Sunday, April 29, 2012

Batman as the ideal of "the one percent" in Batman: the animated series

Something that becomes evident if you watch all the episodes of Batman: the animated series is that Bruce Wayne is very rich, and obviously rich.  But as pop icons and American pop mythology goes Batman doesn't stop being a relatable character despite being extravagantly wealthy.  To take up the polemical point about the wealthiest of the wealthy Bruce Wayne would be in the "one percent". Yet though Bruce Wayne can come off as (and actually be) aloof, cold, callous, elitist, insular, and disconnected from the concerns of ordinary people he manages, despite all this to be a very sympathetic character.  Why?

Well, the answer may be as simple as proposing that Bruce Wayne, and by extension Batman, is the ideal "one percent".  He may be obscenely wealthy but, particularly in Batman: the animated series, he uses his wealth to fund and support pioneering technology.  Let's not forget, for instance, that Jervis Tetch was able to invent his mind-controlling technology while he was not really creating the human performance enhancement technology that Bruce Wayne was funding him to invent.  Though it may be as the Caped Crusader most of the time Bruce wayne takes a genuine interest in the rehabilitation and restoration of Arnold Wesker.  I'm saving most of my thoughts on Batman and the Ventriloquist for future installments at Mockingbird.  There's a spoiler right there and I'll even contrive an excuse to highlight two different Arnolds in the Timm-verse as examples of synergistic and monergistic redemption.  One of the joys of swimming around in the Timm/Dini-verse is the sheer complexity of the portraits of numerous characters.

Central to that world is Bruce Wayne and the wealthiest of the wealthy who has not become so immersed in being the big man around Gotham either as Bruce Wayne or as Batman that he has no thought for the little guy or for people who can get overlooked.  In the episode "Mean Seasons" Batman's attempts to apprehend Calendar Girl confronts Bruce Wayne about some of his ignorance of age discrimination not only in the fashion industry (i.e. what inspired Calendar Girl's vendetta) but also age discrimination that is institutionally endemic even in Wayne Enterprises.  When Bruce realizes that one of his best, most loyal, and reliable managers will get forced into retirement due to an age ceiling Bruce Wayne sees to it this policy in Wayne Enterprises is changed so that qualified employees can work for as long as they can do the work. 

In the premiere episode of the Riddler Bruce Wayne is negotiating a deal with Daniel Mockridge that will bring new jobs to Gotham City.  What makes Bruce Wayne/Batman such a relatable and likeable character in the landmark series is that he is doing everything he can to make Gotham a better and safer place to live, not only as Batman but as a billionaire industrials as well. 

That other wealthy industrialists in Gotham do not take Bruce Wayne's position on being willing to help the least as well as the greatest is highlighted in the episode "The Terrible Trio". Once Batman has adduced their identities he remarks contemptuously that scoundrels like these are worse than the Joker, who at least has madness as an excuse for his cruelty.  Bruce Wayne is not aware that the members of the Terrible Trio are actually fellow wealthy socialites within Gotham.  As they are out on a game of shooting clay pigeons one declares that Wayne is too chatty and familiar with the hired help. He says "You'd probably thank your garbage man for picking up the trash."  Bruce Wayne pauses a moment and replies, "If I happened to see him, I yes, I would."

By the end of the episode the cruellest and most self-assured of the Terrible Trio, Fox, tries to bribe Batman into letting him escape.  Batman contemptuously replies, "Your money's no good here." The final member of the trio declares that he will bribe whatever judge he has to and that there's no way Batman can keep him in prison.  The episode ends with the self-assured elitist criminal sharing a roach-infested cell with a very strong and brutish prisoner who looks at him with a predatory gaze and growls. We're not told what's about to happen to the humiliated criminal but since this is a show for kids adults can "do the math" on just how much further a criminal who looked down on the lowly and ordinary is going to get degraded and debased.

With the third and final Batman film coming up this year Christopher Nolan has not, as yet, explored what ways Bruce Wayne has attempted to combat injustice and misfortune in Gotham City.  This is a Batman who is discovering who he is and what his mission is, whereas in Batman: the animated series Kevin Conroy's Batman is obviously a very seasoned, experience crime-fighter and an established industrialist. It remains to be seen what sort of Batman Christian Bale's Bruce Wayne will become but the legend is supposed to end in the third film. 

By the start of the landmark animated series Bruce Wayne is already, essentially, the ideal one percent, the kind of super-wealthy person that, if he or she must exist in American society, is the kind that we, as Americans, would like to have.  That Paul Dini and Bruce Timm's Bruce Wayne is already the most altruistic and helpful of the one percent twenty years before anyone started using that catchphrase may be instructive as to some directions Christopher Nolan has planned on taking his Batman trilogy.

No comments: