The Batman Blogs: 1966 – 1968

I didn’t intend to acknowledge, much less address, the “classic” 1960s TV show starring Adam West as part of this series. To be honest, I’m much more a fan of Mr. West’s later work.

However, a commenter called me on it correctly when I examined Batman’s evolution. If I’m going to talk about Batman as a reflection of the times in which he’s reinvented, to overlook the 1960s show is unfair.

1960s Sensibilities for Superheroes

The 1960s Batman TV show was my first exposure to the iconic crime fighter. I suspect it was the first for a lot of kids.

My special memory of the TV show is that it’s inextricably linked with childhood summers when it got too hot to go outside. I was trapped in the house — our old Rambler–model home with spiritually possessed basement — and while I could have gone outside, it was unbearably hot and no one was there to force me to go outside. My brother was out working or feathering his hair, and both my parents were out working. I was trapped in the house and getting bored with action figures.

So I turned to television. In the days before cable I distinctly remember the choices as soap operas, talk shows and syndicated repeats on WDCA-TV, Channel 20. Every so often you’d get a rare gem twinkling in the wasteland like Robotech, but for the most part television was a way to bear the long periods of isolation before anyone got home. Sure, I loved to read, but even the library was three miles from the house. That’s a long trek in a hellish southern summer. (DC is a swamp. We’re in the South. Deal with it, hipsters.)

So I discovered Batman. Even at the age of 10 (or somewhere about, give or take a year), I thought it was crap. The sets looked so fake! The escapes seemed so easy! “BOFF” isn’t a word!

So I started to watch it to mock it. My brother joined in from time to time. The show was part of a syndicated block that would also show The Monkees, and I’m not sure which bore more verbal abuse from the two of us. Ironically, I’ve come to love many of the songs of The Monkees. Go figure.

And so I dismissed it originally as part of my examination of the Batman mythos for the last few blogs. But as the aforementioned commenter astutely observed,

In all seriousness, there is something to be said about Adam West’s portrayal in the context of the society that created it, even if we don’t like what we find.

Digging Deeper

And Holy Freud, he was right.

The 1960s TV show was never intended to be taken as high art or reality so far as I can tell. It was just supposed to be crazy fun for kids to watch. Keep in mind that the show was released in the midst of the Cold War, shortly after the Cuban Missile Crisis, JFK’s assassination and loads of fun things like the “kinetic military actions” (I love that bulls*** term, and thank our current executive branch leaders for inventing the Orwellian term) in Korea and Vietnam. I have to imagine that the last thing parents wanted to do was turn on the television and worry about what the kids were watching.

And let’s stay focused on that above all other things. Comic books were children’s things at the time. They were not the serious business they are now, filled with byzantine mythologies and brutal characters like Wolverine or Lobo. If you go back to the classic versions of X-Men or Fantastic Four, they were four-color adventure targeted at kids. Not adults. Comics were things you stopped collecting when you got to a certain age.

And unless I’m way off, I’m pretty sure parents back then wanted their kids to be kids, unlike the modern day. There were no “very special episodes” to teach kids about adult issues, where the cool uncle played by Tom Hanks faced alcoholism or Hawkeye had to deliver another maudlin soliloquy on M*A*S*H as the price of admission for a soundtrack giggle. They also wanted kids to respect their parents, who are the ones responsible for teaching those lessons in the first place.

And so Adam West delivered a Batman who was part “Father Knows Best,” part “Super hero” and part comic relief. He played it straight, but with a little twinkle that told the viewers, both young and old, that it was all going to be OK. You could beat the boogeyman because he was never going to be smarter or more dedicated than you.

Batman tells us therefore plenty about what the 1960s really were by what the show was not. It was not heavy, it was not serious. The world itself was so serious that people were looking for any way to lessen the pressure without blowing out their brains. Just three years before the show had aired, they had seen their president shot and killed, for goodness’ sake.

Aftershock

And while the 1960s TV show does tell us a lot about the context of the society in which it was born, what we think about it says just as much about us.

After the horrors we’ve seen happen — the World Trade Center tragedy, the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars, public beheadings and underwear bombers — did we seek to relieve the pressure? No, we’ve sought to incorporate it into the fabric of our escapism. Holy Blood Pressure, during the Blitzkrieg the Brits still managed to go to the theatre and enjoy a good laugh or two.

In the blog about Gotham’s portrayal I said, “We demand a higher sense of reality in our fantasy now.” And that’s uncomfortably true. It’s as if we can’t allow ourselves just to relax and have fun. Everything has to make “sense.”

