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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...

Thursday, December 4, 2014



It's often been observed that the teleseries-producers pursued a two-tier approach with BATMAN.  They knew that children and some adolescents would take the adventure-elements seriously, while the adults would be entertained by the ironic distancing conveyed by the dialogue and some of the more overtly absurd situations (e.g., Batgirl almost fails to rescue Batman and Robin from a death-trap because she's careful to obey local traffic laws).  Yet, because of the two-tiered approach, Dozier and Co. couldn't avoid validating-- rather than subverting-- the most representative element of the adventure-genre: the *agon*, the fight-scene in which good wins out over evil.
Since I'm critiquing popular fiction from a Fryean viewpoint, it's natural that I should have emphasized the *agon* as against other elements of the adventure-mythos.  But the Berlatsky mini-essay referenced here  touches on what I called "the structural functions of sexuality in the adventure-mythos." For all the ironic and comic content in the 1966 BATMAN series, sex as much as violence validates adventure.

There are a lot of ways in which a predominantly ironic or comic mythos can invalidate the hero's sexual nature for the sake of enhancing what Schopenhauer calls "the ludicrous." The ironic film FEARLESS FRANK, clearly picking up on the short-lived success of the Bat-series, puts its Candide-esque innocent through the sexual wringer, propelling him Frank into a heroic role due to a fundamentally stupid encounter with a gangster's moll and later having him sexually polluted by a character-type who's usually framed as a virginal innocent.   The same year gave fans a psychedelic comic take on James Bond, the chaotic mess CASINO ROYALE, but instead of making Bond a randy young seducer, the film's script made the hero into "an older man, a retired spy with a far-flung reputation for celibacy, which state is motivated (to the extent that any motivation exists in this farrago) by the fact that he had to sacrifice his one true love, the historical Mata Hari, to the firing-squad."

The latter description might sound a bit like my summation of Batman's heroic code in the earlier essay, that Dozier's Batman is "an Adonis who's trying to be a chaste Hippolytus, trying to put aside lust and devote himself to crime-fighting even as the aforementioned son of Theseus tries to focus all his energies on being a chaste worshiper of Artemis." But there's a crucial difference. The only extrinsic reason Sir James Bond repudiates sex to promote more tension as the script continually keeps throwing voluptuous women in his path. Just as Fearless Frank's sexual nature is rendered ludicrous because he has too much, Sir James' nature is ludicrous because he has too little. Both situations are intended to amuse because, however sincere the motivations of the protagonists may be in taking their respective stances, they're meant to seem incongruous.

Dozier-Batman also gets numerous voluptuousities flung in his face. Yet, because Dozier wanted to play the Batman-mythos just straight enough that young fans could enjoy it, Batman doesn't have too little sex even though he, like Sir James, routinely rejects the entanglements of both rescued maidens and rapacious henchwomen. His purpose in rejecting those entanglements is repeatedly validated through his accomplishments.  One may choose to view Batman's essential celibacy as your basic Weberian "deferred gratification," but that sort of over-simple allegory doesn't banish the appeal of the heroic code. Even young fans know that Batman is only "real" insofar as he promotes the kind of adventures that they want to see. A Batman who gets married and has kids is no longer Batman.

I said "essential celibacy" because in BATMAN's comic/ironic moments it clearly means to poke fun at the hero's monkish, do-gooder image. Yet when the Caped Crusader does evince healthy lust, as I have argued that he does in PART 1, it doesn't invalidate his code, which would result in humorous incongruity.  Sir James Bond is comically tempted; if he wavers when faced when a comely young girl in his bathtub, it's because his bodily lusts are overpowering his conscious intentions. Batman may be tempted when Catwoman tries to talk him into marriage, but Dozier wants at least young viewers to admire the hero for being able to resist temptation, even if the adult viewers might think Batman's crazy for not tapping that ass.  Thus Batman's cognitive intentions win out over his baser instincts-- and it's only a victory because he does have said instincts.

 The earlier-cited episode "King Tut's Coup" is one of the few times when it's strongly suggested that the Bat-dude takes a small vacation from his mission.  Bruce Wayne, who as Batman has rescued Lisa (Lee Meriwether) from King Tut, sees Lisa home and receives from her an invitation to dally within her dwelling, so to speak. Bruce apparently succumbs, muttering to himself (or the viewer) that "man cannot live by crime-fighting alone." Yet even if this is the only time when the hero allows himself some non-deferred gratification, it doesn't derail his stated mission, and things are back to normal for the remainder of the series.

Next Up: Sex in the BATMAN comic.

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