Under the Mask: How Any Person Can Become Batman

The next essay in “Batman and Philosophy” is “Under the Mask: How Any Person Can Become Batman” by Sarah K. Donovan and Nicholas P. Richardson.  This essay claims that one must adopt the philosophies of Michel Foucault and Friedrich Nietzsche in order to properly become Batman.  Specifically, one must accept the idea that we have multiple identities that are constructed and that there’s no real self, and also the idea that truth itself is constructed and that there is no real, absolute truth either.  This, it seems, would then require them to accept that there is no real difference between the sane and the insane, as evidenced by how Batman and his Rogue’s Gallery are far more similar than Batman, at least, would really like.

The problem with the essay is that even given the examples they use there isn’t really a good connection between Batman and the philosophies they claim he had to adopt, which is a pretty serious weakness in an essay with the framing device that he had to adopt them in order to become Batman.  Tying together some representations of the bat that various characters encounter, they try to argue that only by adopting those notions can Bruce Wayne survive his encounter with the bat and come to adopt it as his symbol.  Except that even in their sources for the most part the bat doesn’t redefine him, but instead becomes the symbol of his redefinition, and as their own quotes show he uses it pragmatically:  to inspire fear in criminals the way it inspires fear in those who are not criminals.  The founder of Arkham Asylum sees the bat itself as a threat, and that fear drives him insane.  Batman squelches the fear, which allows him to harness it against the criminals.  In general, the question of identity when it comes to Batman is which of the identities is really him.  You can argue that this very conflict proves that there is no true identity, but Batman himself clearly thinks that he has one, even if he — and his companions — aren’t sure which one is the real one.  (In “Batman Beyond”, for example, at one point he insists that he knew that the voices inside his head weren’t a sign that he was insane because they called him “Bruce”, and he doesn’t call himself “Bruce” in his head, suggesting that he thinks of himself as Batman and not as Bruce Wayne).

That leads us to the question of whether sanity and normality are just socially constructed elements that are not in an important sense real.  Batman clearly thinks that there is a clear line between what is sane and what is insane, and his Rogue’s Gallery tends to demonstrate that quite clearly.  The question is not over whether sane and insane have any sensible meaning, but whether Batman, for all the good he does, falls on the insane side of that line, and whether someone would need to be insane to do the good things he does, or whether his own special brand of insanity is an impediment to the important work that he is trying to do.  But again, Batman does not accept that there is no such distinction, and so it doesn’t seem like that is required to become Batman.  Maybe the issues around him and the Joker show that sanity and insanity are socially defined concepts that could be reversed in the right sort of world or society, but Batman certainly doesn’t believe that.

So it seems like this essay is an attempt to explore or link those philosophies to Batman by the strong link of arguing that they must be adopted to become Batman, and yet it doesn’t manage to show in any way that Batman himself has accepted them, nor that they are necessary in order for someone to become Batman.  Thus, it doesn’t show how anyone can become Batman.


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