"Batman's a Scientist": A Legitimate Academic Problem

Obviously any course that addresses issues of science, technology, and society uses the 4th Season Simpsons masterpiece, Marge v. the Monorail (unfortunately, this episode capsule doesn't have the full transcript). It is hallowed as a pitch perfect take on the technology-society relationship. That much has already been established. I'm just telling you what you know.

But there are serious weaknesses in its classroom use. These should not go unaddressed, even though the great and inglorious downfall of the Simpsons enterprise after their seventh season or so should (and, to that end, I think Matthew Baldwin at Defective Yeti has spoken well).

Those weaknesses can be summarized as follows: students will often rightly laugh at a line, but then unwittingly continue laughing so as to miss the next line, said next line also being deserving of laughter. They overlaugh. They miss the follow-up. It mucks the whole thing up.

Case in point:
Marge finds Sebastian Cobb, the haircut-needing designer of Lyle Lanley's "crappy" Monorail, and brings him to Springfield to help Homer. Homer, as we know, is dealing with a runaway train situation. She calls Homer in the Monorail:

Marge: Homer?
Homer: Yelloh?
Marge: There's a man here who thinks he can help you.
Homer: Batman?
Marge: No, he's a scientist.
Homer: Batman's a scientist.

Well, so the transcript doesn't do it service and I wonder if better punctuation would help. Nevertheless, we find that students laugh when Homer asks if the man there to help is Batman. They laugh out loud They do. (I have it recorded. I'm very empirical.) But then they miss the better line, which is when Marge says no, and Homer answers without pause that Batman's a scientist.

My question to the audience: what kind of scientist is Batman?

More like this

Chemist! The only times he's not mixing various vials, he's hurting things.

Chemist, Physicist, Psychologist, and Engineer

Obviously, he is a forensic scientist...

By afarensis, FCD (not verified) on 21 Jun 2006 #permalink

All the commentors are correct. He is also much, much more. The easiest way to explain it is that Batman, like Mr. Fantastic and Iron Man, is a comic book scientist. He is trained in science, he studies...science, and has "scientific" gizmos.

Need an antidote to some weird disease that turns people into monsters and is irreversible after 24 hours? Give Batman 23 1/2 hours and he'll have one. Need to fix a time machine/dimensional portal generator constructed by an alien race over two millenia ago? Give Batman five minutes.

Comic books (and early science fiction) tend to portray scientists as trans-disciplinary Renaissance men who can do anything even vaguely related to science.

I've digressed a bit here. In my opinion Batman isn't a scientist. He's a obsessive maniac who has picked up a wide variety of scientific knowledge to assist in his war on crime. He's also a very skilled practical engineer who can build just about anything. Assuming it has a bat on it somewhere.

By CaptainMike (not verified) on 21 Jun 2006 #permalink

I kind of agree with CaptainMike("He's a obsessive maniac who has picked up a wide variety of scientific knowledge to assist in his war on crime."). Batman is often portrayed as the clever human, amidst the truly supernatural (Superman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman). He doesn't have any "powers" -- he's just really clever/shrewd. And has a lot of alone time to think things through.

Case in point: The famous Dark Knight Returns storyline where he kicks the crap out of Superman, using cleverly thought-out plans.

Case in point #2: My local library leaves all the books you have on reserve on one shelf that you yourself have to go pick through (what do librarians spend their entire day doing now?). So what do I do? I always pick through and read everyone else's reserves before "stumbling" on to my own. I'm that nosy -- particulary when it comes to comic books. Anyhoo, this guy had reserved a great Justice League of America story (JLA: Tower of Babel) where the main idea is that Batman had been taking obsessive notes on all the other JLA-ers, on how to take them out if they ever became too dangerous (see once again, Batman sides with "normal" human over super-powered immortal types). Bad guy finds the secret records and starts wiping them all out with these clever plans. Main point: Batman is one smart cookie. He's a detective, a forensic scientist.

And, yes, most hokey things always show him mixing up something in a test tube.

I would be completely remiss if I also didn't mention this fine convergence: in the most recent Batman movie, Batman Begins, the movie ends on a very Simpsons-esque monorail ride around Gotham. Who designed this train of the future in the movie? Bruce Wayne's dad. Being a train engineer, it seems, runs in Batman's family. [props to Batgirl, here at work, for that catch.]

