Tag Archives: Male Values

Batman Is a Jerk And So Am I

Batman standing over Talon owl

What do we like so much about Batman?

He’s strong, he’s brave, he’s manly and tough.

He’s also arrogant, self-absorbed, gruff, emotionally unavailable, unapologtetic, rude and just rough around the edges.

Batman is kind of a jerk, isn’t he? Yet we still like him.

As much as I like Batman’s good qualities, I have to admit I have more in common with his personality flaws and bad habits, than his good habits.

And in a strange way, it is kind of comforting. If Batman is rude and arrogant, it doesn’t excuse my own lousy behavior in any way, but it does let me see that I am not the only guy who is like that. Batman’s flaws just make him more human. We don’t usually see Superman being a dick to other superheroes, but when Batman does it, well he gets away with it because he’s Batman.

superman is a dick aquaman jimmy olsen water

It is not like I get up in the morning and decide to be an asshole to people. But it happens whether I want it to or not. So sometimes you’ve just got to do your best, when shit goes wrong, and not get too caught up in the whole drama of it.

Batman can be cool and stoic as he is ultimately responsible only to himself. And while I may be somewhat stoic myself, if I am like that all the time, eventually my friends and family will stop talking to me.

There is a point where being a loner can come back to bite you in the ass.

Of course Batman has his Bat-Family, he is not a true loner any more – at least in the modern Batman comics he has all sorts of friends, associates and people he can rely on for support. From Lucius Fox to Jim Gordon and his whole Bat-Family including the various Robins, Batgirl, Red Hood, Batwoman and more.

Nav K over at my favourite comicbook Blog GIRL ON COMICBOOK WORLD highlights some of the key reasons we enjoy Batman in the first place in a couple of excellent posts that I have read twice now, because they were so damn good! So don’t miss them.

girl on comic book world 1 batman superman

Why is Batman so Popular?

Batman Character Analysis – He ain’t Crazy but He is Complex

Bat Family by Phil Cho deviantart
Bat Family by Phil Cho http://phil-cho.deviantart.com/

I’ve finished Arnold Schwarzenegger’s biography, and I am currently reading Gandhi’s autobiography, both men are personal heroes to me for very different reasons.

One thing that really struck me about both books was the honesty and straight forward stating of bad habits, flaws and imperfections.

We want our heroes to be bastions of moral virtue.

In the case of fictional characters like Superman, we can enjoy a morally superior hero. But it is a fantasy, real life is much messier. Even the best of us has done some pretty horrible things, that we often deeply regret. Heroic figures, whether real, imagined or however exaggerated are icons we want to look up to and emulate. But while some flaws are unforgivable (the hero turns out to be a serial killer like Dexter for example) other more ordinary flaws humanise our heroic figures.

In the case of Ah-Nuld and yes, even Gandhi, both men are big JERKS! Both men are also bold icons – one is the guy in the nappy who helped kick start the movement for Indian independence from British rule. The other is a guy who traveled back in time to blow some shit up while wearing dark sunglasses and talking in a monotone voice.**

gandhi vs the terminator

Arnold cheated on his wife, which he talks about in his book pretty candidly, he is not proud of his actions. Gandhi went to see a prostitute, smoked, ate meat and did all kinds of very un-Gandhi like things before he matured into the man who is revered around the world today.

What I love about both of these autobiographies, is that both men did some really dumb things, and were big idiot jerks to their family and friends (reminds me of someone) but that they had the courage to talk about their faults, their flaws openly in their books. This does not excuse their behavior. (**The Terminator was a character, Ah-Nuld did not really travel in time, as far as you know…)

But that bold self-analysis and honesty is one of the qualities I love about Batman, he KNOWS how flawed he is, and he doesn’t try to hide it or pretend otherwise.
Batman often gets angry, frustrated, becomes even more of a loner, rejecting food, his friends and sometimes even sleep.

He gets to a place where he psyche/mind is unbalanced. But Batman has Alfred, the various Robin’s and other friends to help him through these times.

batman animated angry rage

For Batman, it is not just a flaw that he does things which are ultimately harmful for him, it is his “normal” behavior, so his friends do his best to manage his behavior, because you are not going to stop Batman being moody, withdrawn or angry.

