Batman is American mythology. It’s a child’s character that also matures with us as we grow. There are various interpretations for each stage of development. It’s a human hero that endures, who is flawed but triumphs. His heart, his drive and yes that dark side that most people never admit to having. Bottom line, Batman is cool. There’s no arguing that!
-Kevin Porter (Bat in the Sun cosplayer)
Whether historical figures or purely fictional characters, the hero, superhero and savior archetypes show up again and again in human history within our various diverse cultural narratives.
There are many perspectives what role the hero, superhero and savior archetypes have to play within our own lives.
Each perspective is neither right nor wrong, but any perspective is true for the person who holds it, for any person who feels in their heart what is true, is true for them.
But this personal truth is only a partial truth, a valid part of a larger whole. We have trouble when the partial truth claims to be the whole truth, or claims that other contrasting partial truths are invalid.
Heroic figures are generally thought of as beneficial, but heroic figures can also be self serving. There is no moral prerequisite nor absolute standard for a hero, and some historical figures who were considered criminals in their day or even terrorists are later labelled heroes in retrospect.
In Detective Comics #27 Batman is clearly a criminal who operates outside of the law.
In Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns Batman could reasonably be labelled a fascist terrorist. Yet he is still heroic.
A hero is typically called a “hero” by an invested party, an observer or witness.
A heroic act performed without a witness is just an ordinary action. A hero without a witness is just a person performing an action, free of labels or judgement.
Some obvious questions arise when we evoke the archetype of hero, superhero and savior.
Is a savior here to “save us”, and if so, from what?
Do we need to be saved? Are we not capable of realising our own potentials without this archetype? Should we rely on heroes to save us, or should we be more self reliant?
Should we seek to become heroes ourselves, or to become like heroes through emulating their example?
How does a savior or hero know what is best for other people? Did they go to hero school, should we listen to them or ignore their advice? Is their agenda the best possible choice in a given circumstance, or just a partial truth within a larger whole?
Another view on the hero, superhero and savior archetypes are as figures of inspiration.
In the realm of inspiration Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, Lao-tzu, Superman and Wonder Woman are equally important.
Some people would be offended at this idea, that a fictional character could be as important as a historical religious figure. Then again, some would argue all of them are fictional characters.
I am not here to debate the historical evidence for whether Jesus, Buddha, Krishna and other religious figures actually ever existed, or were even retellings of the same basic composite story in different cultures as some theories suggest.
When we read a story that we find inspiring, whether it was a literal account of objectively verifiable events that actually happened, or a pure fiction invented by a writer, both experiences are within our mind.
That inspiration is within our own mind, that feeling of inspiration resonates within our body. No matter HOW it got there, once there, that inspiration is “true” for us, the feeling experienced is real, any action that may follow from that feeling exists independent of whether the path that lead to the feeling began as fact or fiction. This is what I mean when I say that inspiring figures and stories are equally important to us, and the source is less important, but still significant.
Not just what we do, but “how we are”, is what people respond to. Our heroes and savior figures have magic about them, they stand out in some way, but the greatest of them remind us of our own potential for greatness. A true hero uplifts and inspires others, and asks nothing in return.
The old adage of one mans’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist can easily be applied to the hero, superhero and savior archetypes.
A vigilante hero such as Batman serves his own ends and operates outside of the law, although he does sometimes co-operate with law enforcement via Jim Gordon. Ultimately while Batman serves his own brand of personal Justice, he is answerable to no authority but himself.
Superman while also basically a criminal who operates outside of the law, is not a vigilante in traditional terms. He frequently co-operates with law enforcement and emergency services.
While he can also be said to be serving himself, his collaborations with authorities suggest he serves the greater good, or the will of the nation in the best sense. In his first incarnation he was a champion of the people, of the oppressed underclasses, typically the migrant workers of 1930s America. Batman motivates through fear, Superman motivates through hope.
Later during World War II Superman (along with Wonder Woman and to a lesser extent Batman) became more nationalistic icons, and would actively be associated with pushing “Truth, Justice and the American Way”. The American Way part was added on, and not part of Superman’s first appearances. Later still Superman became the figurehead of a corporation, and an ambassador of superheroes, comic books and any characters that wear tights, underwear on the outside and a chevron on their chest.
