Batman in the Real World

Promise me that, when you look up this essay on the SmartPop website, that you’ll read the essay all the way to the end. And promise me that you’ll remember that I wrote it a number of years ago, so some of the references are out of date.  Okay? Now that all of that is out of the way, check out “Batman in the Real World.”

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8 Comments

  1. Whoo. No holds barred there. I like it! When I think of US darkness and anger, I think of the executions in Mankato, Minnesota.

    I wonder when “vigilante” came into Spanish? “Guerrilla,” if I remember right, originated in the Napoleonic wars.

    Your closing line is one of the main parts of the really psycho disturbing stuff I like the most – I love it, nothing like it, in fiction, but I would rather the dark stuff /stay in the imagination/.

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  2. Very nice essay.

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  3. Trait #1: Bush Rebels Against Authority

    Nope. He acted under the authority of Congress.

    Trait #2: Bush Has His Own Way of Doing Things

    Sure. Just like every human being on the planet.

    Trait #3: The Bush Way of Doing Things Is Often Violent

    Yes, (if you’re not talking about the personal level; there’s no evidence that Bush is a particularly violent person.)
    However, some would say that protecting the country is what he signed up for when he took the oath of office. If you aren’t willing to send soldiers to fight, then you won’t make a very good commander in chief.

    Trait #4: Bush Believes in the Power of the Individual

    I hope so. I do, too. Nothing wrong with that, even on the national level. If your country doesn’t have the power to do what it wants, that is, to govern itself, then you, and it, have serious problems.

    Trait #5: Bush Believes He Is Always Right

    This was the key point in your essay, and would be a fault if true. Is it?
    Certainly, he refused to admit mistakes to Time magazine, probably concluding that the reporter was looking for a “gotcha” that would influence the upcoming election. He was most likely correct.

    He was more open in his last press conference at the White House. He admitted mistakes.

    Since then, he has declined to comment about his successor. This is what he said about Obama in that last press conference: “I wish him all the best. I’ve found him to be a very smart and engaging person.”

    This is another American trait. You could make it #6:

    Americans are gracious.

    The people of Iraq and Afghanistan don’t fear American soldiers, because they know that even if they are invaders, they don’t mean harm to them, but to their terrorist overlords. That’s why children run up to them in the streets. That’s why parents let them.

    Maybe America/Bush is less like Batman than you thought. Still dangerous when attacked — just ask Japan — but basically a big teddy bear of a Kryptonian.

    Just my 2 cents.

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  4. In real life, the vigilante is often wrong, but this should not mean there is no place for one, or that he isn’t sometimes as necessary in real life as in fiction.

    Just as the vigilante is often wrong in the real world, so is authority, and while the notion that we control authority by the power of the vote is appealing and logical, it, too, is often mistaken.

    When authority becomes large enough, powerful enough, entrenched enough, only violent, outside, vigilante force can overcome it. That we call this vililante force a revolution changes nothing.

    When one man is the vigilante force, we’re talking numbers, not philosophy.

    Our founding fathers won their vigilante battle. Had they not, the gallows would have been busy indeed, and history would judge them very difefrently.

    We belive in the individual because such decision to fight must always be based on the individual. If he’s wrong, he’ll be called a vigilante, and punished, if he’s right, and wins, he’ll be called a hero and celebrated. If he’s right, and loses, he’s back to being a vigilante.

    I also believe the Bush comparison makes little sense. By those standards, every president we’ve ever had is a vigilante, a Batman in disguise. So are most of the people on this planet, and definitely in this country.

    Really, who was the last president who didn’t use violence? Clinton used in ineffectively, but nevertheless used it several times. And wanted to use it on a far grander scale, but unlike Bush, Clinton couldn’t muster enough votes. Who was the last president that always went along with Congress, or who didn’t do any number of things his own way? I sure can’t think of one.

    Lincoln, considered by most to be our greatest president, even defied a direct ruling from the Surpeme Court.

    Had you used Ronald Reagan as an example, I could at least see the point. He did directly defy congress, he did do at least a couple of things the law specifically said he could not do, and he did, always, do things his own way.

    In teh real world, you’ll probably go to prison if you start shooting criminals at random. But also in teh real world, power becomes corrupt, authority becomes ineffective, and when power and authority can no longer protect the citizens in represents, it’s the citizens right and duty to protect itself, even when this means a preemtice strike.

    What do you do when every large city has hundreds to thousands of murders each year, when dozens of neighborhoods are unsafe, when walking down the wrong street at the worng time can get you killed, when tens of thousands are mugged, wounded, or suffer from home invasion?

    What do you do when people become shut ins because it’s to dangerous to go out after darK?

    What do you do when merely walking to teh corner grocery can make you the victim of a mugging, or a drive by shooting, when driving there can make you a victim of a car jacking?

