Disposable Batman Syndrome
Have you got it?


In 1989 everyone was psyched up for the big Batman movie. This was the serious movie comics fans had been waiting on for years, and with state-of-the-art special effects and Jack Nicholson as the Joker, it promised to be the biggest, bestest summer blockbuster ever.

As the assistant manager/convention roadie for New Dimension Comics on Main Street in Columbia, I saw heavy publicity as early as January. But what really impressed me was how much the world outside comics fandom anticipated this movie.

It certainly helped that Batman's character and likeness, the idea of his entire being, was owned by one of the largest media conglomerates in the solar system, so he was always in the "news." But this still didn't explain all the new people I saw coming into the store to buy Batman t-shirts, coffee mugs, pins, dolls and costumes. It didn't explain the sudden desire people had to put Official Batmobile stickers on their rear windshields.

This went on for months. Then came opening night.

Conditioned as I was to like the movie (I won't lie; I had a Batman coffee mug and a couple of t-shirts too), I'll never forget that scene in which Nicholson meanders slowly down the streets of Gotham on a parade float. That was when I caught myself checking my watch and wondering how anything so silly and fragmented and all-around drag-ass slow got such great reviews. The national media was one thing -- that big chunk of it owned by Time-Warner was easily explained -- but why did so many critics praise this trash?

But who needs a memory hole when
we've got D.B.S.? We've all been
conditioned to dismiss as irrelevant what
we haven't already forgotten.

As it happened, very few people dared say out loud that the movie flat-out sucked. Not the reviewers, not the people who came into the comic book store. Hell, not even me. Not after all the anticipation that had been built up on the movie's behalf, not after so much bat-symbol stuff had been bought and flaunted. This movie was supposed to be the biggest, bestest, ass-kickin'est summer blockbuster ever. And, by God, it was. At least in 1989.

Shortly after it opened in theaters, a bold announcement was made: the movie would be on videotape in time for Christmas. Never before had such a thing been done. But as bad as the movie was, people snapped up the tape -- and now only 35-year-old geezers like me remember when newspaper ads for movies proudly proclaimed "Now in its 52nd Blockbuster Week!" as they did for films like The Sting and Silver Streak.

So began what I call D.B.S.: Disposable Batman Syndrome. As a result, movies aren't the only things marketed differently.

Don't get me wrong; I don't believe any of this was deliberate. But the way things went with the first Batman movie, and the way they have gone ever since, seems to explain everything from the Gulf War to Hootie and the Blowfish.

Consider the Gulf War. As early as August 1990, CNN cobbled up a big, bold logo and an ominous-sounding boom-de-boom-boom-boom! theme song for its "coverage." For months until the actual ground war started we were told what a mean old hard-case Saddam Hussein was and how he commanded the fifth-largest army in the world, along with a terrifying array of biological and chemical weapons. Never mind tuning in tomorrow to see the same film clips and hear the same invectives over and over again (madman, ruthless, this decade's Hitler), just stay tuned! For our brave men and women will possibly meet a certain death and....

I remember knowing exactly when it ended. It was when I drove into the parking lot of the Navy exchange in Pensacola, Fla., in March 1991 and saw the sign that read, "GULF WAR T-SHIRTS 1/2 OFF."

If you're one of those people who thought the whole spectacle looked like a movie passed off as news, you weren't too far off the mark. The Gulf War was that year's Batman. Anticipation was stoked up to a proper can't-resist intensity, ancillary products were marketed and sold to satisfy pre-release needs, the actual showing came and went quick and dirty -- now everyone buy the damn video and forget it already.

And so we did.

Remember at the end of the Gulf War in early 1991 when it seemed George Bush was a shoo-in for reelection as president? When he was a gen-you-wine War Hero, untouchable, unstoppable?

I especially remember that for how quickly everyone else forgot about it just six or seven months later. That king-hell recession that had gotten underway just before Iraq's invasion of Kuwait was at the top of the news.

Of course, maybe you have trouble remembering that recession. In July I read an editorial by some right-wing corporate think-tanker who declared that President Bill Clinton deserved credit for the recent economic boom only inasmuch as he didn't interfere with the policies Reagan implemented in the glorious '80s when, according to the think-tanker, the boom started. Never mind the blithe generalities, the questions raised about which policies thus implemented that were so effective. As far as this think-tanker was concerned, Black Monday 1987 and the follow-up crash of October 1988 -- let alone that vicious recession/depression of 1990-'92 -- never happened.

And as far as the general public's perception goes, they didn't. The way major events come and go and are forgotten like so many bands which go mega-platinum over one summer and fade into nowhere by Christmas is horrifying.

After the handover of Hong Kong to China this July (does this seem so terribly long ago already?) I wrote a long e-mail to the editor of this newspaper about how outrageously incomplete the news coverage of the handover was, how it kowtowed to the totalitarian oligarchy in Beijing who murdered so many pro-democracy demonstrators in Tianannmen Square in 1989, how future injustices in Hong Kong were likely to be downplayed in favor of news of the latest rises in the Hang Seng index just as Singapore's fascism is downplayed in favor of stories about its good investment climate. I was so worked up I wanted to do a column on it.

And the editor said, Look, fine, but people are sick of hearing about the Hong Kong handover already. Find something else to talk about.

And she was right. The anticipation was stoked, the t-shirts were sold, the deal went down and the party was long since over. You didn't want to hear about it.

"He who controls the past controls the present" was the motto and mission at Winston Smith's place of employment at the Ministry of Truth in George Orwell's 1984.

Smith's job was to put newspaper clippings and photographs deemed dangerous or irrelevant by the omnipotent Party down a "memory hole" -- that is, a chute leading to an incinerator, where all evidence of events, of the very people who lived them, were destroyed.

But who needs a memory hole when we've got D.B.S.? We've all been conditioned to dismiss as irrelevant what we haven't already forgotten.

Think about this. And don't be surprised if you have to think really hard.

Columbia native L. Roy Aiken zaps out his column by mojowire from the eighth floor of a high-rise overlooking the Atsugi Naval Air Facility in Japan. He has worked as a reporter and columnist for the Imperial Beach (Calif.) Times and has contributed to The San Diego Writers' Monthly, The Poetry Conspiracy and the horror anthology Taboo.

© Copyright by POINT, 1997
Last modified 9/12/97