Superman’s famous “S” shield on his chest would become known more as a logo, as a brand to be slapped on products, rather than symbolic of a dynamic figure of strength, courage and virtue as represented in his original incarnation.
There is no virtue in a product with an “S” shield logo on it. But in a consumer society where we often feel powerless and disenfranchised, we feel that maybe something of the Superman magic will rub off on us if we wear the logo on a Tshirt, or buy the Superman toy or statue. The irony being that Superman who once inspired and stood for moral values, virtue and hero-ness became just another product in the machine of capitalism to be mindlessly consumed. Another cog in the merciless amoral machine of consumerism.
Of course it need not be that way, despite the commercialization of the Superheroes, they are still available as figures of inspiration if we choose to view them that way, if we look into their very essence, they are still have the same resonance and power to inspire they always did. We just forgot this inspirational quality by turning out attention to the products and icons, the outer form, the package, rather than the inner essence, the real substance of life.
Frank Miller plays up the relevance or meaninglessness of the forgotten icon of Superman in Dark Knight Returns, where Superman has become a boy scout for the government. He mindlessly follows their orders to keep the peace and not make any waves in a world that like Allan Moore’s Watchmen and Marvel’s Civil War, has basically made it illegal to be a superhero.
Superman only exists as a government pawn to promote whatever agenda they see fit. While Superman may have objections, he chooses to submit his will to the government for what he perceives to be the greater good. He surrenders his Godhood and unfathomable power to the will of the nation.
Frank Miller’s version of Superman is a god, or at least a deity. His portrayal as bowing down to the government makes him a coward in the eyes of the author (Miller), and significantly in the eyes of Batman whom Miller speaks through in teh story. Superman and Batman’s differences lead to their inevitable confrontation towards the end of the story arc. The battle while very visceral and physical, is not so much a traditional Superhero slug-fest battle, as a battle of the difference in Superman and Batman’s core ideologies. This makes the anticipation reach a fever pitch in a way the typical Thing vs Hulk or Red Hulk vs Thor battle never achieves.
Superman sees the government – even a corrupt oppressive government – as basically good. Batman sees the government as rotten slave masters, as oppressive enemies no less of a threat than the invading Persians Leonidas faces in Miller’s 300 graphic novel. Batman in Miller’s eyes is not just a hero, but a soldier who fights for the true freedom of the people, with uncompromising integrity. Miller’s Batman is a militaristic hero who values the freedom of the individual, while Superman is the coward who yields to the whip of the empire, and all its enslavement, and oppression of free will and eradication of individuality.
Superman’s “Justice” (in Dark Knight Returns) serves the homogeneous mass of humanity, the individual must serve the state unquestioningly, a gross perversion of Spock’s immortal spiritually intentioned words in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan “The needs of the many, outweigh the needs of the few”.
Batman’s “Justice” serves the individual, he fights for the free thinking and feeling rights of the individual, in his view government and all companies or corporations must serve rather than dictate to the individual.
Both views are valid but partial truths, part of a larger whole. A synthesis of seemingly opposing ideas may lead to greater understanding and more “truth”. But only in open dialogue and through freedom of expression, intentionally looking at another’s point of view we disagree with, and looking for the benefits of that point of view. This synthesis can not be arrived at by force or coercion, but only through open minds and heart, if we are willing.
Often examining contrasting ideas in parallel, rather than in opposition can lead to greater understanding. Neuroscience refers to the human brain as a self-organising system of patterns. Edward DeBono also uses that same terminology in his works and the practical applications DeBono frequently talks about in his numerous books including Parallel Thinking and Edward DeBono’s Thinking Course.
“Studies have shown that 90% of errors in thinking are due to error in perception. If you can change your perception, you can change your emotion and this can lead to new ideas.”
“Most of the mistakes in thinking are inadequacies of perception rather than mistakes of logic.” – Edward DeBono
Edward DeBono makes some bold claims, and they are backed up by several decades of research and application in various institutions including various corporations and schools around the globe. Although as with any progressive thinker, some academics criticise his solutions to various problems.
