Super heroes are as popular as ever, including my childhood favorite: Batman. Batman evolved out of our need for a more “complex” super hero. The black and white representation of the “good society’ and the “bad criminals” in the golden age gave way to a kind of of heroic cynicism. So enters Batman. A hero who fights against the corruption of institutions as well as the violence on the street. However, even Batman is an avatar of our misunderstandings of the nature of real society and justice. More than just Batman, the idea of dedicated vigilantes with virtue of any kind is pretty much a fairy tale.
There Will Never Be A Joker
Like many others I LOVED Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight. I loved him because he played the villain the world has never known, nor will. You see, the human psyche is not capable of doing something “evil” while being aware of it at the same time. Murderers, psychopaths, rapists, and thieves all act out of a perverted sense of justice or rationalization. The Joker, however, was completely clear-minded about his actions, which is why he was so dangerous.
If there was ever a human being capable of being completely self-aware of their actions, while still acting as intentionally “evil” they would truly be unstoppable. However, even mafia and mob leaders have seemingly contradictory values of family, loyalty, and honor. The idea of a Joker is a phantom in the human psyche, something we all fear but is ultimately non-existent.
What Society Calls “Crime” Is Only Half the Picture
On that line of thinking, people only commit crime when they feel they can no longer trust or rely on society to help them or have their best interests in hand. Thieves feel society hasn’t given them a fair chance at success. Gangs are full of people who are looking for family and acceptance. I am not saying their actions are justified, just again pointing out they don’t see themselves the way we do.
To be a “Batman” or superhero requires a kind of pure conviction. You have to believe, whole heartedly, you are fighting evil to justify the sacrifice and stress of the job. Even soldiers struggle to maintain that kind of blind conviction. More and more, society is learning that crime is really just a symptom of greater issues in our social systems and institutions.
You Can’t Fight Crime and NOT Kill People
It makes for good TV, and keeps Saturday morning cartoons running, but idea of a vigilante never killing people is just silly. Even if you never TRIED to kill anyone, people are going to die just by the natural violence of fighting. People die today in boxing areas, MMA, and even regular sports’ accidents. There is an old Samurai code, “Do not draw your sword until you are ready to kill.” This is the true nature of conflict and violence. On that note, I think even our real police draw guns too flippantly.
“Us vs. Them” is a Mental Disorder
The infamous MMPI (or Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory) test lead to the common misunderstanding that police and criminals have “the same psychology.” What the test really showed was that VIOLENT police, the kind we now catch on camera beating people, have the same psychology as many VIOLENT criminals. That psychology? The belief of “us vs. them” and good guys vs. bad guys.
Violent criminals have often come to believe that society is against them. While violent cops often believe that they are here to fight evil criminals. Either way, “us vs. them” is a mental disorder as the very root of all violence. Sadly, our history of super-hero stories have fed our appetites for this simple black-and-white conflict.
The Kind of Heroes We Really Need
The best police officers, and they are out there, are the ones who appreciate the complexities of society. They don’t see their job as “good vs. evil” but a job of trying to protect people, often even from themselves. Anytime we think we are truly the “heroes” of a story or situation, we are at the greatest risk of creating evil ourselves. We need less stories about “good vs. evil” and more stories about people working to overcome their own evils together.
Now, I am still going to watch any and every Batman movie out and yet to come, because Batman awesome. I am just going to keep in mind the story is fiction. Besides, Superman is the real “good vs. evil” tool anyway.