Saturday, September 30, 2006

For Future Reference

Okay, I'm not a believer in the fabled Batman/Robin subtext. I've never seen the subtext, it just seems to me like Wertham was overreacting to seeing the strongest relationship in Batman's life with a male character and people have picked up on this since.

I'm actually pretty difficult to argue this point with.

I can see where you're coming from if you're going to argue specific interactions between Dick and Bruce that seemed slashy, you can argue if they are fatherly affection vs romantic affection. That's cool. I'll usually fall on the side of fatherly affection, unless the scene is written by Devin Grayson. But she's only one writer in sixty years worth of writers on page and screen, and she's the exception when it comes to this. Other writers tend to be very careful about how they portray the Batman-Robin relationship.

I can see where you're coming from when arguing how either character interacts with women vs how he interacts with men to argue that they are homosexual, but honestly I'd need a long road paved specifically with Dick Grayson interaction to convince me of that particular pairing. (I also find that arguments about Bruce's interaction with women indicating anything other than a repressed heterosexuality, sexuality which has been pushed aside for his War on Crime, are barking up the wrong tree -- but if you think you have a good one, you're welcome to try.)

Those, and others, are still reasonable points.

However, there is a sexist argument that I've seen drummed up in these discussions, and if I see someone use it, I'm calling them on it.

It's the "What kind of a 35 year old single millionaire would adopt a teenaged boy?" argument.

This assumes that men of a certain age are natural sexual predators, unable to interact with any children other than their own without being watched. It's a prevalent idea in our society, one that keeps men out of professions like teaching and childcare. It comes to a basic devaluation of fatherhood in early years, one that discourages men to be actively involved in parenting. It plays on the idea that dealing with children is for women, and any man who would dedicate any time with a child that he doesn't have to has something wrong with him.

Basically, it leads back to confining gender roles. It tries to shame men away from nuturing duties (because they are "woman's work" and no "real man" would do "woman's work"), and it contributes to a lot of the bad stereotypes associated with homosexual men in our society.

It is cultural, yes, but it is also wrong. It's wrong in real life, and it's simply incorrect in Batman continuity (because we know why Bruce tries to help angry young men, he sees himself in them).

It's a really sexist attitude. Now, yes, it's probably what's been printed in the Gotham gossip columns, and whispered around WayneTech Water Coolers. But come on, we've all read and watched Batman. We know Bruce Wayne far better than the extras who gossip about Bruce Wayne.

So, find something more specific, Batslashfans, because that stupid generalization just won't wash.

Oh, and if someone tells you that one of your arguments is based on a sexist stereotype, and you go "Oh, no! I don't think that about Shazam or Green Arrow" but keep coming back to the generalized argument to support your point, you're still using a sexist argument because you haven't called to mind anything specific about Batman over, say, Green Arrow or a professional wrestler, just a generalization about 35 year old men.


  1. I was having similar thoughts not too long ago, although I was thinking less of the sexist angle and more of our contemporary culture's unfortunate attitudes on friendships, which tend to be either trivialized or sexualized.

  2. I think there are a lot of recurrent themes in Batman that CAN (not necessarily should, but CAN) be seen as homosexual themes, for example how he acts like promiscuous playboy in order to hide the fact that he's Batman.

    But I think there's a line, maybe thin but it's there, between saying that you can apply certain themes in Batman to homosexuality, versus simply saying "Batman is gay." The first is subjective, the other isn't. For example, I read an article in which a writer talked about how the idea of the secret identity appealed to him as a young "closeted" gay man because it reminded him of how he was one thing to most of the people in his life, but secretly he was something else.

    But you can apply that to SO many things, not just homosexuality or any non-hetero sexuality.

    I'd also add to what you said about the assumption behind Batman's motives for adopting Robin being sexist, in that it's also very homophobic. Not just because doing that would make Batman a pedaphile, but because it assumes the only reason gay men want to spend time with other men is for sex.

    Personally, I find it kind of interesting that Batman is singled out for the "he must be gay" treatment, considering we're talking about a genre in which uber-muscled men in tight-fitting uniforms wrestle around with other uber-muscled men in tight-fitting uniforms.