Many highly intelligent people are poor thinkers. Many people of average intelligence are skilled thinkers. The power of a car is separate from the way the car is driven – Edward DeBono
Superman and Batman, while old friends, basically act as archetypal ciphers in Miller’s Dark Knight Returns, giving voice to one of the oldest arguments in history. What is more important, the needs of the “individual” or “the many”?
Both the individual and the many are valid but partial truths. Both the individual and society are important, one does not invalidate the other. Both views are part of a large whole, but an intentional shift in perspective is needed to get beyond the ideological argument. When viewed within a larger context the superficial argument becomes redundant, ultimately because we all need each other.
Society would grind to a halt without the co-operation of hundreds if not thousands of individuals that make our every day lives possible.
Societies need infrastructure that benefits the citizens, the government needs citizens to vote for them to act as their representatives (for better or worse) and individuals need their equality and freedom of choice to act as genuine human beings, not as robots nor slaves in an uncaring machine.
No tree has branches so foolish as to fight amongst themselves – Native American Proverb
Savior figures, real or imagined, whether Superman, Lao-Tzu or Jesus, we encounter them as ideas within our own minds and hearts. None of them can we meet in physical form. If we are inspired by the example of their teachings, their beliefs, attitude and moral example, or their very Being, their very presence, then that is a rich inner experience as valid as any other in life.
The form inspiration may take can be infinite. One person reads a religious text or commentary and encounters an inspiring figure, another person reads Superman or Harry Potter and finds an inspiring figure or role model to emulate.
Of course the flaw here is that someone may find a flawed or even down right bad role model and emulate them. We need look no further than actors, rock stars, professional athletes and musicians for examples of lives dominated by external appearances, shallow ego worship, rampant drug addiction and glorification of false or misleading values.
The question remains do we need saviors to save or fix us?
Do we need to rely on heroes as a psychological dependency or are we leaping into the future by imagining our own greatest potential as popular entertainment? I can’t answer that question for anyone. It is highly personal, and speaks to the needs of unique individuals, not to impersonal masses.
In traditional “God of Abraham” narratives, there is a fall from grace for humanity. The Adam and Eve story brings temptation, knowledge of good and evil, and self as “other”, as separate from God, and sin. The modern context of sin is often rendered as bad, evil, flawed or imperfect. The historical roots of the word in the English language “sin” come from archery, where to sin meant to miss. To miss the mark, make the error of not hitting the target. In contrast Semitic languages have multiple meanings and synonyms for Sin that imply evil acts, or wrong acts.
In other religious traditions such as Buddhism and the Baha’i Faith human beings are not seen as inherently sinful or flawed, but as inherently good, as inherently Buddha-like. Human beings are seen as inherently loving and full of light and other airy-fairy mumbo-jumbo that is often meaningless and impractical to our daily lives. But one look at a mother breast feeding her newborn baby is all the evidence I need to know that we are ultimately lovers here to learn, grow and express ourselves.
Whether we are religious or not, the cultural narrative of the society we each live in is often dominated by one religion, one hand me down belief system or another. So by proxy we adopt some of those mass cultural beliefs unconsciously as children, and if as adults we never question those beliefs, then we assume them to be true and they colour our perception of the world. Those hand me down beliefs we inherited within our culture inform our perception of both our inner non-physical self (or self-image) and how we perceive our outer physical world.
We may forego the traditional religious savior figure or superhero and instead make a political figure, rock star or musician into a savior, putting all sorts of expectation upon them that they can not possibly fulfill.
To grow into an adult means to let go of our limited perceptions and beliefs like a snake shedding its own skin, constantly being reinvented and renewed by the unrelenting thrust of life to grow, move forward and evolve into new shades of complexity.
Wherever we are as individuals is just fine. We grow whether we want to or not. Some of us feel the need to look up to inspiring figures, some feel a need to be those inspiring figures for other people. While others have no interest in the idea whatsoever. Each are valid choices, and one woman’s choice does not negate anothers. One mans ignorance or wisdom does not affect the person next to him, unless he actively promotes a particular ideology.
So is humanity deeply flawed, broken and sinful? Or is humanity inherently loving, are we angels and gods who have forgotten their wings? Does it need to be one or the other?
