Friday, November 6, 2015

Batman, The Bad Man

Sometimes you find an argument so dumb that you really just have to respond to it.

This is one of those times.

Listen, let's just get this out of the way: superheroes are bad. At best they're objectivist fantasies of the "empowered individual" who keeps society in line by the power of their own moral values; at worst they're fascist celebrations of systemic violence against real-life marginalized groups. People claim that superheroes don't affect them and then say that Rorschach and the Punisher have the right idea. We've been over this.

So, point by point, here is a refutation of all the stupid shit Dean Trippe said.

First off, Batman fights those would would endanger others.

So why doesn't he fight himself? Anyways, he's spent a bunch of time chasing after bank robbers, so even within the fictional confines of crime-ridden Gotham City, Batman (like all superheroes) has intentionally worsened tense situations. Bank robbery is a crime that does not involve the average person. It's entirely between the police, the banks, and the robbers. Escalating those situations into violence is the only way that regular people will ever be in danger in a bank robbery unless the robbers are also total psychopaths. Even the famous North Hollywood shootout (directly inspired by the fictional bank robbery in "Heat") only hurt civilians once the police got involved (also like the movie "Heat").

On top of that, dude is all the time giving criminals second chances.

And yet it never seems to work. What's the lesson we're supposed to draw from that? Weird that a good-intentioned but non-functional incarceration system would convince so many comic book fans that murdering criminals is a good idea.

Yeah, he’s such a Republican. Dude helps fund the police crime lab, manages outreach programs and scholarships, donates to every freaking charity in the city, and STILL spends all his time and money saving your hatin’ ass, because THAT’S WHO HE IS.

"Fictional man with infinite money capable of doing everything still chooses to run around in bat suit getting in fights". That's the argument you're going with, and that's supposed to make him look noble. Like, you never even stopped to consider an alternative form of law enforcement beyond "Bruce Wayne puts on a bat suit and punches people". Hey, here's an idea: if crime is so bad that the police can't handle it even with a billionaire genius helping them out, THERE'S SOMETHING ELSE GOING WRONG IN THIS SITUATION.

Please tell me Bruce Wayne isn’t for higher taxes for after school programs, public housing, and healthcare, all of which reduce crime

Okay, I will: Bruce Wayne isn't for that shit because there has never been "reduced crime" in Gotham. If there was, the regular police would be able to handle crime, and Bruce Wayne wouldn't need to be dealing with it personally. This seems super obvious, guy.

Batman poured his bleeding heart out on the floor before congress to get federal assistance when Gotham needed it.

Ah, nothing says "bleeding heart" like a rich man asking congress for taxpayer funds.

Batman FREQUENTLY adopts orphans whose parents he couldn’t save or who generally just need his help. (Robinhood is like the Big Brother program, but replace Big with Bat.)

This is the one that made me write this article. This dude earnestly believes that putting children in harm's way is good and noble because "Robinhood is like the Big Brother program". You know, I've worked in a mentorship program with children, and I can assure you that if I'd ever encouraged a child to go out and fight criminals, I would probably have ended up in jail. Most cultures frown on child soldiers.

Batman is hardcore BFFs with the biggest liberal softy in the DCU, Superman, whom he respects, both for his work as a superhero AND a member of the fourth estate.

Cartoon man with infinite power respects different cartoon man with different infinite power. Wow, so noble. Certainly Superman can't possibly have any flaws, right? I mean, it's not like there have been multiple stories dealing with the possibility of a man with infinite power being even slightly corrupted or dogmatic. No, obviously Batman's association with Superman means he's a leftist. This is obvious.

Batman fights rich criminals all the damn time, son. And you know what? If you hench for a homicidal maniac, sometimes you get batarang’d and them’s the breaks. You don’t get to hurt people and get away with it in Gotham City. Not anymore.

Okay, you don't even know what you're saying anymore.

Batman doesn’t kill. Batman doesn’t use guns. Batman wants the mentally ill to get help, not be sent to prison. Is it working out great? NOT REALLY, BECAUSE WE ALL WANT MORE ROGUES GALLERY STORIES. Blame the fans for the failure of Arkham, not Batman. Dude’s doing his level best, and it’s a damn sight better than any of you are doing.

And this is the other reason I wrote this article: because this dude seamlessly shifts from "justifying Batman's decisions in-universe" to "blaming the fans for making the universe like that in the first place". This is an admission of defeat. Batman doesn't make sense, so you blame the fans and creators for making him not make sense - as though Batman is a real person who's been trapped in a ridiculous fictional world. I mean, look at that. It's a fundamental failure to understand the way fiction works.