Like a storm at sea, eventually the dark moody Batman comes back to his everyday level of dark moodiness, back to his baseline or psychological norm.

Why do we look up to a guy who is so dysfunctional? Why does he remain iconic and popular despite his flaws? Why is Batman such a classical romantic and mythic figure, and just plain gosh darn cool, despite being a flawed arrogant jerk?

I feel that a big part of Batman’s popularity is because of his flaws. It humanises him. It makes him more relatable to everyday people than the demi-gods that Batman walks amongst in the JLA. Batman is the cultural myth of the self-made man, the person who succeeds in bettering himself through hard work, persistence and determination.

Batman TM medtiation

Batman is a Zen-Yogi-Martial Arts Warrior for our times. He sits right in the sweet spot between realism and purely romantic fiction. In some stories he is very concrete, very much influenced by the real world, and he hits like a brick to the face.

In other stories Batman is a Gothic horror story, a semi-mythical figure straight out the collective unconscious mind – he torments criminals, preying on their fears, while in other stories he is the world’s greatest Detective, the guy who never gives up, and won’t stop until he solves the case, catches the killer, a manhunter who doggedly pursues his quarry to the ends of the earth. Whether realistic or mythic, Batman can work in a whole host of different contexts, and it all plays to the strengths of the character.

 BATMAN ACTS, HE DOESN’T ASK PERMISSION

One manly quality I love about Batman is that he takes action, and he doesn’t ask permission.

If we have to ask permission for every little thing we did in life, nothing would ever get done.

There are rules and laws in society that are ultimately designed to protect us as well as penalise us.

But did men like Teddt Roosevelt or Abe Lincoln sit back and let the law of the land dictate how they would live their lives? Did they “ask permission” before they took the action they felt was necessary to improve themselves?

The law aside – a man acts, he doesn’t ask permission.

Batman didn’t ask somebody if it would be “okay” to punch crime in the face a little now and then when nobody is looking. He goes out night after night and performs his duties, and he doesn’t give a damn who likes him, who hates him, who fears him. He only cares that he makes a difference in the world

In one view of this behavior and attitude, it just makes Batman look like a jerk.

But another view, expressed in the Indian spiritual classic Bhagavad Gita states:

When he [the virtuous person] renounces all desires and acts without craving, possessiveness, or individuality, he finds peace.” Bhagavad-Gita 2:71

“Always perform with detachment any action you must do; performing action with detachment, one achieves supreme good.” Bhagavad-Gita 3:19

And further passages talk about the devotees relationship to the Supreme Lord, or Godhead.

“Disinterested, pure, skilled, indifferent, untroubled, relinquishing all involvements, devoted to me, he is dear to me. He does not rejoice or hate, grieve or feel desire; relinquishing fortune and misfortune, the man of devotion is dear to me. Impartial to foe and friend, honor and contempt, cold and heat, joy and suffering, he is free from attachment. Neutral to blame and praise, silent, content with his fate, unsheltered, firm in thought, the man of devotion is dear to me. Even more dear to me are devotees who cherish this elixir of sacred duty as I have taught it, intent on me in their faith” 12: 16-20

Batman doing Tummo meditation Tibetan
Batman / Bruce practicing Tummo Meditation

Now, Batman ain’t religious and neither am I frankly.

But I want you to take a look at that above passage, and you can take the word God and replace it with “Justice” for Batman. Batman serves not the laws of the nation, but his own highly personal concept of Justice, which to me is closer to the classical notion, the Socratic Ideal of Justice, than, well, your modern concept we have when we watch the average episode of Law and Order or whatever cop show / legal crime drama you are into.