I don’t see life as a binary either/or choice, but a rich infinitely complex sphere of activity that constantly evolves into greater complexity with infinite simultaneous points of view. A kaleidoscope like holographic Matrix simulation of greater and lesser densities of light refracted into human bodies and brains that think they are thinking, a universe of space where atoms spin so fast they appear to be solid, but if that spin slowed down or if we could change the vibration of our molecules we could walk through walls just like The Flash. Where if densities changed we could jump through the air like Spider-Man or the Incredible Hulk.
A dancing universe of infinite beauty that is inherently, more than anything, alive and intelligent, forever expanding, and re-experiencing itself to infinity and beyond. But that is just my limited partial subjective truth, and I may be completely wrong.
Superheroes and Saviors to me are fine, inspiring figures. Do we NEED them? I don’t know, perhaps we do. But let us imagine we don’t need them for a moment, even then I’d still like them to be around, I don’t want them to go away. I don’t want any reminder of our own greatest potential to go away or be forgotten. The names don’t matter to me, I find inspiration in many different figures, each adds something to my personal world view. I’ve had nor shortage of friends of various religious faiths, while not being religious myself. I have also managed to offend pretty much all of those friends at some point with my views, but remained friends despite our differences. Is variety not the spice of life? In my experience, I learn best from experiencing great contrasts. Different foods, different religions and cultural values and practices. Different races and ideologies.
Getting back on topic, in one possible view, we rely on the savior to fix us, make us whole or worthy. In contrast the inspirational view is that we become more like the savior figure. Of course these are just two limited perspectives, there are other valid perspectives, but my objective is not to state them all here and now.
One mode is worship and adoration, with no challenge to grow.
Another mode is emulation, becoming more like the savior figure, and not relying on them to “do” anything, other than be who they already are.
When we consciously model teachers and mentors, we learn their best attributes and apply them to our own lives. But when we worship heroes and savior figures (be it Jesus or Superman [a.k.a. space Jesus], or some idiotic celebrity) we do nothing to evolve our own intelligence, we neither learn nor grow as adults.
But man has need of stories to dramatise events and big ideas in a way that captures his imagination. Darth Vader is much more compelling than the abstract concept of squandered potential, turning to evil and subsequent redemption, or at least forgiveness.
Batman is a hell of lot more dramatic a tale of personal loss, tragedy strength, will-power and vigilante-ism than just mere words can convey. Jesus is still my favourite story of the embodiment of kindness, love and forgiveness. Avalokiteśvara (the weirdo below with 1000 arms to help 1000 people) is my most inspiring personal embodiment of Compassion and selfless service to others.
Whether super heroes, bible stories, or ancient myths and legends all are equally compelling and full of parallels. To me this speaks not to any grand truths on any one topic, but to mans need to tell stories. To project his self through time in mythological narratives that carry the best (and worst) messages of a culture down through the ages. From mimicking our heroes as children to emulating them as adults, they are always there to inspire us and help carry us forward.
We ignore our cultural stories, religions, myths and history at our own peril. If we feel that we are not affected by such antiquated notions as stories passed down from our ancestors, then we are willfully ignorant of our heritage.
Each of us has our own personal narrative, we are the main character in our own individual life story, with everyone else in supporting roles. Of course, to another person, they are the main character in their life story, and we are the supporting player.
If you think this post is building to some intelligent and insightful conclusion, well I only have pre-packaged disappointment for you. But at least it didn’t cost you anything. Other than the time it took to get to this sentence, unless you skipped down from the top, in which case shame on you! If you were hoping to be inspired or saved by the end of the post, well that is not what I am here for, your own personal inspiration is where ever you may find it, and always available to you if you truly look.
Some guy a long time ago talked about living from our hearts, I forget his name, or the words. But I remember the feeling it inspired in me. The feeling of looking within your own heart, and following its call. So far, my heart has never steered me wrong in life, I know of no greater way to heed the call of inspiration than by finding it in the mundane and everyday, in the here and now.
To me all of life is inspired and sacred, especially YOU, so never forget it.
You are unique and one of a kind and destined never to be repeated.
I don’t know what inspiration looks like, but it feels like this picture of Felix the cat, it spills out of you and no container in the universe can ever hold it. It is the flame of flames, your heart of hearts, the infinite wisdom of inspiration is available to you at all times, it flows like a river through you and can not be stopped by any external forces.