Gotham is bad. Gotham is relentlessly bad. Why is it bad? Because it needs to be that way to justify Batman. This dude is happy to use that fact to defend Batman's existence, but then when he can't justify it anymore, he criticizes Gotham's existence for his own failures. Hey buddy, spoiler alert: if Gotham wasn't like that, Batman would have zero reasons to exist. He'd be so stupid and pointless that there'd be no way to justify him. By attacking Gotham's fictional situation you're essentially saying "yes he's bad, but it's bad because we like watching a man in a bat suit punch people", which would be a true statement.

Fiction is shaped the way it's shaped for a reason. You want a story about a strong individual rich man fighting the lower classes, and Gotham gave it to you. You can't bite the hand that feeds you, dude. Gotham is your fantasy. Gotham is what you wanted. You want to be the rich, powerful man who everyone looks up to and everyone needs. And the only way you can get that is through perpetual conflict.

This is the problem with people who think "fiction doesn't affect reality". Escapism isn't some abstract soup, where you're just randomly given things. You, the reader, are pursuing an ideal. Batman exists because its readers want to vicariously be powerful and strong and capable, and Gotham is a city where that can happen. It's fundamentally the same as a middle schooler hoping terrorists attack his school so that he can show off his sweet karate moves. Trying to pretend there's no real values involved is so obviously ridiculous that the only way you could do it is if you've been told all your life that fiction doesn't count. And guess what? Nerds have been told that. Over and over and over and over and over.

Batman is a story for children. These children are taught that crime exists in a certain way, and should be dealt with in a certain way. These children grow up to be adults who believe rape culture isn't real ("because we all know thugs in alleys are bad") and that crime-fighting is simple and easy.

You know, there's superheroes in real life. And generally, they don't work out. There's a bunch of reasons for it, but the core one is that an INDIVIDUAL COMBATANT, with NO ACCOUNTABILITY, is not the best way to fight crime. The idea of criminals being super-obvious and easily spotted is a myth that was necessary for this mindset. In reality, people like that are going to make mistakes just as often as they get it right - and unless they're held accountable for those mistakes, they're just going to make things worse.

Superheroes are a story that our society propagates because the idea of a strong, violent individual is at the core of masculine fantasies. It has never been about "results". It has always been about celebrating "individual badassness". And it's really hard for people to argue that fiction doesn't affect them when they're making genuine arguments about how vigilantes are a good idea.


  1. Oh, wow, I am embarrassed for that man. Apparently his feelings about superheroes, especially Batman, has something to do with childhood trauma.

    The number of people willing to swallow Trippe's dribble uncritically is kind of disappointing. Dude basically tied himself into a pretzel trying to rationalize Batman into some liberal hero. It's also pretty telling how he conflates being leftist and being a decent person. Like dude, read up on the damages Western Liberal do in poorer countries or in their own countries.

    It's also fast becoming a pet-peeve of mine when someone implies that mentally ill or developmentally slow people are prone to criminality or violence.

  2. Replies
    1. They're bad.

      Longer version: The X-Men are used to falsely represent real oppressed minorities (Jews during the holocaust, homosexuals in the Singer films) and the equivalence never works because unlike real oppressed minorities, the X-Men DO in fact have insane powers and CAN easily overcome regular humans if they choose to. Regular humans who want to keep tabs on mutants are constantly portrayed as villainous (in comparison to the benevolent Xavier). It's not an ethnic minority argument, it's a gun control argument. And just like Marvel's "Civil War", the people who want accountability and regulation are portrayed as the villains. They're not the ONLY villains, of course, because there are actual terrorist mutants (and in Civil War's case, murderous vigilantes), which means that the authorities' concerns are totally justified.

      Although if you want a really overtly shitty superhero story - The Incredibles tops them all.

    2. The Incredibles is a hugely overt Objectivist piece. The first quarter of the movie is spent whining about how oversensitive normal people are holding back the SUPERIOR HUMANS. Lots of complaining about "participation trophies" and "celebrating mediocrity". Then, later, the villain's plan is literally "give everyone superpowers, in order to spite the superheroes". And this is just accepted as a villainous plan, by its very nature. And that's just the core concept. The movie's "dark edge", which people loved it for, is basically a conservative wet dream - Syndrome's soldiers are so sociopathically loyal that a literal child is forced to kill them in self-defense, and this is never considered traumatizing or something he'll need therapy for. It's considered "fun". And at the end of the movie, the superpowered vigilantes are back in business, dragging their children into combat, and this is considered a win for humanity.