If Batman is too concerned about what others might think of his War on Crime, or too busy seeking permission to punch crime in the face, he is not going to be a very effective Batman.

vengeance_and_night_by_kuroi_tsuki-d3iccuo
Art by Drake Tsui http://quirkilicious.deviantart.com/

Recently, someone on the Q&A site Quora asked the Question: Why does batman betray the JLA? (referring to the JLA story Towel of Babel by Mark Waid in JLA#43-46, 2000)

“Tower of Babel deals with Batman’s perceived betrayal to the superhuman community by keeping and concealing hidden records concerning the strengths and weaknesses of his allies in the JLA, which include plans to neutralize his allies in a fight. His files are stolen by the criminal mastermind Ra’s Al Ghul, who uses them to defeat the League through a coordinated attack in order to prevent them from interfering with his latest scheme, the reduction of the global population.” 

  • Source: wikipedia.org/wiki/JLA:_Tower_of_Babel
JLA Tower of Babel Mark Waid Batman Ras Al Ghul
‘OWNED’ BY THE BAT

My answer to that question was that Batman betrays the JLA because he is always three steps ahead of everybody else in the room. He’s usually solved whatever problem the JLA is facing and will do whatever it takes to save the world, stop the enemies, world ending threat etc, save Liz, meet up at the Winchester until this all blows over – even if it means he seemingly betrays the JLA.

The simple answer for me to that Quora user question is “For the greater good”
Batman will sacrifice himself if it means saving the day. He doesn’t do compromise, and he doesn’t care who gets annoyed along the way, or if he betrays his “friends”.

He’s selfless but also a son of a bitch, and he knows it.
He’s smarter than you and he knows it.

He doesn’t care if you think he is a jerk.

He’s Bruce Lee, he’s James Dean, he doesn’t give a fuck what you think, what you stand for, whether you want to help him or stab him, either way he would die to save you because he values Life, he just gets real grumpy about the way he expresses it.

In the JLA Tower of Babel story Batman betrays the JLA, or at least it appears that he does. Batman had “fail safe” key plans on how to take down each of his fellow more powerful league members – in case they went crazy, were mind controlled etc. A super-villain obtains Batman’s plans, and uses them against the JLA. During the story the JLA find out that Batman created the plans to take them out (if they went crazy/evil etc) and they feel betrayed.

It’s a cool story, and well worth reading. The trade is quite cheap, and you will find it easily enough if you search for “JLA Tower of Babel”. Don’t miss “Rock of Ages” which is another classic JLA story with Batman in a key role that really shows how devoted and fanatical he can be to his cause.

JLA Tower of Babel Superman betrayed

So we know Batman can be a jerk, but at his core…

Who is Batman?

Fans each have their own favourite version of Batman. and the question of who Batman really is, is up to each BATFAN.

Is Batman the real person who puts on the mask of Bruce Wayne?

Or is Bruce Wayne the man who puts on the mask of Batman?

For me the answer is obvious, Batman doesn’t do things half-assed, he puts himself 100% into whatever he does, and when he became Batman, he stopped being Bruce Wayne.

My personal vision of Batman is that Bruce Wayne is the mask, and Batman is who he really is.

Batman Mr Freeze cover small

Who that Batman is from day to day may seem somewhat schizophrenic. Not literally, but when you see Batman in his own core books – Detective Comics and Batman, contrasted with Batman in the JLA, Batman and the Outsiders, the Batman and Robin books, we get different equally valid interpretations of who Batman is and how he acts.

It is hard to pin down a definitive version of Batman, but core values and characteristics may him easy to identify, no matter what book he appears in (not including Elseworlds and alternate universe stories where Batman may be evil, a vampire or whatever) I talked about Batman’s core values in a popular article a while back:

How to Be Like BATMAN PART#3: CORE VALUES

And I also made up this nifty chart table thingy with what I personally feel are the core values, characteristics etc of the Batman across different media.
The values etc that have become part of how Batman is portrayed over several decades of fiction, to become what we collectively can refer to as the Batman Franchise, or Batman Media.

Missing any of these basic “ingredients” in the recipe for Batman (which is subject to change and interpretation, not set in concrete) makes it easy to see where particular interpretations differ from Batman’s core values, or just go plain wrong (in my opinion) in the case of misunderstanding the character all together. Of course other fans and writers may disagree.

table-of-batman-essential-qualities-by-john-sorensen

Now, nowhere in that box ‘o words does it imply that Batman is a jerk. Yet, he is a jerk, more often than not.