But why? Why can’t someone just unplug and have some fun with it? Why does everything have to be so serious? Thank goodness for Aqua Unit Patrol Squad and the rest of Adult Swim to act as an outlet!

And so upon reflection I guess I have to lighten up just a little bit on the television show.

I’ll never like it; I’m too much of a Batman “purist” for that to happen. But it was a product of its time, and for what it was trying to accomplish, Adam West delivered precisely what he was supposed to give the audience. So tip of the hat to Adam West, and when it’s all said and done, the original Batmobile was still pretty awesome.

The Hippies Blog

I’ve hinted time and again of my opinions on hippies and their antiquated counter-culture ways. Most times I’m just kidding. I’ve known some hippies in my day, some who have been good friends. Needless to say, I’ve always had conflicted feelings about that whole period in history.

Again, like I said, I’ve known plenty of hippies and have no problem with them personally. I’m speaking abstractly about a movement, not specifically about a person or people. Like most cases like that, it’s easy to take this as a series of personal attacks. But I really am speaking in the detached abstract here and not trying to offend anyone.

It’s just a topic I’ve given a lot of thought.

We’ve seen hippies romanticized in everything from The Wonder Years to every Oliver Stone movie ever made. He still has yet to correct Born on the Fourth of July to highlight that it was the 1968 Democratic Convention where all that nastiness went down. Way to rewrite history, you tripped-out coke fiend. Thanks for Midnight Express, though. That movie is awesome. Even though you did fabricate some things in that too.

I guess I’m more of a Beatnik guy to begin with. Those in that movement were active, moving from place to place and searching for something profound within a working class framework. They embellished stories, to be sure, and not everything they produced was worthwhile. But they were a legitimate artistic movement and one that I enjoy to this day.

Unfortunately, in the sociological sense, you always have a “next step” for artistic movements. That next step in this case was the Hippies.

The Hippies were Beatniks without the working class sensibilities. They were all about taking ridiculous amounts of drugs and booze, sleeping around (thanks for the explosion in VD, guys, that’s been great) and figuring out how to suckle at society’s teat while contributing pretty much nothing.

I mean, really. What have the Hippies done besides attend Woodstock? They didn’t end the war in Vietnam no matter how much they like to think they did. The war in Vietnam was ended by Richard Milhouse Nixon after it had been so badly mismanaged by LBJ that the most powerful military in the history of earth was defeated by a few of Jane Fonda’s dear friends. We were bleeding money and life and Nixon called an end to it. The chants of “No Blood For Oil!” were resurrected from their protest usage in WWI, WWII and The Korean War to sit on a shelf until the first Gulf War in 1991, but they did nothing except provide some interesting TV moments and allow an entire generation of college kids to keep smoking pot.

The Hippie culture that grew from Haight-Ashbury was also a fertile breeding ground for people like Charles Manson. You think he was the only nut-job to come out of there? No, his gang was the only one who killed a Hollywood actress. That’s why you remember him and forget the others.

Even Jim Morrison felt the same way. He didn’t like the Hippies, no matter how much they entertained him. He immortalized his feelings in the song Five to One: “You walk across the floor/with a flower in your hands/tryin’ to tell me/no one understands/Trade in your hours/for a handful of dimes.”

Translation: it’s not a workable society if everyone’s just drifting around getting high and selling flowers. Someone has to work to provide for your lifestyle. As for communes, that’s a great idea. How many of those were successful, by the way? How many are still around? Oh, they’re gone.

The irony being, of course, that he used the college loophole to dodge the draft too. But how you feel about war isn’t necessarily the mark of a Hippie. Otherwise, the Quakers are Hippies. Last time I checked, that hadn’t happened. But the Quakers are at least about non-violence and not just fearful of getting hurt. They don’t want to hurt others, versus being non-violent out of a fear of being hurt. Big difference.

And that leads to the biggest problem I have with the Hippies. They are all sell-outs and hypocrites. They took their time off and acted like “counter-culturists” and then went off and made money in the Capitalist system they proclaimed to despise. People like Bill Ayers bombed buildings and then went on to be wildly rich. Believe what you want to, but if you don’t have the courage to stick to your beliefs then obviously, they’re not worth the breath you’re wasting when you try to get me to subscribe to them. Either that, or you have some angle that’s leading to worse circumstances than you’re claiming you’ll solve.

Hippies. The world in which we live is their fault.

Thanks for the music, though. It was pretty solid. I’ll give you that.