  3. I think the the idea that Batman is gay is so popular because Bats doesn't really have a stable girlfriend the way Superman has Lois or (traditionally) Green Arrow has Black Canary and Wonder Woman, Steve Trevor. He's had Catwoman and Talia, and some others, but none stick around in a romantic fashion for long. Robin is Batman's closest friend.

    Not only do they take great physical risk to help the other, but they have been known to confide in each other. They will let their guards down a bit. As men are stereotypically meant to be stoic, but not so much in romantic relationships where they are meant to be sensitive and thoughtful, then expression of human emotion can imply something.

    Or maybe I'm way off base.

  4. I even think a lot of the specific instances of Batman and Robin that seem "slashy" are actually Silver Age writers playing on the idea that their characters were being written for 8 year olds, so they should act like 8 year olds (Superman's inability to interact with his friends like a normal person is an artifact of this as well). Robin interacts with girls in a "eww, girls are icky" way, even though he's supposed to be an age that is beyond that. Even Bruce's dealings with women in that era are usually either horribly sexist or as if they were somehow "icky".

    Plus, Wertham read his own hangups into their relationship and now its entered the popular culture, so its hard to get rid of (you even have writers like Devin Grayson who like the idea and want to promote it, though you're right, I can't think of another one that would fit the mold). The old Green Arrow and Speedy books have a lot of "slashy" stuff in them too (as I think Dorian has pointed out), but people don't seriously argue for the GA/Speedy relationship being more than mentor/student (or a stretched father/adopted son relationship). I think that's Wertham's legacy on the Batman/Robin relationship.

  5. Batman's an orphan. Dick is an orphan, and now so is Tim. Sometimes people, a cigar is just a cigar.

  6. "The old Green Arrow and Speedy books have a lot of "slashy" stuff in them too (as I think Dorian has pointed out), but people don't seriously argue for the GA/Speedy relationship being more than mentor/student"

    Hey, does the general public even know who Speedy is?

    Personaly I think the whole "Batman and Robin are lovers" thing is just part of today society paranoia, not just "adult men that spend time with children are pedos" but just the general distrust againt people's kindness towards kids (see razors in Halloween candy, oh noes!)
    Back in the day only Wertham was that paranoid, now everyone is

  7. I'm on your side in this argument,'s an easy source of cheap laughs, but it stopped being really funny about 30 years ago and now it's just sad.

  8. Given the age differences between the two, I don't like thinking of them as gay either. I don't like the implication that being a pedophile is the same thing as being gay because, as we know, 90% of pedophiles (even those who prey on boys) are actually heterosexual. I have seen several covers or panels that are severely loaded with gay subtext that I find amusing. But, in a real world situation, Batman could be gay and Dick Grayson could be gay...but they don't have a "gay" relationship together.

  9. It is a highly sexist attitude. And its prevalence discourages men from attempting to relate to anyone in any way that might possibly be construed as "gay" or predatory, by people who don't get it.

  10. You are right on point here.

    I love the old cheesy writing, but to me this relationship goes right along with the actual word "gay" and it's change in definition throughout the years. What was just a father-son relationship takes on new meanings because our language and culture has changed.

  11. At this point, aside from the brief-chuckle-inducing, unfortunately-out-of-context Silver Age Bruce/Dick panels that occasionally pop up on a blog, I've grown beyond weary of the whole thing. It's like I'm back in third grade again and everyone's saying "Guess what? Chickenbutt!" or "I know you are but what am I," except now they've moved beyond the stupid-joke stage and are having their own asses replaced by a chicken's. What's next, Batman develops super-stench powers, Robin angsts about his nest of eggs, and the Batmobile's wheels start falling off in pursuit of the Joker?

    I think the gender argument has real merit, too. I haven't really been following the blogosphere chatter about it, but has there been an explosion of "Black Canary is a lesbian pedophile!" talk?