      It's a movie that's obvious propaganda in every facet of its design, and people just went "wow, what a fun movie" because it fit genre conventions.

    3. just destroyed the movie for me.
      Crazy because i can't think of anything farthest from objectivism than the concept of Superhero, i mean a superhero by definition is someone who has superior powers and uses them to do the good of others, even at his/her own expense, that seems completely antithetical to a philosophy that preaches greed and selfishness as holy tenets.

      Also, i think that Dean is right on one thing: the format of comic books is the problem, they don't have an ending so you can't have character arcs that work(although sometimes they may try to refresh characters).

      To you, how could Superhero comics be made less problematic? are there any comics that to you subvert these flaws(or at least minimize them)?

    4. >i mean a superhero by definition is someone who has superior powers and uses them to do the good of others, even at his/her own expense, that seems completely antithetical to a philosophy that preaches greed and selfishness as holy tenets.

      Objectivism preaches charity "when you feel like it"; it's opposed to being *forced* to give money away. Conservatives make the same argument: they don't hate "charity", they hate being FORCED to give money away, because they want it to be about *their* choice.

      Objectivism isn't about selfishness so much as it's about "self-determination", and self-determination is exactly what superheroes are about. It's individual citizens with prominent, colorful identities going out and stopping crime by themselves, outside of the law. And their rationale is "only I can do it, the cops can't do it, only me".

      And yes, Dean is correct, that the format of comic books is part of the problem - but that's the whole POINT of comic books. Superhero stories are about making up a ridiculous, impossible situation so that the idea of a costumed vigilante is morally acceptable and not "batshit insane". If you take that away there's no reason for superheroes in the first place. Superheroes are bad.

      >To you, how could Superhero comics be made less problematic? are there any comics that to you subvert these flaws(or at least minimize them)?

      I think there are good comics about superhumans, but none that successfully cast them as heroic. "Superman: Red Son", "Irredeemable", "Watchmen", etc - and even they don't really come close to actually *breaking down* the core concepts.

    5. Pretty retarded analysis, J Shea. Syndrome is a villain because of the way he plans to become a hero: By creating an artificial villain to kill innocents so Syndrome can be viewed as a hero by the general public. And of course the idea of superheroes is a ridiculous one, the way you try to politicize everything reminds me of my high school english teacher who, whenever he showed us a movie, would pause it every 5 minutes to discuss the symbolism behind it. Guess what, not everything in fiction is intended to have a real world meaning behind it. You can find symbolism in just about anything and manipulate it enough so that it fits a real world equivalent.

      "hurr everything is political and im always right about everything" -J Shea

    6. >Syndrome is a villain because of the way he plans to become a hero: By creating an artificial villain to kill innocents so Syndrome can be viewed as a hero by the general public.

      Oh, weird, you're telling me it's wrong to want a villain to show up just so you can be adulated for heroism? But isn't that exactly what superhero comics are built on? Aren't you fetishizing that same selfish desire?

      (Also lol that you had to copy-paste the rest of this comment somewhere else. Go home, you're drunk.)

  3. This is great stuff. I sent it to my Bamman Loving Manchild Friend (The kind with an insured action figure collection) and he was gloriously butthurt, but couldn't do much but reiterate Trippe's nonsensical drivel.

    Thanks for your articles and posts, I find them incredibly enlightening, even if I'm sometimes myself like "whoa nelly" because things I either previously enjoyed or I think I enjoyed are challenged.

    Such a weird world when we define ourselves by the shit we ingest.

    Anyhoo, is/are there any stories, in general, regardless of format or medium, where someone or something is presented in as close an approximation of what "good superheroes" could be? If not, what would that even look like?

    Like the monolith from 2001?

    1. If by "good superheroes" you mean good stories that are about superheroes, then as I mentioned in another comment, there's deconstructor stories like Irredeemable, Red Son, Watchmen, etc.

      If by "good superheroes" you mean "a story that depicts superheroes as good", then no, they're all bad. Superheroes are a bad concept dependent on a simplified black-and-white view of morality.

    2. " Superheroes are a bad concept dependent on a simplified black-and-white view of morality."

      Can you prove your statement please? You seem very fond of treating your opinion as fact.

    3. "Bad" is an opinion. "Dependent on a simplified black-and-white view of morality" is a fact. I feel like you should learn the difference between those concepts before you start talking shit, because, you know, kind of important to prevent you from looking like an idiot.

      As for proving that superheroes are dependent on a black-and-white view of morality...I mean, seriously? Do you genuinely think that superhero comics represent a nuanced, realistic view of morality? And if so, have you ever actually participated in real life?