That is, if we consider normal human relationships, how we relate to and love each other etc.

Batman is not a social butterfly, and while he can fake human interactions as Bruce Wayne, how much of that is genuine, and how much of that is his acting ability- which I would compare favourable to a professional actor, just see Batman’s undercover personas like Matches Malone for example to see what I mean – is debatable.

Bruce Wayne dinner party Batman funny
“Batman’s Poker Face” by Kevin McShane http://fcfcp.com/tag/dinner-party/

At times Batman is cold and aloof, and sometimes we see him as warm and gentle, but these times tend to be rare. Nobody would accuse Batman of being a “softy”.

Batman trains the various Robin characters in a harsh and unforgiving manner, like a martial arts instructor or armed forces instructor would – to prepare the student for combat / warfare etc. But Batman/Bruce Wayne also cares deeply about his adopted sons, the various Robin characters, Batgirl, Jim Gordon, Lucius Fox and his other extended Bat-Family.

The original Batman went it alone, and if he had kept going that way, he would have been dead for sure by now. I like to think that Batman’s core BAT-FAMILY don’t just keep him alive in a practical way, they also keep him more human, less of a robot.

In Scott Snyder’s run on Batman in the NEW 52, the Joker tells Batman that his Bat-Family make him weak and soft. I feel they do the opposite.

The man who has nothing to live for dies a quiet and sad death.

The man who has everything to live for, especially people he deeply loves and cherishes will NOT go quietly into that good night, but will rage against the machine, he will rise up every time you knock him down, until his dying breath. Because he cares, because he fights for a better tomorrow that he may not live to see. Because he knows that deep down, as callous and angry as he may be on the outside, on the inside Batman has the heart of a saint.

Where Superman would be evacuating the planet in a hypothetical doomsday scenario, Batman is the guy who will be there till the end, helping the helpless, and dying right next to them if he can’t save them. Batman won’t abandon those most in need, because it is not in him as a human being to do that. The very idea of not helping others, and being a proactive force for good is painful to Batman.

He never gives up, never surrenders, and he absolutely WILL….NOT…STOP.

So he may be a jerk at times but perhaps we can forgive him, after all, he is Batman.

Batman portrait by Kia Asamiya

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The Art of Batmanliness – Being Brave means Being Vulnerable

James Bond Jack Bauer Jason Bourne Bruce Batman Ron Swanson

When I think of Manliness, when I think of tough men’s men I think of my favourites – Bond, Bauer, Bourne, Batman and Ron Swanson.

What is it about these bastions of manliness that we find so appealing? Is it their devil may care attitude, their strength, their confidence and self-assuredness. Why do we find them so damn cool and interesting and why do we want to be like them?

Classical male values are about being tough, stern, confident, resilient etc. And while those are good values to have, they are also somewhat of a fantasy. They are good and true, but incomplete.

The Dark Knight Batman 1

Fantasy heroes like Batman and Bond can be tough all of the time, we don’t see how vulnerable they are when nobody is looking. We don’t see their true emotions, and any human being who is afraid of expressing emotion is ultimately weak rather than strong.

One of Batman’s biggest weaknesses is his fear of showing or expressing emotion. It is not that he can’t, it is that he knows that if he does express his real feelings he can’t keep up the facade of being Batman. He can’t be the grim avenger of justice if he is crying on the inside.

Around Robin, Batgirl and Alfred Batman remains tough, stoic, emotionless and distant. Privately – alone with his thoughts and dreams – Batman is racked with guilt over his parents dying while he survived.

So Batman carries around all that pain, and we see him and think “Wow, he’s so cool, I wish I was like Batman” But to be more like our tough guy fantasy heroes means being very repressed, holding in our emotions, denying the very thing that makes us so human.

Batman war on crime hug kid

The strongest version of ourselves is also the most vulnerable version of ourselves.

Old world male values were all about being tough on the outside while dying silently on the inside.

