Batman-Superman: Cultural sermon


This past weekend my husband decided to take me to the movies to see “Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice.” Thankfully, it was just the two of us, and not our entire family, because it is not a movie I would recommend for children under the age of 13 (or even 16 for that matter).

I left the movie feeling rather disturbed because it glorifies the most extreme elements of our society and perpetuates negative stereotypes.

However, this phenomena is not new, and unlike past historical art forms that reflect the dominant culture of their day, the modern entertainment industry seems to belittle or ignore dominant aspects of our culture and traditional values. Instead it supplants them with their own sub-culture in an attempt to reshape the dominant culture.

Rest assured, the majority of what we call entertainment is transforming the values and beliefs of its viewers, and “Batman vs. Superman” is no different. And while I admit there can be other interpretations of this movie, there are four essential elements that make my point.

The first element is Superman. Without question, he is portrayed as a “Christ-like” figure in that the movie emphasizes his god-like status — because of his powers, his being from another world, and he is to be the savior of humanity. However, it also emphasizes his human qualities in that he appears to be “small town” or simple-minded, compared to other characters, vulnerable, weak, and even sexual.

Unlike Christ he is not portrayed as pure or holy, and in fact appears to be evil at times when using his demon-like eyes in various scenes. None of these portrayals are incidental, but intentional to show that there is no “purity” even in our superheroes.

The second element is Batman. He is the human that achieves god-like status in that he is able to fight, and perhaps, defeat Superman. He is the quintessential humanist hero — urban, wealthy socialite, who embraces his dark side, and using his intelligence and technology, not only fights the bad guys, but is able to battle the “Christ-like” Superman and win. Effectively, he reveals that man can be like God.

The third element is the masses. The masses are portrayed as powerless pawns who either worship, resent, are preoccupied with, or manipulated by the superheroes.

Their value to the movie is that they are the reflectors of, not only the characters, but the social issues interjected throughout the film. They demonstrate “bigotry and intolerance” in their protest of the alien, Superman. But, they also demonstrate blind faith as they worship him in other scenes.

Ironically, the masses are also represented in scenes where a liberal media continuously engage in pseudo-intellectual pontifications surrounding the superheroes, and portrayals of an impotent government that is incapable, or unwilling, to resolve the threat to public welfare.

Finally, there is the fourth element, Lex Luther. Luther is not only the antagonist, but I would argue that he is cast as the ultimate “truth-teller.” Although Lois Lane describes him as “psychotic,” Lex is shown to be the mastermind of the film. Like Batman, he is an urban, wealthy socialite.

However, unlike Batman who is motivated to fight injustice because of a childhood trauma, Lex is portrayed as socially awkward because of his intellectual superiority to those around him. His motivation stems from the all-consuming belief that man does not need to be a god (like Superman), nor does he need to be like god (like Batman); he is motivated to destroy all the gods of this world.

He is the Friedrich Nietzsche of the film, and successfully uses his intellect to manipulate virtually everyone, and everything around him, including the masses. At various points in the film, he gives soliloquies that I have no doubt are the very things that the writer of the movie, at least on some level, actually believes.

Ultimately, the insidious brilliance of this film is that depending on who you are, you are likely to focus on the elements that most appeal to you, and either not notice, or simply dismiss, the elements that do not appeal to you. Again, this is intentional.

Thus, movies like these, in particular, and media, in general, are cognitively rewiring the emotional and psychological presuppositions of our society. Ultimate good, virtue, purity, and morality are being removed from our society just as the kryptonite dust removed Superman’s powers in the movie.

These are the “sermons” our young people actually hear, and the ones that resonate. If you ever wonder why younger generations seem not to see reality in the way that you do, it is because movies like “Batman vs. Superman” shape their views and values. These “cultural sermons” can be far more potent than the 30-minute sermons they may get on a Sunday morning.

[Bonnie B. Willis is co-founder of The Willis Group, LLC, a Learning, Development, and Life Coaching company here in Fayette County and lives in Fayetteville along with her husband and their five children.]