  4. I really like Batman, but hell, you are right!
    Dean makes some rather valid points (Batman fights villains that are far more powerful or resourceful than police forces, as many other superheroes do), but still, superhero narrative relies on power fantasies, fascist ideollogy and maintaining the status quo.
    Great comment about how recognizing criminals is not as easy as recognizing Joker's henchmen, and I loved to read someone else think that Civil War and X-Men are about Gun Control policies (and how those stories portray people who want better control as 'villanous').

  5. I mean like, the thing is there's so many different versions of batman and gotham that it's hard to say one thing does exist and one thing doesn't. Like yes, batman is not an antidote to the problem of crime. Batman is a weird pulp hero with sketchy politics. But our modern incarnation of batman was really formed by two things, the rebranding specifically for children when he got his own series and robin (in the first couple stories he was literally just this grim vigilante who would let criminals die) and then the grimdarkening ~ the 80s when they wanted batman to be 'realistic' despite the fact that it makes no semblance of sense. But batman is also not the best example in the way of superheroes. Like, original original original superman by siegel and shuster was a response to rampant crime and governmental corruption of the time. Superman was designed as a man you couldn't have killed for fighting institutions. He accomplishes the majority of his good work as muckraker journalist clark kent and when there's really something that a regular person just can't do, the time where reality and despair and helplessness would set in, superman gets involved. he fought a very specific breed of crime and eradicating crime was never his goal unlike batman. i guess all i'm saying is read some of the original superman comics from the 30s and i'd really like to see your thoughts & opinion on them, good or bad

    1. You haven't really said anything new. Superheroes are built around the idea that super-powerful vigilantes will fix things that organizations can't. It's the same principle as all the "cowboy cops" in media. It's an appeal to "rugged individualism" and a contempt for cooperation and bureaucracy. It's why there's so many police shows where things like warrants and Miranda rights are treated with contempt - because the American public loves stories where an individual they KNOW is "right" is allowed to do whatever they want.

      Superman was designed as a response to "rampant crime", you say. So were most action heroes of the 80s. The problem is that their solution is 100% violence based, which is also a hallmark of the American mindset. Jack Bauer doesn't beat terrorism through a long-reaching campaign of hearts and minds. Jack Bauer beats terrorism by shooting and torturing the terrorists until (theoretically) there are no more. And people loved him for it, even though we've tried that strategy in REAL LIFE for about a decade and a half and it obviously hasn't worked.

    2. (am same poster) i think it's a different strain it's keyed into. there is a LOT of superhero media that's about that, but, imo that's the worst of the genre. and then there's the outlandish fantastic stories that aren't even about real world problems. i don't think some is about individualism as much as it's about self-sacrifice. the only superhero stuff i know that's like 'blugh mugh bureaucracy and warrants etc' is like, punisher and the worst of batman and gross dirty harry/lethal weapon type garbage which isn't as common as it would seem? like i guess to go back to original superman. his solutions to problems weren't 100% violence based. there's stories in the first issue of superman about him forcing a war profiteer to fight in the war he started, and in disguise putting a mine owner and other wealthy people (they were having a party) in the super unsafe mine conditions that he refused to improve, (while superman made sure no one was harmed) like, he didn't just go around punching stuff. and long reaching campaigns of hearts and minds is something a looot of superheroes do it's just, not the easiest and quickest way to make + sell comics. clark kent is a fantastic reporter who's more a part of early superman stories than it would seem. wonder woman is an ambassador(and not really ever a crime fighter) who engages politically to help the world. like the whole violent regular criminal puncher is a big problematic thing but it's also a pretty small section of the genre nowadays

    3. All superhero stuff is about that because otherwise there'd be no reason for "superheroes" as a concept. Superheroes are vigilantes who put on distinct costumes and fight crime on their own, with only the loosest possible organizations. Pretty much any arc where the superhero is expected to cede to authority (i.e. Civil War) plays the pro-registration side as evil and corrupt. Superheroes are an individualist fantasy. If they weren't, they wouldn't exist. People want to be superheroes because they want to be stronger/more powerful than everyone else and they don't want anyone telling them what to do.

      Also, those examples re: Superman are him forcing people to do things with violence. Like, yes, he's showing them why the things they do are bad, but he's able to do that because of the threat of violence. Yes, I'm sure there are segments of comics where Green Lantern tousles the hair of some tow-headed kid named Ricky or whatever and tells him to stay away from The Marijuana Gangsters, but, like, he's still a super-powerful space guy and people read his comic to watch him punch people.

      Finally: yes, action sells comics. But the last time I checked, "popularity" and "economic viability" were not good moral signifiers.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.