On History: Batman

By | Monday, April 06, 2015 Leave a Comment
The original Batman movie poster
I caught Michael Keaton's opening monologue from this weekend's Saturday Night Live. The shtick was that two of the cast members interrupted him early on, and spent several minutes trying to convince him to re-enact scenes from Batman or Beetlejuice. I didn't think it was all that good a bit, frankly, but I did catch a line that made me think a bit. One of the cast members noted that he was seven when Batman was released and it had a profound impact on him.

How many of you recall the marketing hype that was built up around Batman in 1989? It was huge. Batman was seemingly everywhere. And as the excitement around the movie grew, so did the merchandise tie-ins. Many of the later ones were crap that was rushed to market in order to capitalize on the trend, of course, but it still added to the ubiquity of the character's presence.

The movie turned out to be commercially successful and spawned several sequels. Batman Returns in 1992, Batman Forever in 1995, and Batman & Robin in 1997. It also helped usher in Batman: The Animated Series in 1992, and that ran until 1995.

You may well remember all this but, depending on your age, perhaps from a somewhat different perspective. I was a bit older than seven when the first movie was released, so most of all this coincides with my years in and immediately after college. I recognized it's immense popularity at the time, but I don't think I was able to put into a larger context. And it was really only after catching that mention on SNL that I thought about that.

Star Wars/Batman mashup
See, when I was seven, I saw a movie that had a profound impact on me: Star Wars. Which was followed up by sequels in 1981 (The Empire Strikes Back) and 1983 (Return of the Jedi), and two animated TV shows in 1985 (Droids and Ewoks). For my childhood, Star Wars was everywhere. The movies introduced me to wild new concepts and storytelling techniques. Much of my imagination took place in the Star Wars universe. It was, and continues to be, a juggernaut in several ways.

As does Batman.

It's interesting to me to think of Batman in those terms. The character was, after all, around prior to 1989. But not in the way that Tim Burton depicted him. He had been limited to nothing more serious than The Super Friends and was more known by the campy Adam West interpretation. Keaton's Batman was almost a new character; Burton's overall approach was certainly new. So kids of the time were being introduced to a concept that they had never seen before. Just as I had been witness to everything that was new in Star Wars.

Just as those kids in the 1970s reacted so profoundly to Star Wars, there's a generation of people who came of age just a decade later who were equally impacted by Batman. I've only just started thinking about this, so I'm not sure what that really means or what the implications there might be, but it's an interesting thought and one worth mulling over. Particularly if you're one of those Star Wars kids.
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