So, Homer was right. Batman is a train scientist, damn it.

May I further digress? Yes, I may:

I forgot to mention Batman is the archetypical Odysseus-type: he thinks his way through every bizarre adventure, his main skill being cleverness. Without a Penelope. At with a pointy mask. But you get the idea.

And speaking of "a very skilled practical engineer who can build just about anything" --

when are we going to talk about Mr. T on the A-Team? How could I guy who never can see the drugged milk coming make so many things with one welder and a pile of scrap metal? A mechanical engineering savant, with lots of neck jewelry. Mr. T as Hephaestus? A stretch.

I'm gonna go out on a limb here, and suggest that Batman is (amongst other things) a "bat scientist." This, I think, would make him a chiropterist, since Bats belong to the family Chiroptera (greek for "hand-wing"). I can imagine Mr. Wayne going to his fancy cocktail parties and providing all manner of banter and trivia on bats, all the while chuckling to himself and thinking, "the fools." Anyway, whatever discipline he falls under, at the very least he could do with some counseling - that dude has issues.

Note: There's actually a North American Symposium on Bat Research in North Carolina coming up in October. Maybe, Mr. Wayne is a keynote?

Here's a tip for avoiding "joke laughover": Turn on closed captioning. The closed captioning allows you to read the joke you couldn't hear because you (or a neighbor) were laughing too loud. (I have also noticed that they sometimes dub in new dialog late in post-production; so, sometimes the spoken joke and the captioned joke do not match.)

As to what kind of scientist Batman is, I would suggest that we determine the core LOB of the Wayne Corporation. What business was he in back when it was just Wayne Consulting, LLC?

I'm following almost all of this, and I take to heart the joke laughover solution. Although -- although - one minor dilemma is with the closed captioning there is an eerie silence in the room, one that prevents me from harumphing throughout without looking out of place.

Also, Sue: post-Bloomsday (and post-Year of the Big Book, said with accompanying thumb twiddle) can we slot Homer into Bloom or Dedalus (in which case you also get a nice tie-back to the Annals link of a few days ago, and I get to hammer on you for not reading Ulysses, and the universe can become whole again)?

"Anyhoo, this guy had reserved a great Justice League of America story (JLA: Tower of Babel) where the main idea is that Batman had been taking obsessive notes on all the other JLA-ers, on how to take them out if they ever became too dangerous (see once again, Batman sides with "normal" human over super-powered immortal types). Bad guy finds the secret records and starts wiping them all out with these clever plans."

In the interests of fairness it shoudl be pointed out that this story is a swipe of the earlier story "The Xavier Protocols" in which Professor X of the X-Men does much the same thing.

By Ian Gould (not verified) on 22 Jun 2006 #permalink

I like subtitles. When I got Monty Python and the Holy Grail on DVD, I found a joke that I always missed. When it's found that the witch weighs the same as the duck, she says, "It's a fair cop."

Batman is an everythingologist.

I would say that Batman would be more like a research and development kind of person, who buys up the expertise of crazy and brilliant scientists (Like Dr. E. Nigma) to get technologies that no one else has. Thus, he's got tools of analysis, detection, locomotion, protection, that beat out everyone else. Obviously, he's a smart fellow who can do his own thinking, but I think he's not so much a scientist as he is an engineer and a detective combined with Bruce Lee.

Anyone think that G.W. Bush would try to ban Batman on account of being a suspected Manimal?

The position I've taken on Batman is that, rather than being formally a scientist, (one origin story even specifically noted that he lacked a college degree), his abilities with science stem from a pair of superpowers, (both hypercognitive abilities[1]):

Hyperanalytic: The ability to near instantly put together a minimal set of information into a correct conclusion.

Pretender: The ability to quickly pick up needed skills at a highly competent level.

[1] A class of abilities that often get missed as superpowers: After all, it's just that the guy's really smart, (just like the Hulk is really strong).

By Rick Pikul (not verified) on 05 Aug 2008 #permalink

Rick P: Batman is not "really smart like the Hulk is really strong." If that's the analogy you want to make it's more accurate to say that Reed Richards is really smart just like the Hulk is really strong. RR is a true genius, Batman is just damned clever.

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By Bella Cottage (not verified) on 03 Jun 2013 #permalink