Since the first night I selected my own pajamas, they have been Batman pajamas. This is not mere coincidence or boyhood hero-worship, this is proof of the far-reaching influence of Batman. Batman is a typical hero, considering his goals, but only in that way does he relate to most characters in the DC universe. Batman has dense layers of psychological baggage that skew his position as a defender of the innocent into more of a Bat-themed martial arts gestapo. Yet, I do not know a single human being who thinks Batman sucks. What’s interesting to me, is why we’re okay with this. The quandary of Batman’s weight on our cultural mentality or, at least, what he represents is something deeply rooted in the minds of everyone who has seen him.
In part, Batman illuminates the contradictory internal forces that drive us. His crusade for justice is, in itself, a beautiful and courageous moral quest but his motivations are entirely selfish. Bruce Wayne would have grown up to be a normal businessman engulfed in deals, projects and philanthropy had his parents not been murdered. It wouldn’t be impossible for Bruce to become a public crusader; cleaning up the city through economic and social reform as his father had but his selfishness caused him to turn down the grittier path. Bruce Wayne would never get the tiny bits of vengeance from laying the law down on goons without literally beating the black off their masks. He needs that. No amount of municipal power can bring him that close to psychological freedom. Even though his actions are motivated by his personal needs, the results are beneficial for everybody.
That’s what everyone wants: To be in line with the massive cultural perspective on accident. Anyone would be like Jesus. No one gave Christ his mission of redemption, he just did it because it was the right thing to do, which is the same as Batman. No force literally decreed that Bruce Wayne shall dress as a Bat and maul criminals until peace reigns over Gotham. He does it because for him, it’s the right thing to do.
This phenomenon speaks to our desires, especially as young adults who yearn for a destiny to be pressed upon us. Being forced into something is easier than choosing to do something. We can make ourselves happy despite the circumstances, and there is power in that but choosing to do something means we’ve unknowingly accepted the responsibility of being happy by choice. Being happy by choice is quite possibly the most difficult portion of our mental lives. Batman has the luxury of being forced into a lifestyle that coincides with the popular opinion of no-holds-barred righteousness. Translated, this means that he accidentally chose to be a pinnacle of humanity. Who doesn’t want to slip and end up as a hero?
Batman physically embodies the insanity of regular people. Bruce Wayne is shackled by social norms while Batman can freely travel through the ludicrous fringes of society. Batman breaks out of the intangible restraints to literally deliver justice instead of playing at representational justice like the judicial system. A thief robs a jewelry store and Batman beats the piss out of him. The same situation under the judicial system would be treated by incarceration and citation. The latter is by far, the less enjoyable of the two. This is something we all understand but cannot act upon because our engagement with society forbids us from taking the law into our own hands. Batman weaponizes the law to bring about what he, and the rest of us, know to be right.
Regular people live this desire out vicariously through Batman. Most of us can discern right from wrong and would prefer to pummel a transgressor rather than watch a lengthy trial that may turn against our favor. Batman has no fear of that because it doesn’t happen to him; He has the virtue of being insane.
Insanity is defined as a a defect of reason, so much so that the subject doesn’t know what it is doing. I feel I can safely assume Batman has never second-guessed the implications of donning the cowl. He’s magnetized for retribution, Batman can’t stop himself from fighting crime. There have been several occasions where the Bat’s life has been destroyed and a few of his friends murdered but that didn’t deter him from his quest. Having justice as the goal somewhat justifies Batman’s insanity but it doesn’t exempt him from being a psychopath. Any man who leaps from rooftop to rooftop dressed in tight leather bat-suit is probably unstable, of that there is no argument. However, it is in this insanity where people find a kinship with Batman.
A fanatical devotion to a specific area of life is what makes a master. Sherlock Holmes, Bruce Lee, Django Reinhardt and Rolling Stones are all examples of this. They do one thing but they do that one thing with such conviction that an observer can’t help but be pulled into one of their worlds by the gravity of their mastery. When someone reads a Batman comic, that someone understands the basic components of the story. Batman is going to endure some tragedy, be beaten passed the point of human comprehension and through his indomitable willpower, he will fight through all of it for the sake of what is right. The depths he pulls himself out of is what makes the story. People love to watch Batman go deeply into Hell just to rip himself out of the hopeless turmoil using completely irrational motivations. This isn’t a singular archetype though, Batman uses the same motivational techniques as most heroes we love: “Because I must.” There is no logic in this, there is no rationality, but there is a wide agreement among all people. Some things, you just have to do. This inability to rationally progress through a situation is common to us as readers. It’s staying the course regardless of the counter-intuitive logical process, it’s almost akin to simply refusing to die.
Our most powerful motivations are irrational. Love, Hate, Despair, Boredom and a myriad of other emotions trump logic when it comes to pushing us along. No story has ever been created detailing the adventures of someone who calculates his chance of success and, based on that, goes on to play Madison Square Garden. This is simply because that doesn’t happen. Rationality is important for pragmatic decisions but pragmatism is marginalized by the poetry of finding your calling. Batman embodies this as he uses analysis to deduce results but when he comes to the climax of a mystery, it’s his complete refusal to lose – not his ability to win – that grants him triumph.
The last thing that cements Batman into our collective memory is his double-life. Bruce Wayne and Batman are hyperbolic versions of the every-man’s public persona and the private persona. We understand this concept all too well. Batman is easier to relate to than Bruce Wayne. More of us feel like avengers of a forgotten creed than billionaires, just like how more of us relate to our social lives than our work lives. Batman has friends, Bruce Wayne does not. Similarly, our co-workers aren’t necessarily our friends. We go to work as Bruce Wayne and we wait until the sun goes down to become Batman. Most people have a face they show strangers and customers throughout the day, most people take on a form of censorship during work hours and in general, we stifle the more abstract sides of our personality until we are in privacy or the company of trusted friends. Bruce Wayne is an elaborate ruse Batman utilizes until he returns to the company of Alfred or the dark. He literally lives a double-life that we relate to. The only difference is Batman swings from extreme all the way across the spectrum to the other extreme while most of us scoot a few sections. We don’t curse at work and that may be the only difference but Bruce Wayne shifts his whole persona. His change in personality reflects the one we go through and this effect opens the channels through which we relate to Batman.