    -Extremely showy relationships with a hyper-libidinous opposite-sex partners? Check

    -More-than-just-friendly banter with same-sex pals? Check

    -Adoption of same-sex pre-teen that she has known for practically five minutes? Check

    -Easily-exploitable double entendre names--"Sin" isn't as easy as "Dick," but I doubt DC would have allowed Dinah to adopt "Snatch" or "Girl-toy" (Vibe, however...)? Check

    Honestly, I could see that happening before I could Bruce and Dick, given that Dinah has an estalished history that practically screams "stay away from men!"

    Not that I'm advocating any of it, of course. I just think it's an interesting double standard. Raging male homophobia vs. excitable male lesbomania, perhaps?

  12. I totally agree.

    Honestly, I'm getting sick of people making a big deal out of sexuality in comics, usually for the sake of a cheap joke. Which is the main reason scans_daily is getting rather tedious for me...

  13. Honestly, I'm getting sick of people making a big deal out of sexuality in comics, usually for the sake of a cheap joke.

    Fortunately for me, you're in the minority.

  14. You already know my opinion on this. :)

  15. As a single man (and uncle) over 35, I also resent this harmful sexist stereotype. (Although I do get a chuckle from and other sites with those historic out-of-context Batman panels).

    As for the gay allegations, I've seen Bruce or Dick shagging Starfire, Silver St. Cloud, and the Huntress in recent years.

  16. I never believed Dick and Bruce's relationship is anything other than how it is portrayed in the comics - a father and a son.

    That said, it doesn't mean I'm not going to poke fun of Batman comics now and again. It's nearly the only thing that makes some of those '50s Batman stories remotely entertaining ....

    (Unless Batman is transformed into a Hulk-like creature who tosses rhinos around. That's good no matter how you slice it ...)

  17. Isn't the whole point to slash to see homoerotic overtones where none actually exist? :-) Sometimes, men just prefer the company of other men; doesn't mean they want to shag each other six ways `til Sunday. Same goes for some women.

    I don't see it as "a basic devaluation of fatherhood" per se, so much as it's based on exaggerated public fears about pedophilic predators leading to a warped view of single men. [Which are obviously not helped by things like Rep. Mark Foley's recent public piccadilo or the Catholic priests scandals.] Rather like the way that exaggerated public fears about terrorism lead to a warped view of Muslims. Or fears about serial killers make you eye "the quiet ones" in your office a bit warily.

    There seems to be this belief that single men past a certain age have something to hide and what's the most common thing to hide? Why, being gay and liking young boys, obviously! As others have noted, "gay != pedophile." Even if Bruce was gay (or bi-), it does not mean he would hook up with a teenage boy. So more homophobic than sexist, IMHO.

    The part which is sexist is the belief that men are unable to control their libidos; so if they don't have a regular partner in their lives, they'll naturally succumb to some form of deviant sexual behavior, including pedophilia. Which is why people look askance at single men befriending young boys or girls.

  18. Ferrous -- the problem isn't with slash, it's with slashwriters who insist their slash is canon (or, continuity).

  19. Oh, I know: that was just a parenthetical aside to my main point, which was...hang on, let me see...OK, no badgers mentioned, that's odd...oh right, about how single men aren't always sexual predators and gay men aren't all pedophiles!

    See, knew I'd remember what the hell I was talking about eventually... :-)

  20. Ahh.. I know exactly how you feel. I have that problem often.

  21. Although I also don't subscribe to the Batman andRobin subtext, I have to be thankful for it because it's that kind of thinking that brought about the hilarious "The Ambiguously Gay Duo" cartoons.

  22. As a (married) male children's librarian, I am keenly aware of the suspicion men who work with young children are often under, and as such, I am *extremely* careful in my dealings with all kids, boys or girls. It's come to the point where I feel it's safer to be a little remote, rather than seem "too friendly."

    Thanks to Ragnell for pointing out the b.s. in this assumption.

    That said, I do enjoy the way Alan Moore took this theme and turned it into a good story in Top Ten Vol. 2.

  23. I have that problem often.

    I tell myself it's a curse all geniuses must bear.

    Which doesn't explain why I have.