Scene: We’re getting ready for church. Kids are watching “Batman Begins” because a DVD turned up at our house the other day, they wanted to watch it, and that’s just how we roll as parents. The following exchange occurred just after Bruce Wayne took the hallucinogenic flowers, won the battle, and then refused to join the League of Shadows.
Younger Daughter: Daddy, is Batman a good boy or a bad boy?
Me: Well, honey, Batman is a complex character who doesn’t neatly fall into one camp or the other.
You, possibly: Dude, seriously, isn’t your younger daughter not even three and you’re letting her watch “Batman Begins” and trying to have nuanced discussions of good and evil with her?
Me: What’s your point?
In a moment of serendipity, the above happened just before a flurry of comments from Country Lawyer arrived on this post on being a gentleman. In my brain, everything clicked. I left a reply asking him if he ever felt like Ra’s al Ghul trying to complete Bruce Wayne’s training and started mentally mapping out a post that covered the facts that to know the ugly underbelly does not mean one must operate on its level, altruism does not exist, Tanner’s “The better you dress the worse you can behave” is brilliant, and a few other points. It was going to be epic, though my less-than-encyclopedic knowledge of comics and use of the Nolan film might cause some consternation.
Then I mowed my yard in 97 degree weather. Toward the end, my sweat stopped stinging my eyes and I developed a dull headache, but I soldiered on as I was almost done. Then I woke up in the bushes and couldn’t remember my name. And with that, the post became less epic. It should also be mentioned that it no longer has anything to do with being a gentleman, except when it might.
In the city of Gotham, there is a growing divide between those who attempt to effect change from within and those who attempt to effect change from outside. For the latter, any acceptance of the laws and norms are unacceptable. ‘Tis better to move in the shadows and behead the wicked than don tuxedos and play nice at polite society. For the former, ’tis better to move in the open, if cloaked. Such fighting requires an adherence to societal norms, tattered though they may be. The thinking is that victory precludes wholly adopting the mental framework of your enemies. If we become our enemies, then they have won.
Both sides have their points, but the moral ambiguity of Ra’s al Ghul and the League of Shadows undercuts their mission. If the ends justify the means and nothing is sacred save order, then we are left with fear and anger. Batman, though conflicted and generally angry himself, gives Gotham an ideal to which it can aspire. As such, I shall make decisions that are sometimes noble, sometimes self-serving, and sometimes noble and self-serving. Except I won’t. My noble decisions are inherently self-serving. If society is made nicer, even if only the little spheres I move within are made nicer, then that is a benefit to me. Given that Ra’s al Ghul has been at it for hundreds of years and things have only gotten worse, I’m not digging his sales pitch, though there was a time when I would have eaten his psychedelic blue flowers. Until he improves upon that record (comical gravelly voice), I’m Batman.