Saturday, June 8, 2013

17043--Mental Health for the Wealthy

Batman.  There, I said it.  The name carries a weight and imagery all its own.  Not all of the lore is absolutely consistent, but it has been entrusted to different creative hands across the character's many decades so that sort of thing has come to be expected.  Different aspects of the hero have been put in the spotlight at different times, making him something akin to the elephant described by five blind men.  He's a master of disguise.  He's a master of escapes.  He's a brilliant detective.  He's a crime fighter.  He's pretends to be a socialite playboy, but he's a philanthropist.  He's a crusading superhero out to make a world where no child ever again has to grow up without parents.  All these things are true and can all be seen as aspects of one man in the right light.

Among Batman's virtues, what I've heard spoken of as most appealing most often is that "he's just a man."  The meaning in that is that he holds appeal by not being superhuman.  That much is something I've noticed that his creative stewards have been careful to maintain.  That a man can drive himself by will and shape his form through diligent work to become as strong, studied, focused and prepared as any man could hope to be has brought him not only the ability to stand beside those who inherently possess greater capacities, but great respect.

While his many admirers may want to be him, the songs of his praise do not include the desire to repeat the tragic circumstances of the youth who watched his beloved parents murdered in front of him.  Needless to say, it's hardly the sort of thing anyone sane would invite upon their own person nor wish upon another.  If the double homicide and orphaning are deemed to have no appeal, despite being the spark that ignited Batman's war against crime, one must ask if the event is essential.  Would there still be a Batman without it?  As there aren't countless thousands finding themselves inspired to remake their own lives in the absence of such a redefining tragedy, we have to concede that such scarring plays some importance in motivation.  Sure, we have a few hundred people scattered about dressing in colorful tights and tactical gear to act as neighborhood watches, but while they may call themselves superheroes, they're just half-assing it compared to Batman.  All that obsession doesn't just come out of nowhere.  I imagine we'd also be hard-pressed to find a ten-year-old who watched his parents get murdered and not be further traumatized when we told him after the funeral that we were sending him off to the Shaolin monastery as the first step in a fifteen year globe-trotting training program.

One of the other essential pieces of the Batman puzzle also has to be the great wealth left to him by his dearly departed parents.  Some regard it as a super power in itself.  I consider it to be such an integral part of him, that it is not only a resource available to him, but a crucial part in his making.  Not only did his parents' wealth make them targets for robbery, but their son's subsequent inheritance of it is what allowed him to become the fully realized Batman.  Absent his wealth, he might've been just an enraged child suffering PTSD who made his way through public schools and foster care.  Upon adulthood, rather than travelling the world to seek training in the skills that would make him a superior crime fighter, he would find himself pressed to find work to support the basics of living.  Before long we have a bright young man with lackluster grades, plagued by nightmares, waking to cold sweats, thrust into wearying twelve-hour work days on odd shifts who barely wants to get out of bed.  His edge blunted, Batman would never have developed.  Wealth and its attendant life of privilege allowed him the luxury of brooding.  Somehow, it never included the psychological counseling that would've been pretty much automatic today.  I suppose no one mentioned that to Alfred way back when.  Perhaps it wasn't seen as the thing to do.  He was a boy.  Boys get told to "suck it up."  Alfred's a British butler, so he probably found a classier way to say it.  "Stiff upper lip, sir.  Have some more tea.  Scone?"  And then he has the nerve to nag his adult charge for becoming what he has become.

The Onion News Network did a very entertaining piece on a boy of about the right age who had recently seen his parents murdered.  They brought the boy onto a TV network morning show for a brief interview, then surprised him with his all-expenses paid trip around the world.  During the trip, he would spend the next dozen years with monks, combat masters, expert detectives, master thieves, etc., so that he could return as an adult to wage his war against crime in the memory of his deceased parents.  The youth was dragged from the set in confused protest to be taken to a waiting jet.  That kid has more of a chance at a "normal life" than Batman.

Sure there have been a lot of other people with murdered family members joining the war against crime, rather than riding a psychiatrist's couch, but who else has done it with the impact of Batman?  The Punisher?  Spider-man?  Element Lad?  Elektra?  Daredevil?  The Lone Ranger?  No, not even the cavalcade of Robins.  Whether on antidepressants or not, either way, the young master found himself screaming to thunderstorms at graveside and vowing oaths of vengeance.  That's mental healthcare only extreme wealth can buy.  That's OK, though, because Batman is what he's supposed to be.  If he'd gotten over it, he'd be healthy and "normal" and who wants to read the adventures of Bruce Wayne, billionaire playboy philanthropist?  The same people who dress-up as him for Halloween.

Nobody, that's who.  Fire up the Bat-signal.

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