Posted on July 21st, 2012 | Filed under Challenges, Featured, Learning, Philosophy, Popular Culture, Social Issues, Theology, Uncategorized
Tagged with Challenge, Crucifiction, Economy, Finance, Jesus, United States
"People need dramatic examples to shake them out of apathy, and I can't do that as Bruce Wayne. As a man, I'm flesh and blood. I can be ignored, I can be destroyed. But as a symbol… as a symbol, I can be incorruptible. I can be everlasting." -- Bruce Wayne, Batman Begins (2005)
Why do ideals identify so strongly with symbols? Symbols are potent, easily recognized, and spread rapidly. For an American, it may be a Bald Eagle. For a Christian, it may be the Cross. For a Capitalist, it may be the Dollar sign. Whatever it is, a symbol means something deliberate, and it carries weight with it wherever it goes. The image itself is as important as the meaning, because the sign carries the significance. In the 2005 film Batman Begins, billionaire Bruce Wayne considered his options and what he might do after returning from his Eastern exile,. He wanted "to show the people of Gotham their city does not belong to the criminals and the corrupt," but he is not sure how to do this. In our world, one may live up to their highest ideals by taking on a cause or a charity, maybe even joining and partaking in a religion. But in Gotham, Bruce Wayne had to take other measures in order to secure the safety of the City. He had to conquer his fears. Looking into the Darkness, he could see the Light.
Bruce had to peer into his own dark past so that he might muster the courage to be the hero Gotham deserved. Looking at two specific events in his life, Bruce rallied an entire persona around the darkness which consumed his mind. An early traumatic memory of being trapped in close quarters with bats was the primary physical threat Bruce had to endure and overcome. It was also this very memory that forced a chain of unfortunate events, which ultimately resulted in his parents death, that fueled him to change. Bruce needed to conquer the rage that consumed him throughout his past and, quite literally, become it. By embodying the symbol of the very thing that forced his fear and resulted in his parents death, Bruce could Rise above it. He owned the power which that very thing held in its own sign. By becoming Batman, Bruce Wayne was no longer a man-- he was an incorruptible and everlasting symbol.
Although cultural characters like Batman and the symbol of the Bat which shines in the sky are not always considered in the same light as a religious, national, or philosophical symbol, they all represent very similar concepts. When we see the Cross, we think of the Crucifixion. The Crucifixion reminds us of the pain and suffering endured by Jesus Christ for our salvation. Whether that is true in reality does not matter. What matters is what it means to a Christian. Likewise, when we see a dollar sign, perhaps we have a feeling of success, or ambition -- or on the flip-side we feel a sense of disgust or greed. Symbols evoke various feelings and ideas that are otherwise not apparent. An image is like a word. It only is as far as its meaning is concerned.-- and without any imbued meaning, it may have no significance.
Batman's call sign means different things to different people. When it is seen by criminals, it means something very different than when seen by Commissioner Gordon. As Batman, Bruce embodied ideals of justice and righteousness. He was a physical reminder that these principles exist Truly, not just in our minds. The bat sign in the sky was the symbol of that physical reality. It not only called upon the idea that the signal exists broadly in time and space, but it also quite literally called for Batman's manifestation in that specific time and space. This is similar to a Catholic who makes the sign of the Cross over their body. This act is not just a reminder that God is with them, but it is an invocation to make that True. The human signing of the Cross is more physical than the visual stimulant of the Cross, but both serve in similar ways to invoke the same feelings or ideas in the heart and mind.
Bruce had to travel within his own dark-side so that he might find a symbol potent enough to transform himself. One that could really resonate with his own feelings of anger and guilt. Without that sort of power, he could never have embodied something as real as Batman. It seems that those of us who are willing to devote ourselves to that same sort of symbolic life--one dedicated to an idea--must do something very similar. It is best to have those sort of feelings justified in the very cause that we take up as most important. Batman had to conquer his fears-- and ultimately, even conquer the idea that his own physical body would perish. Once Bruce accepted his fate and recognized his position and privilege, he was free to become the hero he needed to be. Fear is to be subdued by your own True Will. By recognizing who he was all along, Bruce became who he was meant to be.
The ideals that Batman represented are so potent because they themselves are incorruptible. Justice and righteousness are permanently part of the human condition. They are concepts we will never lose, so long as we have the freedom to choose the Good. The symbol Batman becomes is one that can die, but the ideas behind him are eternal and everlasting. In the final installment of the trilogy, many speculate that either the character Batman or the man Bruce Wayne will die. Bane, the main villain, outmatches Batman physically and in many ways is just as symbolic and potent as he is. It is expected to be a violent finale and, as the taglines say, the legend will end. Despite this, the ideas that Batman stands for cannot be killed. As a man, as flesh and blood, Bruce can be ignored. He can die. But even if Bane kills Batman, The Dark Knight will Rise.
This photo was retrieved via Wikimedia Commons and was taken by RichTea [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)].