You know him; he is commonly referred to by names such as the “caped-crusader” and “the dark-knight”. He is a vigilante, he fights crime in the shadows of the night on the streets of Gotham, he is Batman. Since DC Comics first introduction of the character in 1950’s, the sexuality of Batman has been continuously questioned. The debate over his sexuality peaked in the 1960’s, with the Batman TV Series , which used pop art camp. Fans commonly debate over whether Batman is a heterosexual man, who has his way with various women, or whether he is a homosexual in a relationship with his sidekick, Robin. My main issue with these debates is they cause obsession over sexuality. This results in the reinforcement of homophobic stereotypes, the normalization of hetero-normative behavior, and ultimately the continuation of a lack of tolerance towards people who are different by young children. These young children grow up to become adults that continue the cycle of intolerance, by promoting the same intolerant values in their children.
There are many instances in which homophobia is exhibited by an audience or a member of society, however the homophobia surrounding the Batman Franchise stands out above the rest and is most effective in addressing the aforementioned issue for three reasons. The first reason, everyone knows about the characters Batman and Robin, these two superheroes are part of American culture. The second reason is there are multiple instances in the series where the makers of the Franchise modifies an element of the series to conform to the heterosexual “norm” in an attempt to decrease the homophobia surrounding the series (compulsory heterosexuality). The last reason is society feels most threatened when the sexuality of its male super-heroes, who are supposed to be hyper-masculine male ideals (for young boys to follow) are under attack. The hyper-masculine male ideal created by male super-heroes never accepts defeat and is honest, strong, and fearless.
The early portrayals of Batman uses ironic quips and camp to illuminate the character’s flamboyant nature. According to Camp: Queer Aesthetics and the Performing Subject, “Camp is an aesthetic sensibility regarding to something appealing or humorous due to its deliberate ridiculousness” (Cleto 15). An instance of Batman’s flamboyant camp in the 1960’s TV series can be seen in the episode when the Black Widow puts a spell on Batman. In order to break free of the spell he has to sing her a song. He ends up singing the song, “I’m a Little Buttercup” and as part of his performance he prances around in a circle with his hands on his hips. Yes, Batman is flamboyant, but does this necessarily mean his character is homosexual, no. Why is it that society automatically equates flamboyance with homosexuality? It is because society is so set on defining norms, whether it is sexuality, religion, culture etc.
Fedric Wertham is one of the main contributors to the homophobia surrounding the character Batman. Many viewers began to exhibit homophobic notions towards the Batman series, upon intercepting ideas from Wertham’s book,Seduction of the Innocents. In it Wertham claims that Batman and Robin are in a homosexual relationship with each other. The two main reasons Wertham gives to support this claim are: Batman and Robin live alone and Batman is a misogynist who loves seeing other women (female villains) “banged around” and “vanquished”. In other words Wertham is equating misogyny with homosexuality essentially making the assumption men love other men because they hate women. The examples Wertham uses to support his claim are very over-imaginative in semiotic analysis. For example Wertham says this,
Sometimes Batman ends up in bed injured and young Robin is shown sitting next to him. At home they lead an idyllic life. They are Bruce Wayne and “Dick” Grayson. Bruce Wayne is described as a “socialite” and the official relationship is that Dick is Bruce’s ward. They live in sumptuous quarters, with beautiful flowers in large vases… Batman is sometimes shown in a dressing gown…It is like a wish dream of two homosexuals living together. Sometimes they are shown on a couch, Bruce reclining and Dick sitting next to him, jacket off, collar open, and his hand on his friend’s arm (Wertham 190).
So according to the assumptions made by Wertham, for the character, Batman and his sidekick to be heterosexual they should never show any concern if the other is hurt, live in a hut, only have ugly flowers in small vases, never share a couch, always keep their collars buttoned and jackets on, and never, ever wear night gowns to bed. Also, according to Wertham’s suggestions, isn’t he implying the two are in a pedophilic relationship? After all, isn’t Robin a teenager many years younger than Batman, an adult man in his late 20s to early 30s? These two points show the faulty logic prevalent in Wertham’s argument.
As a result of the homophobia created by skeptics like Wertham, the creators of the Franchise have modified elements of latter versions of the series, as previously mentioned in an attempt to decrease the homophobia surrounding it. Different versions of Batman have taken different approaches in an attempt to decrease the homophobia surrounding the series. For example in Batman: the Brave and the Bold the character Robin has been completely eliminated to decrease homophobia. In the most recent movie of the Batman Franchise The Dark Knight Rises Batman and Robin are shown to have minimum knowledge of each other. In the Batman and the Detective Comics,
…the character of Batwoman, a mirror image of Batman[was added], complete with a Batcave and Batcycle of her own…[she was] intended to ward off further charges of homosexuality, Batwoman functioned as a female presence and potential love interest. Determined to establish both Batman and Robin’s sexuality, the writers introduced Batwoman’s niece as the Boy Wonder’s possible girlfriend… (Pearson 13)
In another update, Batman: the Dark Knight Returns the character Robin is a girl instead of a boy to eliminate the homophobia surrounding Batman & Robin. In Arkham Asylum and The Dark Knight series the Joker is deliberately made to be homosexual in order to redirect the homophobia towards the Joker’s character in an effort to alleviate homosexual associations made about Batman & Robin. In the series the Joker wears excessive lipstick and make-up, he frequently calls Batman “Darling” and “Sweetie Pie”, and is frequently seen accompanied by a transsexual sidekick. Additionally, the creators use the sexuality of the Joker in a devious way to subliminally indicate to the audience homosexuality is bad. A viewer might conclude after watching several episodes of the series since a bad character, a villain is homosexual, homosexuality therefore must also be bad.
If society were not so homophobic toward Batman and people of ambiguous sexuality, homosexuals probably would not feel the need to satisfy their sexual needs through bricolage (this is especially prevalent in other parts of the world, still somewhat around even in the United States).
Bricolage…[is] a characteristic reading strategy of gay audiences. Denied even the remotest possibility of supportive images of homosexuality within the dominant heterosexual culture, gay people…fashion what [they could]…out of the imageries of dominance, to snatch illicit meanings from the fabric of normality, to undertake a corrupt decoding for the purpose of satisfying marginalized desires. (Medhurst 336)
Due to suppression produced by society people not of heterosexual orientation often find themselves piecing together their identities from the everyday materials of the heteronormative culture in which they live. As a consequence of the desperate search for satisfaction they often feel guilty after they are done with self-gratification. This is especially the case since society dictates this type of behavior is wrong and unacceptable. What is normal? And what is considered normal behavior? The truth is the concept of normality is all in the head it is a trick, a clever ruse constructed and reinforced by society.
Whether Batman is homo-or-heterosexual is irrelevant. Sexual orientation should play no part in what is considered “normal” behavior. The concept of normality is shaped and constructed by a select few only then to be reinforced by society. It is up to us to make changes in society for a better tomorrow. The Batman Franchise should be watched and read as originally intended, for pure entertainment. One last thing while blogging on topic of Homophobia I might as well include the following video again proving my point ENJOY!
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