Why Batman Isn’t a Wingnut

Recently, a friend of mine clicked on a Batman-related TV show clip that found its way to the front page of Reddit. The segment came from a British talk show (one that I can’t seem to find the name of), and featured Reginald D Hunter, an American stand-up comedian working out of the U.K., expressing his views on the Caped Crusader. The content of the video turned out to be so disrespectful to the Dark Knight that, out of sheer common decency, I had to excuse myself from the room.

“I don’t respect the concept of Batman because of what I understand about politics now,” Hunter said.  He went on to add that the concept of Batman could be summed up as a rich guy that owns a corporation and who uses his wealth and influence to beat up street-level criminals.  Hunter says that he never hears of Batman targeting white collar criminals, the Murdochs and Trumps of the world as he described them, leaving him to conclude that Batman must be on their side.

“Batman is a conservative’s wet dream. Fuck Batman,” Hunter said.

Fuck Batman? I don’t know who this comedian is, I am not familiar with his work, but that is one of the least funny or clever or impressive things I think I could ever hear a person say. It’s like saying… No, actually, I honestly can’t think of anything that is tantamount to saying “Fuck Batman.” It’s probably the worst combination of words in the modern English language.

And if there is anybody reading this that is a conservative and wants to feel a little sense of pride in finding these similarities that Batman seems to have to your school of political thought, I am not trying to say Batman can’t vote a certain way (even though I couldn’t see him voting anyway but social liberal, but that’s me).

I am just trying to say that I don’t believe that Batman is cut from the same conservative cloth as the politicians that Hunter is referring to. The ones who, when one says “conservative” in a way that makes it sound like a dirty word, they take it personal; heartless windbags who blame all the world’s problems on the sick, the poor and the disenfranchised. It’s this ugly stereotype of conservatives that Hunter is seemingly equating to the Dark Knight. Batman is not one of those guys. He simply isn’t.

Now, we’ve heard this sort of argument before, primarily from the musings of Frank Miller who, around the time of his phenomenal mini-series “The Dark Knight Returns” in 1986, started to toy with the concept of the superhero as a fascist. His logic was that anyone who could dress up in a costume and take to the streets illegally to dispense their own brand of justice, to enforce their own morals upon the people, upon penalty of severe physical violence, was a fascist.

Sure. When you put it that way. And this distorted but valid critique of the superhero has influenced his work in the genre ever since. But while you can certainly spin the concept of superheroes that way, that isn’t where the concept originates. Batman doesn’t go out to impose his singular totalitarian will upon the people, but to aid police in enforcing the law when they are up against a threat that they themselves can’t face, be it physical, tactical, or psychological. Batman was, after all, created after Zorro, a hero of the people who fought on their behalf against the ruling class.

We also heard rumblings of Batman’s conservative leanings when The Dark Knight came to theaters in 2008, which I’m assuming is the Batman film that Hunter’s friend had asked if he had seen at the beginning of Hunter’s anecdote. In the film, Batman essentially uses the mobile phone signals of all the people in Gotham as a big sonar to hunt down the elusive Joker. Some people saw this as an invasion of privacy, and an attempt to justify the Bush administration’s security initiatives during the War on Terror. Which might be true if the problem wasn’t already addressed in the film by the character of Lucius Fox, who Batman uses as a mediator between himself and the device, and who he later gives permission to destroy it. A desperate measure, yes, but one only to be used once.

And while we’re on the subject of The Dark Knight, it would be interesting to point out that if Hunter had seen the film, he would be treated to a scene of Batman stopping an instance of white collar crime. Early on in the film, Bruce Wayne and Lucius Fox determine that the Hong Kong business man that they want to do business with, Lau, is in fact working very closely with the mob in Gotham City. In one of the film’s most glorious action set pieces, Wayne uses his wealth, technology and influence to go into China as Batman to retrieve Lau and return him to Gotham for the police to deal with him. One less corrupt business man in the world, and one less leg for Hunter to stand on in his tirade against Batman.

Hunter’s other point seems to be that Batman uses his abilities and his status to grant himself the power to fly around the streets at night and beat up poor people. This is a gross distortion of the truth, one on par with the stinkers dropped by some of the conservative politicians Hunter is almost certainly comparing Batman to. As I said before, he (the fictional character of Batman) does what he does to aid local law enforcement in a war against crime that is occurring in his (fictional) city, a war that the police are losing. Aside from a strong mob presence, Gotham is overrun with freaks and goons and whackos that the police could never hope to combat alone. These are not downtrodden citizens turning to shoplifting for a meager bite to eat, these are wealthy gangsters, domestic terrorists and/or serial killers. And if Batman happens to stomp an occasional purse snatcher, oh well. You can’t blame him. The guy saw his parents gunned down by one when he was eight, I think he’s aware of the outcome of those situations if someone doesn’t intervene.

At the end of the day, all of this is pointless gibberish. I know that. I’m typing this column with tongue planted firmly in cheek, and I’d hope that in the off chance that Hunter ever reads this column he will find the humor in it or at least the absurdity of it. These characters are superheroes. They don’t give a shit about who is “liberal” or “conservative.” Humans do, because humans are dumb and insist on dividing each other up and bitching about politics as though we have a say in them. Superheroes are cooler than politics any day of the week. Politics exist in the boring world of adult humans, where minds have become so narrowed that nothing makes sense anymore except capital. Let’s try not to drag superheroes down to their level.

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Mike Greear is a journalism graduate from the University of West Florida currently living in New York City. During his time as an undergraduate, he reported on everything from Presidential campaign stops to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, eventually working his way up to being the editor-in-chief of the University of West Florida’s student newspaper, The Voyager. Since graduating, he worked briefly as a reporter for Foster’s Daily Democrat in New Hampshire, reporting on crime and municipal stories in the city of Rochester as well as interviewing Republican primary candidates, before returning to Florida and freelancing for the Pensacola News Journal. He now resides in Long Island City, writing weekly columns for Sequart.org and hoping to break into the comics scene.

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