Every quarter, I look forward to one specific day. It’s generally in the seventh or eighth week of the term, during our unit on cultural icons. I prepare a special outfit and prep my students for the awesomeness that is . . . Batman Day! Batman Day isn’t an official holiday (yet), and it comes around every fourteen weeks or so – every quarter during the school year.
Batman Day comes in two parts. In the first part, I assign a fantastic essay: “Batman, Deviance, and Camp” by Andy Medhurst. Medhurst looks at what he calls the “painstaking re-heterosexualization” of Batman that started after the comics came under attack in the 1950s (they were accused of trying to turn young boys gay by portraying the close relationship between Batman and Robin) and continued with the 1960s television series and movie. Fast-forward to 1989, and we have a new Batman: Tim Burton’s caped crusader, played by Michael Keaton, who only nominally resembles the campy 1960s Batman. Medhurst asks, what happened? How do we get from 1950s/60s Batman to 1980s Batman?
The answer, Medhurst says, mainly involves transferring the campy of elements from Batman himself onto the villains (killing off Robin helped too – apparently if Robin isn’t in the picture, Batman can’t be gay). Think about it: the newest version of Batman is so masculine, he can’t even speak – he only growls. He is also increasingly violent; even the Batsuit becomes more weapon-like as time goes on. In the newest Batman movies, it’s easiest to see the transference of camp in the character of Heath Ledger’s Joker, who wears makeup, dresses in drag, and lisps menacingly as he repeats one of recent cinema’s most romantic lines to Batman: “You complete me.” If everything associated with the villain is villainous, then camp itself is villainous – it is portrayed as the evil menacing Batman’s uber-hetero stoic heroism.
Medhurst provides a nuanced and insightful reading of the entire Bat-business (although, since the essay was written in 1990, he doesn’t discuss the newest incarnation of Batman). His goal in writing the essay (and my goal in teaching it) is not to argue whether or not Batman was/is actually gay – after all, Batman isn’t a real person and there is plenty of evidence on either side – rather, it is to draw attention to the act of reading itself. We can each have our own Batman, and whatever version we choose can be the “real” one (without invalidating the authenticity of other incarnations of Batman).
For the second part of Batman Day, I bring in movie clips to illustrate Medhurst’s argument about the re-heterosexualization of Batman – we start with the 1966 Batman movie starring Adam West, then I show a clip from the 1989 Batman, and I finish it off with a clip from The Dark Knight. Sometimes for kicks I also throw in an episode of “The Ambiguously Gay Duo.”
Batman Day reminds me of why I love teaching – not only do I regularly get to geek out about grammar, but I also get to share my passion for Batman, reading, and semiotic analysis. It’s awesome.
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