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This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Wednesday, December 3, 2014


Ah, time for a break from heavy stuff. I'm once more indebted to Noah Berlatsky, for making these silly statements about the 1966-68 BATMAN teleseries.

Batman isn’t only an object of desire on the 60s television show; he’s actually the only object of desire. The show includes gratuitously scantily clad lovelies...But the lovelies are never identified within the dialogue as objects of erotic interest; Batman and Robin are impervious to their charms... 

Never identified? Berlatsky starts out his observations by noting that when King Tut's consort/henchwoman Nefertiti drools over Batman, the evil Egyptologist is filled with "ire." Should one assume from this that Berlatsky believes that the villain has no "erotic interest" in his beauteous queen? How about in the episode "King Tut's Coup," where Tut kidnaps Lisa (Lee Meriwether, later one of the show's three "Catwomen") because he's convinced that she's Queen Cleopatra?  I thought I  saw some pretty good flaring of the nostrils there. For that matter, it isn't all one-way: in this episode Tut's handmaiden Neila (Grace Lee Whitney) sets Robin free from bondage. Why?

Frankly, Robin, I don't give a darn about you, but I want her outta here. King Tut may be fat, lazy and extremely lewd, but he's all I have. And with her here, I don't even have that.

Further, the Phony Pharoah is not unique in this wise. The majority of male villains have glamorous molls hanging around, and though one rarely sees the villains becoming romantic, the molls certainly aren't being kept around for their brains.  These "lovelies" aren't just floating around like empty signifiers: they're being kept around because they're hot babes. There's even a extra-diegetic marker that frequently shows up whenever a voluptuous woman struts her stuff: one of those woodwind-sounding tunes (la la la la LA la) that's meant to be marginally classier than the brassy notes one associated with strippers (wah wah wah WAH wah).

Berlatsky also says:

This is the case with virtually all the other leading ladies as well; Julie Newmar as Catwoman wears a skin-tight, jaw-dropping outfit, but no one’s jaw drops; the Moth, one of Riddler’s associates, wears a skin-tight, eye-raising outfit, but no one’s eyes are raised. The only sex object which is acknowledged as a sex object is the Batman himself. In this show, it’s women, not men, who visibly lust. 

What Berlatsky seems to want is some sort of comic overreaction: some scene in which men are show with their tongues hanging out like a Tex Avery wolf.  A close reading of BATMAN the series, of course, would show several instances in which both of the central heroes are at least moved by feminine charms, though they rarely if ever give in to them. But this is a long way from saying that only the women "visibly lust."

The romantic reticence of the Dynamic Duo may have had something to do with the producers' attempt to captivate a juvenile audience as well as an adult one.  Still, in structural terms BATMAN wasn't really all that different from other adventure-oriented shows of the period, be they westerns like BAT MASTERSON or SF-shows like STAR TREK. Gene Barry in the former and William Shatner in the latter are both positioned as smooth operators who can't help but inflame the loins of almost every female guest-star who shows up.  Dozier's Batman is only different in his psychological outlook: he's an Adonis who's trying to be a chaste Hippolytus, trying to put aside lust and devote himself to crimefighting even as the aforementioned son of Theseus tries to focus all his energies on being a chaste worshipper of Artemis. This archetype is probably just as widely dispersed throughout pop culture as the archetype of the smooth seducer: off the top of my head, most of the adventures of Doc Savage position the pulp-hero as being desired by many "lovelies" but never (well, hardly ever) succumbing to temptation.

Still, though Berlatsky's wrong on this matter, his observations do open up another line of thought as to the structural functions of sexuality in the adventure-mythos, which I'll address in Part 2.

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