A new Batman and Superman movie, Dawn of Justice, came out last weekend, and interestingly the two superheroes are pitted against one another. How can it be, you might ask, that two “good” guys go after each other? What kind of sense does that make? The answer to that question is fascinating, and even important, and ultimately has a connection to choice theory.
I don’t have a deep knowledge of comic book characters. I was never allowed to go near a comic book when I was a kid, which some would say had something to do with me developing an interest in science fiction later in life. It was troubling enough to my parents when I got into the Hardy Boys mystery series. Over the years I have seen different of the blockbuster summer movies that feature Marvel or DC comic characters, but I am not that familiar with the original writing that brought these characters to life. Apparently, there are a lot of people who are into the comic book genre, though, and one of these people, Abraham Riesman, wrote an article on the conflict between Batman and Superman that appeared in the March 21 edition of New York Magazine.
Both of them, Riesman contends, want to make a better world, but they differ on how to accomplish it. Superman operates through hope and inspiration, while Batman operates through fear and intimidation. In the movie (I haven’t seen it yet), Lex Luthor, the bad guy, describes them as “god vs. man, day vs. night.” As Riesman summarizes, “Superman has faith that humanity will tend toward goodness if you give it trust and hope; Batman lacks that faith and believes the world only gets in line if you grab it by the throat and never let go.” Of interest is the fact that between the two characters, Batman is by far the more popular. Whether by number of comics or by number of movie tickets sold, Batman predominates.
Batman is by far the more popular.
This is a bit remarkable, given that Batman is only an earthling, which leads us to consider something deeper. That something has everything to do with the way in which Batman’s worldview seems to dominate . . . well, the world’s view of how things get done. More and more people, it would seem, are relating to Batman’s approach to solving problems? “It was only in the 70s and 80s,” one writer suggests, “that Batman truly emerged from Superman’s shadow. This was a period shadowed by the assassinations of two Superman-like symbols of hope – Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. Cities from coast to coast erupted into vicious race riots. A sitting president was tied to an insidious crime and resigned on live television. We lost a war for the first time and economy skidded into an oil-slicked slowdown. At the cinema, audiences wanted heroes that were less like John Wayne and more like Dirty Harry.”
In a comic book from 1983, “Superman tries to appeal to the better angels of Batman’s nature” and reminds him of their always wanting to serve as examples to others. “But the Dark Knight cuts him off and declares that he never asked for that. ‘I never wanted men to imitate me – only fear me.’” Batman felt that Superman had sold out to a failed system. “My parents taught me a different lesson than yours taught you, Superman, lying on this street, shaking in deep shock, dying for no reason at all, they showed me that the world only makes sense when you force it to.”
And so the newest DC comics movie, Dawn of Justice, pits two good guys against each other, fighting over how to make the world a better place. One through hope, inspiration, and faith in humanity. While the other relies on fear, intimidation, and force.
Dawn of Justice pits two good guys against each other,
fighting over how to make the world a better place.
The rhetoric on display during the Republican debates seemed very much in agreement with a Batman mentality. Trump’s meteoric rise in political popularity has much to do with his tough talk and forceful solutions. It will be interesting to see where we go as voters, and where ultimately we want the country to head. Will a majority of us want tough talk and solutions through force?
Choice theory, whether applied personally or corporately, and even on an international scale, calls us to something better than threats and brute force. As educators, the present political dialogue will make our jobs more challenging. Children and teenagers pick up on the words said and the tone in which they are said and, if these words and tones are modeled at home, will behave in a similar fashion at school. Even as educators have recently made advances against bullying, now the language of bullying has been thrust upon us on a national political stage, and our advances seem poised to be swept away. Whether difficult or not, as educators and parents, let us hold to the promptings and principles of choice theory and keep on teaching our students about discovering their purpose in life, about love and belonging, about freedom, about power (this one is getting more important by the second), and about joy.
The ultimate use of power is to empower others.