But those values served their purpose in their time. Folks lived through some tough times, and in the old days it was not socially acceptable to both “be a man” and “feel stuff”.

Feelings were icky and strange, best left for women folk while men were out eating bowls of gravel for breakfast, building things from hard wood and cold steel, or accidentally chopping off body parts with industrial saws then not crying because that would make you look like a sissy boy!

New world male values mean having the courage to be both strong and vulnerable.

kung fu panda one arm push up

Failing to be strong means that women will not respect us. Failing to be vulnerable means we don’t connect with our children, partners and friends. I am not just talking about physical strength here, but strength as a male character trait, which includes emotional strength.

Strength and courage without vulnerability are based in fear.

True strength and courage come with vulnerability. Waking up, growing up and showing up in life means living with uncertainty, it means that you show up, you take action and you can never be sure of the results you get. You take responsibility for your actions even when you are full of doubt or guilt.

It is not easy to live each day with uncertainty, but it takes guts, it takes grit in your eye and not being afraid to be vulnerable, and not letting the fear of others perceiving you as vulnerable stop you from living an authentic life.

True strength means being “okay” with “not being okay”, it means acknowledging fear, doubt, lack of self worth and shame, and being okay with that, making you peace with all of it. It means owning who we are and what we stand for. It means standing up for your beliefs, embracing the qualities and virtues that make men great but not turning our back on our emotions, on our genuine human needs, or ignoring our weaknesses and blind spots for fear of judgement from others.

There is no human being who has never felt the experience of shame. It is a universal human feeling and experience. – Brene Brown

Bond Craig

The cultivation of male values and virtues can be a dangerous and slippery slope. We mix up genuine values and virtues with what we perceive on the cinema screen. We assume that Bond and Bauer have something to teach us about being men.

We know it is all a fantasy – nobody walks into a room full of bad guys – shoots them all, slicks back his hair while saying something cool and then a bikini babe falls all over him and is grateful for being saved from international terrorists while things explode in the background.

Male screen heroes promote false values – we confuse confidence with arrogance, we confuse capability and training with a slick look and a cool attitude.

David Boreanaz as Angel on Buffy the Vampire Slayer sword

We all love the outsider bad boy with a heart of gold. It’s an archetype we never get bored of. The outsider bad boy with a heart of hold is Clint Eastwood in Fistful of Dollars, James Dean in Rebel without a Cause, Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler, David Boreanaz in Joss Whedon’s Angel.

Every guy wants to be perceived as cool, sexy and dangerous. We love our James Bond’s, Batman and Die Hard. We love our car chases, fist fights and needlessly excessive explosions. Men love action movies, because we love to take action ourselves. We like building things, picking up heavy objects, finishing a project or goal and other stuff that makes us feel useful and valued.

We all want to be the guy who rescues the girl, kills the bad guy in some cool way and gives the audience a raised eyebrow or knowing wink with a stupid grin on our face.

Clint Eastwood Rocky Terminator Stallone Schwarzenegger the rock jason statham bruce lee grid 2

Every guy secretly wants to be the romantic ideal of one of those iconic cinema tough guys, outlaws, loners and antiheroes.

We idolise our icons of strength and machismo.

Every guy deep down wants to be Be Bond, Butch Cassidy, Batman. We all want to be effortlessly cool like James Dean, Elvis Presley and Bruce Lee. We want to kick-ass like Batman, we want the rippling muscles of Superman, we want to be the cool bad-ass that everyone fears and respects, the kind of antihero Clint Eastwood made a career out of playing.

We want to be as tough and manly as Stallone and Schwarzeneggar, we want to know how The Rock works out, we want to kick ass and spit gravel like Jason Statham.

We all love when the hero triumphs or passes their tests of adversity through courage, grit and determination. We love when our heroes “Macgyver” their way through a tough spot, we love when they improvise and laugh in the face of danger and say “Hey, Fuck you buddy!” to the bad guy that everyone hates.

But what of the struggle along the way, what of the pain, the shame, the sadness, the self-loathing that is an integral part of getting to that place of being a “tough guy” that people fear and respect?

We don’t get to see that part!

