|Posted by Ratin8tor on August 7, 2012 at 5:00 PM|
Hello and welcome to In Too Deep, where I over-analyse a certain section of pop culture.
As we all know, Batman is Bruce Wayne. Or is he? Well okay technically he is, but I'm looking at this from a more psychological view. Who is the performer and who is the character that is played? Can we really separate them? And what makes Batman different from all the other superheroes out there?
So which identity is the real one? The answer is that it all depended on how they viewed the character. Erving Goffman theorises that there are two parts to the individual: the performer (who the person is when they are away from social company) and the character (who this person acts as whenever he is in social company). Now from the offset it is easy to make this argument: Bruce Wayne is the performer who acts out the role of Batman. Bruce Wayne metaphorically and literally puts on a mask and becomes the character he is famous for in the comics, since we more often than not follow the exploits of Batman and not Bruce Wayne. However there is an equally valid line of reasoning that Bruce Wayne is actually the character that Batman performs, since Bruce acts like a rich spoiled brat to avoid people making the connection between him and Batman. If we take this idea as true, then a writer would emphasise this by having the Bruce Wayne character refer to himself as 'Batman' in his inner monologue, or by referring to how he is putting on his 'mask' when he goes to a social gathering as Bruce Wayne. Thus the character of Bruce Wayne/Batman fits well with Goffman's theories since it can be argued either way about which is the performer and which is the character.
So if we accept the idea that Bruce Wayne is actually the mask, what can we learn from it? Well, Batman is the exception rather than the rule. Lets compare him to the equally famous Superman. Again, which identity of Superman is the real one? Is he Superman, who puts on the glasses to act as mild-mannered Clark Kent? Is he Clark Kent from Smallville, who puts on the 'S' symbol to become the hope of man. Or is he actually Kal-El, last son of Krypton and removed from his Earthly heritage? Now I've seen arguments for all three sides of this character, but my personal preference is that he is Clark Kent acting like Superman (whilst acknowledging but not being defined by his origin, as some immigrants are want to do). Now why do I bring up Superman in an article about Batman? Because they are both perfect counter-points to each other.
Despite what Bill from Kill Bill tries to argue, it is Clark Kent that puts on the disguise of Superman. While he was born with the powers, he was raised as Clark Kent. He became Superman later when he realized he could help the world. He is a superhuman that has to put on the disguise of a superhuman in order to operate. In contrast Batman puts on the disguise of Bruce Wayne. He exaggerates all the negative stereotypes associated with the rich and famous. He's shallow, petty, air-headed and altogether useless. He is the Paris Hilton of the DC universe. But that's because he chooses to act this way. While some would say that Clark Kent is a mockery of the human spirit (by choosing to appear weak and frail), it is actually Bruce Wayne that is the mockery (by appearing shallow and horrible). So it is Bruce Wayne who shows the follies of man, not the superpowered alien.
So while I'm talking about the Bruce Wayne/Batman identity, lets look at the more famous actors to play him and see which side of the fence they end up on.
Adam West clearly plays it as Bruce Wayne being the dominant personality, with Batman being the face he uses in public. He doesn't hide the fact that he is a genius, using the same mannerisms that Batman would use. And whilst this may seem like it's just Bruce Wayne dressing up as a bat, the tragic aspect of Batman is left out in this retelling. Thus it makes more sense that Batman is the more public version of the man that uses his genius to fight bad guys.
Michael Keaton is clearly playing it as Batman being the dominant personality, since the iconic shot in Batman Returns is just him sitting in the study, waiting for the Bat-signal. He is Batman first and foremost, to the point where he cannot act without his mask on. He is awkward at social gatherings because he's forgotten how to be Bruce Wayne.
Val Kilmer is the odd exception to this idea, since the story of Batman Forever actually tackles this issue. Is Batman what he is, or what he chooses to be? The Riddler even poses this riddle to him, asking him to save either the love of his life (the Bruce Wayne personality) or his partner (the Batman personality). It is here the character learns that he isn't Batman, but he instead chooses to be Batman. Hence why I think the film is somewhat underrated.
George Clooney takes it to the logical extreme by having Bruce Wayne be the dominant force. He chooses to fight as Batman because that's the right thing to do. If he could stop being Batman, he would.
Finally Christian Bale once again proves that it's Batman that makes the man, not Bruce Wayne. If you need any greater evidence, what The Dark Knight Rises. Without the need for Batman Bruce literally wastes away, unable to cope without that release in his life. He needs to be Batman, he is defined by Batman. Hence why he is an interesting take on the character.
So there you have it. A look at the secret identities of the two big dogs of the DC universe. If you disagree with anything, or have anything to add, feel free to leave a comment. Till next time.
Categories: In Too Deep