Culture, Technology — July 19, 2012 8:30 am

Non-Fictional Technology That Is Relevant To You, or BATGADGETS

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Thank goodness that’s out of the way. We’re mere hours away now from the release of THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, a title which should never appear uncapitalized. I, for one, am too excited for it to think of much else, so it was bound to come up at some point.

And now it has. So we can go back to talking about technology. Where was I?

Ah, yes. Batman.

I’m writing this between viewings of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. There are so many technological issues surrounding Batman, like for instance, iTunes, DVD or Blu-Ray? If you go iTunes, do you route it to a TV with AirPlay or a cable? Or watch on the small screen? Theatrically speaking, Real IMAX, Fake IMAX or Regular?

I kid. Film distribution methods are extremely important to the future of the the medium and, as an added bonus, horrifically boring. People will watch how people will watch.

Batnology, as I like to call it, is far more interesting. Watching Batman Begins last night, I was struck by the elemental technologies Batman depends on in almost every iteration of the character: Suit. Cape. Utility Belt. Batarangs. Grapple Gun. Batmobile. These are things each interpreter of the Batman myth must dutifully check off as they weave their version of the tale.

Superman is not a high-tech superhero. Superman is as Superman does, and what Superman does is burn things with heat vision because he just can. Superman is, putting it delicately, a friggin’ alien with crazy powers.

By contrast, Batman is among the most high-tech superheroes, depending on his gear to protect him (Superman is just bulletproof); to provide stealth for his missions (Superman does not need stealth. He is so unstealthy he wears his underwear on the outside); to get him from A to B (Superman flies, because he just can).

In Christopher Nolan’s Batman films, Lucius Fox provides the tech. He’s in the Applied Sciences division of Wayne Enterprises. Applied Sciences: if that isn’t a succinct definition of all technology, I don’t know what is. And in Batman Begins, Fox begins with those elemental basics, those bare necessities.

If necessity is the mother of invention, let’s talk imperatives for a moment. First up, the need to not die. Kevlar suits are good for not dying. So, as it turns out, is a cape: When you’re trying to escape from heights, anything that softens the landing helps immensely.

Then there’s the detectivey stuff. Batman comes from Detective Comics, you know. Way I see it, Batarangs are long-distance detectivey stuff (putting out lights, say) and utility belt is short-distance detectivey stuff. He’s not using the Batarangs for offense–ol’ Bats is a fistpunching kind of guy.

Last in the Batman Gear Trifecta (or BGT for short) is the getting-around stuff. Getting around is important! It gets you to scrapes. It gets you out of scrapes. When you’re Batman, you need to be where the scrapes are. It’s in your job description. Nothing gets you to and from a scrape like the Batmobile, and once you’re within striking distance, you’re most assuredly going to need to grapple over something or out of something.

The BGT is not all the tech Batman has ever used, nor is it the most popular, necessarily. Everybody likes the Batwing. Fewer like the Batboat, but it exists. Batpod enthusiasts about. The current video games have all manner of tech. In the last Batman movie, Bats and Lucius went all Patriot Act on everybody in Gotham. What separates the Batman Gear Trifecta is that quality of being basic. None of it defines Batman per se–Batman, as Batman Begins reminds us, is an ideal, a legend. But even if he was still Batman without the BGT, he wouldn’t be the Batman we know.

Way way back in my first column, I said I was going to focus on the value angle, the what-does-it-all-mean. I’m not going to sit here and try to come up with an overarching theory of technology and shoehorn it into the Batman Gear Trifecta or vice versa. We’re looking at the Batman Gear Trifecta because it’s just awesome.

But I’m a sucker for meaning. So, completely contradicting my last paragraph, I will say: I do think there’s something special about the pieces of technology we ascribe to ourselves, be it the carabiner that holds your keys or your Batman-encased iPad. I mean, I drive a Volvo and I love it, but I love it just a bit more when I think of it as my own personal Batmobile.

Which comes back to the idea that it’s all just awesome. I guess there’s a circular logic there, wherein we claim totems because we like them and subsequently like them more because they’re ours. It works that way with heroes, too, and if this column proves nothing else, it proves that it most certainly works that way with the sound of my own voice.

But that is Batman’s greatest lesson for us, the reason he’s a hero and not a villain: his ability to keep that cycle in check, to use its momentum for good while it’s virtuous and call it by its name when it turns evil and collapses in on its self-satisfied self. The definitive Batgadget, then, is not the archetypal gas-guzzling Batmobile, the Hummer-Tumbler we love to hear roar, but rather an altogether more pedestrian tool, the one that raises him to heights undreamt and rescues him from falling with an anchor planted deep in that lofty virtue:

The humble, trusty grappling gun. I have got to get me one of those.

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