    What do you do when there aren’r nearly enough ploice officers to protect you, and seldom enough to catch your killer when the protection fails?

    Do you lock yourself inside a gated community, do you play the numbers game, thinking it may happen to many, but that you probably won’t be one of them, based on odds alone?

    Or do you wait until it’s so bad that the numbers are no longer in your favor before taking action?

    There’s a boiling point action for all of us, it’s just a matter of how much heat it takes.

    If one man reaches his boiling point, he’s a vigilante. If a million men reach it all at once, they’re revolutionaries.

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  5. Kris, a nominally fascinating essay. I thought the Bush analogy stretched, but then, I was never a huge Bushie Hater or Bushie Lover. I thought — and still think — that the majority of the decisions he made following 9/11, would have been similarly made by practically any President of any political stripe, sitting in his chair on 9/12/2001.

    Of course, the huge debate about the Bush years — the one that will likely define him just as Vietnam defined Johnson — will revolve around the Iraq invasion.

    My honest opinion is that we won’t know the full ramifications of the Iraq invasion for at least 20, possibly 30, years. The cards are still falling. And while lots of prototypically liberal Americans detested and loathed Bush with a ferocious passion, the 2003 invasion and subsequent occupation were, in fact, just the next “act” in a multi-act drama spanning back to World War I and the British Empire.

    Anyway, if Iraq crumbles to dust and is a Somalia-ish hell hole for decades as a result, Bush will get the blame. And, probably, rightly so. But if Iraq settles down and prospers, and especially if there are consequences that ripple to Iran and beyond — nominally positive, progressive consequences — then Bush will seem to have been right. As much as Bushie Haters will want to cut off their own feet before admitting it.

    Time will tell.

    But, Bush aside, I think the American love of the vigalante — as detailed in the essay — is correct.

    All of us have large and small gripes with how The System breaks down and how all kinds of crime slips through the cracks. Right now one might argue that heaps of Americans would love to see a superhero who doesn’t take on street crime, but Wall Street and Big Banking crime. Someone who could go up against the Bernie Madoff crowd and sock it to ‘em. Alas, what would such a vigalante look like, and how would (s)he operate?

    Batman is a very American contradiction: the hero who breaks the law to save the law. We have always loved that archetype, and this archetype is replete throughout American fiction. I’d dare say most Americans even fantasize — just a little — about being that archetype. The man or woman who goes beyond limits to restore the common order, or preserve life and liberty for the Small People when the Big People can’t be bothered, or are too incompetent to act.

    I’m not sure I have a favorite superhero. I enjoyed superhero comics as a young man and have liked many of the numerous heroes spun off from Marvel, D.C., and elsewhere.

    The one time I did feel like a monstrous injustice had been perpetrated against America and Americans, I didn’t become a vigilante, I joined the Army. And this has so far proven to be an enormously productive channel for any anger and lust for vengeance I felt, following the 9/11 attacks.

    Which is, I suppose, the real root of much superheroism myth: the want on the part of every person to do something about “something” that has gone, or is going, very wrong. Could be large-scale, could be small-scale. Just about everybody wants to act — or see action taken? — and because this so seldom happens, we find vicarious satisfaction in the exploits of fictional superheroes, anti-heroes, and all the other larger-than-life people (Dirty Harry?) who are willing to break the rules in order to preserve the rules.

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  6. Brad,

    Yeah, there’s some vigilante love going on.

    When Charles Bronson’s character in Death Wish beats up those guys (or was it only one?) with the roll of quarters in a sock, I think most people felt like cheering.
    Not trusting the gov’t is a big part of the American political dna. I think most Americans, even those who supported Bush, have serious doubts about the Patriot Act. Necessary evil, and all that.
    Another over the top vigilante movie: Red Dawn. Melodramatic, unrealistic, but those high school students kicked some authority butt.
    These two movies, I think, show that Americans understand the dangers of vigilantism. You could say the same of other movies, but these were popular successes, lowbrow. And your everyman loved them.

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  7. @Brad

    “Right now one might argue that heaps of Americans would love to see a superhero who doesn’t take on street crime, but Wall Street and Big Banking crime. Someone who could go up against the Bernie Madoff crowd and sock it to ‘em. Alas, what would such a vigalante look like, and how would (s)he operate?”

    There’s a show on TNT, I think, called “Leverage,” that really plays up this angle. They’re con artists, thieves, hackers, etc. that step up for the “little people” against other scammers, corrupt businesses, corrupt politicians, etc.

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  8. Hey, Brad:

    I’ve been a fan of the B man going back too far to talk about in a public forum, *grin* but I found out once I became a writer I love the character because he doesn’t have a day job.

    Russ

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