who was protecting the people at home? Who was the voice of free-market Capitalism? While Captain America took his fight to the Nazis, Batman kept his eyes on Gotham's home-front, using his millions to crush those who would harm Gotham's ordinary citizen. He protected children and the elderly. He stopped unsafe and immoral science experiments in their tracks. All of this he did to protect the good people of Gotham who could not protect themselves from the Elite. The character of Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, a character representing destruction not of the status-quo, but of life as we know it, was as indiscriminate as he was fascist. His final fight with Batman can be taken to represent the success of free-market Capitalism at the expense of the 99 percent (after all, Bane only subjugated the Elite, duping the 99 percent into wholesale slaughter). However, this can only happen if you take that fight out of context. Batman was not trying to reap the benefits of the status-quo. Batman protected everyone. No one deserved the be hurt or beaten down. He crushed his own clean energy project, which would have assisted millions if not saved the world, to keep that equally destructive power out of the hands of evil. He stood to profit substantially with his invention. Instead, he destroyed his own company and bankrupted himself. Tell me again how that's an allegory for the "militarized prosthesis of the elite"?

Bane was not even the ultimate villain. He was not meant to destroy the status-quo, which you all so seem to so validly claim. He was a puppet for Talia Al'Ghul, who had absolutely no intention of saving or destroying anyone for any moral or social gain. She, like the Joker before her, "just wanted to watch the world burn." Her hatred ran deep, and if anyone should be deconstructing anything, it should be the character of Talia Al'Ghul. No one seems to find Talia to be a problem except me! Why Talia Al'Ghul? Because Ras Al'Ghul was dead? No one seems to find Talia's quest for vengeance to be petty (not to mention shoddily written)? No. She tries to destroy Gotham; she becomes a member of the Elite to subjugate society for her own use; she funds a clean-energy project to produce a weapon of mass destruction, but Batman is the "militarized prosthesis of the Elite"! Sounds like you confuse Batman with Lex Luthor, my friends.

I became an English major so I wouldn't have to be bombarded with somebody else deconstructing my comic book heroes. I can do that just as well on my own, and every time I do, the Batman comes out on top. I have no love for Superman. Iron Man is just as bad a social allegory as Batman, but Ms. Valente doesn't seem to make that distinction, at least not in the 144 characters Twitter allows us for deep line-level analysis of super heroes. I think I'll take Bruce Wayne over Tony Stark. *Shakes head* I just don't like Robert Downy Jr.

I would like to remind authors that those who consume art--your readers, your customers--that alienating audiences doesn't work. In fact, that's the first rule of  marketing: don't alienate a potential target audience. Ms. Valente pushes that already. I don't exactly recommend Deathless as light reading to my male friends. However, here we hit a snag. How do we, as writers of fiction, not alienate? Someone, somewhere is going to hate our art. For instance, I hate Twilight. Someone is going to hate my novel, when I'm finished and have all the permissions in place to publish it, and I have a feeling it's going to be Cat Valente. I had this feeling the moment I sat down to two male main characters, two female child victims and a slew of other not-PC characters. I am so deeply rooted in my own culture that I have a hard time referring to people of color anything more derogatory than "colored people". My novel is set in 1969 and earlier. I'm gonna have to bust out the N-word. See, I can't even say it! My novel is set during the Vietnam War. I'm gonna have to bust out  the racial slurs that go hand-in-hand with that backdrop. My main characters are pimps and murderers. Somewhere along the way, a strong female character is going to die. Many people in my novel are going to die, and Ms. Valente has already voiced her disdain for Madmen and Breaking Bad, where the villain rides away on a white horse. I have a feeling I'm going to earn that disdain as well. In some ways I'm saddened by that. In other ways, I don't care.

For those about to write difficult subject matter that might make someone mad, I salute you. For those of you who don't want that in their faces, don't participate. This is my defense of the Batman, my own novel, and artists who have the tough job of not writing literary fantasy fiction. Have a problem with it? Don't like it? Don't watch it; don't read it. After that, the problem kind of solves itself.

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