Take Two #41: Who We Look Up To
By Kyra-lin Hom
I have Dark Knight on the brain. Plain and simple. Watching Nolan's new Dark Knight Rises has re-inspired my Batman fangirl, and ever since I've been hopped up on old Batman cartoons. I do a lot of craft work and need something mindlessly entertaining for the background after all. I even caught myself drawn to the Batman themed island in Barnes and Noble and nabbed up several of the books featured there.
What is it about Batman – and the whole 'bat family' – that strikes so true to me? Why can I recite the different alternate timelines in the Batman series when I can't even remember the names of Superman's parents or where Wonder Woman comes from? (The other two of the 'Big Three.')
I suppose it has to do with him being human. No super powers. No experiment gone awry. Just plain old-fashioned human... with billions of dollars and a glacier of emotional issues on his shoulder of course. The only other comic book character that comes anywhere close to my love of the bat family is Elektra – notably not the one played by Jennifer Garner. And guess what? She's human too.
I like the idea that this is someone I could be. Not literally or even close to entirely, but the potential is there for me to aspire towards. Batman, Nightwing, Robin, Batgirl, Batwoman, Red Robin, etc., etc., etc. are essentially good people who night after night choose to face down their fears and stand up when everyone else around them cowers in fear. Or as phrased in the movie Kickass, doing something when everyone else turns a blind eye.
These characters are heroes. They stand for justice, tenacity, honor and humanity and are generally lauded by the people for doing so. They pointedly don't stand for pride, vanity, fame or greed. All of Batman's billions of dollars are a treated as merely a means to help his good cause. Money is never an end in itself. The same could be said for Batman and his alter ego's notoriety. Again a means and not an end. And I certainly can't see him (or any of them) shying away from a fight because it might damage his aristocratic nose.
Okay, that last paragraph seems pretty obvious, right? I mean who would argue that justice, tenacity, honor and humanity are not values praiseworthy by society as a whole? And who would argue that we should idolize individuals who promote pride, vanity, fame or greed? It seems like a straightforward, not up for debate statement. Close the books, we're done here.
But wait, that isn't what we do. How many of you – or better yet how many of your younger associates – are familiar with Aldo Leopold, the godfather of wilderness conservation, or Abigail Scott Duniway, one of the key figures in gaining women's suffrage in Washington State? What about Sally Ride, the first female astronaut, or Erwynn Umali and Will Behrens, the first gay couple to be married on a military base? These people are heroes too, embodying those very characteristics we just agreed should be praised by society as a whole.
Now think of the names you do know. I bet most of them are media figures: reality TV stars, recording artists, sports stars, actors, and so forth. The others might be politicians, authors, directors or 'specialists' in your particular field of interest. I'm the same way. I'm not saying that none of these people have redeeming qualities. Nor am I saying that they are all horrible money-grubbers. In fact most of these people have probably worked their butts off to get as famous as they are. That's not my point. My point is what they as a whole stand for, what they embody and promote as social symbols. That is pride, vanity, fame and greed (money as an ends).
Somewhere along the lines, we have mistaken fame and money for things to be honored. I mean, it makes sense when you think about it. Notoriety used to come as a result of wide spread respect. You did something great and so became known for it, gaining all of the perks as a bonus. What we've done is mistaken those perks for the goal, thinking that fame and money are ends. In the words of Lady Gaga “...doin' it for the fame 'cause we wanna live the life of the rich and famous” (quoted from her song “The Fame”).
So I say bring on the Batman and the Avengers and the other heroes who have lapsed from the limelight in recent decades. Let's hope they can reinvigorate us to want to fight the good fight and not just want the rewards that come after.