We get all the gloss and heroics, but the messy interior emotional stuff gets left out of it. It’s not cool to see Batman cry! We don’t want a vulnerable hero.

Batman crying parents
Batman cries for his parents

As men we hide our feelings for fear or criticism, especially from other men who may perceive the expression of feelings as weakness.

But being brave also means being vulnerable. It takes courage to be open to other people about who you are and what you stand for in life. Those who constantly lie to themselves and others, who are afraid of expressing themselves become cowards. Human beings male or female can only take so much of living in shadow, of failing to be who we are and live the life we know we ought to.

Eventually something breaks, it may be our mind, it may be our body. It may be our will power, our ethics or values. We compromise a little here and there, we give in to the demands of others. We keep doing that and eventually we wake up one day and don’t know who we are anymore.

Leo Buscaglia quote strength gentleness

We find that we have spent so much effort trying to please others, trying to be polite and not ruffle feathers, trying to live the life we imagine others want us to live and we lose our authentic voice.

We lose the voice of our heart. We lose the voice of our soul that cries out for us not to be perfect, tough and infallible, but to be authentic.

To open up about who we are what we stand for. To feel life in all its glory and all its pain, facing everything, denying nothing.

What we deny and repress we give power to. But what we face and own, we transform through the spotlight of awareness.

Supermans pal jimmy olsen supermans saddest day cry tears

“If the healthy masculine principle tends toward autonomy, strength, independence, and freedom, when that principle becomes unhealthy or pathological, all of those positive virtues either over – or under-fire. There is not just autonomy, but alienation; not just strength, but domination; not just independence but morbid fear of relationship and commitment; not just a drive toward freedom, but a drive to destroy. The unhealthy masculine principle does not transcend in freedom, but dominates in fear.” – Ken Wilber / Integral Theory

Fantasy heroes are great fun. We can enjoy them as entertainment, and while they may live impossibly cool lives where everything goes right by the end of the credits, we can still be inspired by their best qualities.

Fantasy is important. Social scientists and theorists tell us that those who have rich fantasy lives are generally sane, happy, healthy people. Despite alarmist media desperate for ratings and attention talking up violent movies and video games, there exists far more evidence about the positive effects of expressing ourselves through fantasy movies, video games and novels etc. In contrast the evidence for the negative effects of entertainment media is often mis-reported, blown out of proportion and too often factually incorrect or just plain wrong.

Freddy Kruger Jason Vorhees Alien vs Predator

In real life kids and teenagers who enjoy horror and action movies and play fantasy games with their friends don’t tend to grow up into maniacs. The kids who are denied fantasy entertainment, who are not allowed to express themselves or do what they want tend to be the ones that grow up resentful and self-important. The people who enjoy healthy fantasy as children may grow up to be actors, writers, special effects gurus, video game designers, or other creative types, or they may enjoy any other type of work because fantasy is part of normal healthy human expression as much for children as for adults.

“Even if a child’s attention is mostly focused on a TV show, it won’t be the show that will make the deepest impression on her idea of how she is supposed to behave–it will be the way mom or dad behaves while the show is on. Expressing anger or anxiety about a child’s entertainment won’t make her like the entertainment less–but it will model anger and anxiety for her. She’s not likely to shape her real behavior around what she sees characters do on the glass screen. But if she sees parents allowing entertainment violence but treating others lovingly, she will get the message, “An adult is supposed to be okay with make-believe violence but not make it real.” -Gerard Jones, Killing Monsters: Our Children’s Need For Fantasy, Heroism, and Make-Believe Violence

All human beings have fantasies, day dreams, power fantasies, sexual fantasies and more. It is part of being human. The fear of our fantasies however often creates more drama and problems than actually enjoying them for what they are.

So we can enjoy male power fantasies like Batman and Bond which are equally appealing to kids and adult males. We can see their good qualities – like determination, perseverance and not giving up in the face of adversity. But our real role models for when we are done playing make believe are our family and friends. They are the ones we connect with, share ourselves with and grow with. They are the ones who love and support us through life. They are our models, our influences and our real life heroes.

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