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Grainger brings Batman to academia

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2009-06-17

The character of Batman has gone through many makeovers throughout the years, from the campy Adam West version of the 1960s to the (literally) square-jawed cartoon version of the 90s to the postmodern hero/anti-hero portrayed by Christian Bale in the 2008 megahit The Dark Knight.

Wofford student Katie Grainger has been a fan throughout, ever since she and her brother would travel to the comic book store in Myrtle Beach together every Saturday when she was a child. Her depth of knowledge about the Batman character is such that she could practically teach a course on it at Wofford. Instead, she is researching it for the Community of Scholars this summer.

“I’ve been studying the identity of the superhero in the media, specifically through Batman, and trying to find out his role in our society today,” says Grainger, a rising senior from Conway, S.C. “Is he representative of a state of being that we should strive for in our society, or is he simply a commodity and pop culture icon that we buy into as a society?”

It’s a very serious question. So much so that several books have been written about it, and Grainger has read most if not all of them.

“You’d be surprised how many books have been written about this character because he’s so complex, psychologically AND philosophically. There are a lot of philosophies that I feel apply to Batman. I’ve been looking at Foucault, Kierkegaard, Heidegger, Hobbes, Kant…there are several individuals whose theories tie into Batman.”

What makes Batman different from other superheroes? For starters, he doesn’t have any super powers. Nor do his enemies.

“That makes him the most realistic of all superheroes,” says Grainger. “He wasn’t bitten by a radioactive spider or sent from another galaxy. He does have an enormous amount of money, but it goes strictly into fighting crime. And the villains he faces, like the Joker, make him moralistic. Batman never kills. His first concern is always saving the victims, then capturing the criminals. I feel that because Batman is capturing criminals and putting them in jail, he’s allowing society to make its own judgments. “

The latest version of Batman was perhaps the most popular one yet, and with good reason. The complexity of his character allowed director/writer Christopher Nolan to touch on issues with which society is currently grappling.

grainger220“I feel like the new films done by the Nolan brothers (Jonathan co-wrote the screenplay) have offered several insights into issues like how we should respond to problems such as terrorism and how we should work together as a society,” says Grainger. “I really believe that’s the ultimate goal of having a hero like Batman in our society…to bring everyone together to work harder to solve these problems, and not just rely on the hero as the solution.”

The movie brought out the Batman fan in Grainger, but it has also brought out the curious student wanting to know more. And thus what was once going to be a term paper subject has been shifted into the Community of Scholars to give it the time and research effort it deserves.

“I’m looking into more of the theoretical perspective than the entertainment side of this character,” says Grainger. “I am, however, probably going to be doing most of my research on film analysis, which is unique to the Community of Scholars. I’m taking more of an interdisciplinary approach in my research. I’m combining philosophy, graphic narratives and films.

“After watching some film already, I think I have already come to one conclusion. I don’t think our society is stressing so much that we need Batman, but the character of Batman can still help society. He has already been contributing. And he doesn’t take away from the need for society to reinforce its own laws and jurisdiction.”