Over the past year I have had periodic Batman sightings in Newport or in the parks along the river.
It is always at night. He appears from the shadows and disappears as quickly. The last time I saw him was at a music festival along the river. He walked the perimeter of the event in the shadows of the trees. I watched him drink from a water fountain. And then with a flourish of his cape he was gone. I have no idea who the Batman is and I don’t think I want to know. I rather enjoy the mystery.
I can relate. When I was a child I could fly. I tied a towel around my neck and flew around the house. At the end of the day, I would fly into my bedroom that I shared with my younger brother, jump on the desk chair, onto the desk, and then fly to the top bunk where I would float for minutes before settling into bed and the satisfied slumber of youthful superheroes. Except one night. My nemesis, Gravity, won. The bed collapsed onto my sleeping brother below.
In my pursuit of the selfish joy of flight I inadvertently hurt someone. Fortunately, he was not severely injured and we can laugh about it now, but still. I wonder how many others shared the same experience. Millions probably.
As children we fantasized about superpowers and we tried them all on - flight, invisibility, mind reading, shrinking, whatever - in our play. But we also knew, as we learned from the comics, was that we had to keep our powers secret until we faced a situation that required, no, demanded, that we exercise our powers for good.
And if modern movies are any indication, that mythology still resonates. We learned that someone special and powerful lived inside us and only needed the appropriate challenge to bring that to the surface so we wear a disguise until our true selves are called upon. But as I think about it now, perhaps the superhero is the real us and our daily lives are our secret identities. Batman is the true man while Bruce Wayne is but a facade.
The real us is capable of extreme endurance and sacrifice and kindness and strength. And even though the super-antagonists had equally cool superpowers, they were motivated by greed, pride, revenge, or power - all of the destructive human elements. Even though we could not articulate it at the time, we knew it. As children we learned lessons about nobility, suffering, kindness, revenge, fair play, power, love, and hate.
Those old DC comics helped a generation navigate the mysteries of maturation and finding our way in the world. How many bedrooms became a Fortress of Solitude and how many basements became the Bat Cave? I knew that I had the power within to help or change the world. I possessed the power to do good in the world. And we have seen this in others and we know that it is in us.
But the world is more complicated than the the comics presented. Things are not as they appear and our perception is influenced by so much. But that narrative arc was set - conflict, struggle, doubt, action, victory. Ultimately, we began to reflect on our actions and motives. The world is simultaneously much more complicated, nuanced, and, yes, simpler than we thought. It’s a big, beautiful, complex world.
Today I see so much reckless behavior, action, and speech that I wonder if some people’s inner superhero have been distorted.
But like Newport’s Batman, we must remember that with superpower comes super-responsibility. Just because we can doesn’t mean that we should. As humans we must use our powers for good because thoughtless action harms.
|In Other Words is a column written by Chuck Keller.|