Alfred Don’t Shiv

So the latest episode of Gotham, a series detailing the early life of Bruce Wayne before he was Batman, has Alfred step up and accept Bruce’s request to teach him to fight. The recent cartoon series Beware the Batman also had built into the show’s backstory that Alfred was the one who first taught Bruce Wayne how to fight.

This is an interesting development, I think. Alfred, for most of his existence, has been a kindly old, aristocratically British gentleman. There was little indication that Alfred could himself put up a fight and none that Alfred taught Bruce anything about the martial arts.

Maybe there was an earlier example, but I think this new, tougher portrayal of Alfred really started with Chris Nolan’s Dark Knight films. Michael Caine’s Alfred is much more of a working class butler who, it is revealed, has a history in the military. He’s presented as capable of rescuing Batman from a fire through physical force and seems able to handle himself. Was the change purely a choice on Nolan/Caine’s part that then found its way into the Batman myth, or does it reflect something deeper in our culture?

The Batman myth is constantly retold and revised. And each retelling, each revision, can easily be seen to reflect truths about the culture it finds itself in. The 50s had the innocent Batman, for a time that wanted heroes to be innocent. The late 60s and 70s saw a tall, mysterious Batman who was getting a bit old as his boy wonder grew up and struck out on his own—right when America was coming out of the last of the innocence and sliding into cynicism and a feeling of being out of a golden age. The examples could keep going.

Assuming that the change in Alfred that seems to be taking more and more pervasive of a hold is also similarly culturally based, what is it that this says about our culture? I’m really asking!

My guess, FWIW, is that it has something to do with our lack of faith in CEOs and other corporate big wigs. Our entrepreneurial aristocracy—of which the fictional Wayne family are part—is often portrayed in a fairly negative light with bailouts and excess greed. In fact, somewhere around the introduction of Fight Club, the Western zeitgeist seems to have truly rejected the claims of protection by the aristocracy, even to the point of fantasizing about taking them out of power. Fight Club shows the working class as having teeth rather than the captains of industry. The proletariat being the sheep dogs left to sleep outside so that the bourgeoisie lambs can get fat off the land. Whether that’s right or not (both about the current political climate and about Alfred’s change), I don’t claim to know or guess. But I do think it’s worth noting the change cropping up in the myth.

What a Card!

Saw a preview for Ender’s Game last night. I have to admit, I’ve never read Ender’s Game. It’s one of the most glaring omissions in my sci-fi reading list–initially mostly by chance. For some reason, I just never read it when I was younger.

Now I’m quite a bit older than the target audience for Ender’s Game. And there’s a problem. I can’t stand Orson Scott Card’s political statements. The man’s neo-conservative claptrap really rubs me the wrong way. Fiscally, I tend to be pretty conservative, but I’m excessively socially liberal bordering on anarchist at times.

Is a difference of political or moral opinion a fair enough reason for not wanting to get into Card’s writing now? It’s a question that comes up in most art. Should art lacking a political or moral agenda be judged by its artist’s political views or morality? For example, if Michael Jackson is guilty of some of the things that he’s been accused of, does that make Thriller a bad song or at least one undeserving of being listened to?

It’s not always an easy question to answer. In the case of Jackson, it’s a little simpler in that his music doesn’t reflect his alleged lifestyle choices. With Card, it’s more difficult because many of his books apparently directly espouse his vitriol. But Ender’s Game is a classic in the genre and, as far as I know, does not champion any homophobic agenda.

What do you think? Heck, do you think Ender’s Game is worth it? Am I wrong about Card?

There are several belief systems I’m sympathetic toward or downright champion myself that are unpopular in many sectors. Should those personal opinions and sympathies be reason enough for a reader to dismiss my writing?