Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Better joke

There's an impression that emerges from interviews and various citations, that as a body, artists and writers working in the US comic industry weren't particularly pleased with the 60's Batman television series. In fact more than once I've read something like, I  hated that show, in connection with the topic. This attitude must be tempered, I would've thought, by some appreciation of just how much interest in the Batman character and comics in general, the show stirred amongst the broader public.

Any successful entertainment enterprise will draw the attention of the moral entrepreneurs and the Batman television show was bit of a 60's phenomenon, so there were a fare few such individuals scrambling for attention on the back of that success. So it's one of those ironies, that what actually killed the show was not the moralising of its critics but rather the weight of its own success. By the second season a case of cameo infestation was apparent, the most notorious of which is probably the Otto Preminger incident.

Catwoman disappears by the the third season or at least the real Catwoman, but the Lycra quotient is maintained by the advent of Batgirl. And what a marvelous job Yvonne does in that department, flippin' 'eck Yvonne Craig in Lycra, even I think that should be illegal or at least tightly controlled in the manner of a dangerous narcotic.

Opps, how did that get there?
Despite Miss Craig's--er talents, the batman television show couldn't quite negotiate the pitfalls of the the third season curse. The plethora of showbiz notables drawing their cheques, was no match for the more modest but earnest efforts of the not quite so illustrious staples of the cast that made the show a success.

I think it's fair to say that many Batman readers and creators working with the character, find the legacy of the television series a bit of an embarrassment. After all it's quite hard to reconcile the flouncy, possibly closet gay Batman of the series, with something like the hard nosed possibly psychotic individual, in something like The Dark Knight Returns. That's a bit of a shame really because when it worked, the series was quite a faithful adaptation of the character and the flavour of the comics. So it is with some anticipation that I greeted the news the television Batman would be returning this autumn, in the guise of an animated feature with the voices of Adam West and Burt Ward as the principle characters. It should be a bit of fun I reckon and it's got to be a lot better than the recent Killing Joke. Let's face it though, pretty much anything is going to be a better prospect that the animated Killing Joke, even the predicament facing the dynamic duo in this trailer.


  1. I think you mean 'fair' few. Now, DSE, kindly explain what you mean by 'moral entrepreneur'. The words convey no meaning to me when you use them together. As for why the Batman TV show was cancelled - simple. By the third series everyone had got the joke and they weren't laughing anymore. The novelty simply wore off - no deep analysis required.

    1. There's a fair definition for moral entrepreneur that crops up with Google. Google is something we use in England quite a bit for that kind of thing. I use moral entrepreneur because I associate the use of the word entrepreneur with euphemism, as employed by the kind of stereotype associated with Del Boy. It's seems apt to me to make the association between such mountebanks.

      I'm not really sure I laughed at the Batman television series or that it was actually ever that funny. It was amusing in a sardonic way perhaps, in the same manner as when white faced clowns exercise their wit over their oafish compatriots. Oh hang on, two sentences there, that might be a bit of a too 'deep analysis'. Luckily I'm south of the border and they can't arrest me for it.

    2. I find it ironic that part of the Google definition of 'moral entrepreneurs' is 'those who take the lead in labeling a particular behaviour and spreading or popularizing this label throughout society' - a bit like yourself when using the label of 'moral entrepreneur' in relation to those with whom you disagree on matters of morality in fact. The definition isn't a natural one in my estimation, and seems to change the normal definition of 'entrepreneur' by the addition of the word 'moral' before it. And while Del Boy may be a 'mountebank', I hardly think the word can be fairly applied to those who wish to safeguard the once commonly accepted concepts of morality and decency as traditionally aspired to by society.

      The 1966 Batman TV series certainly had moments that prompted laughter - mainly among adults admittedly, as kids thought it was being played straight. Although it was in the movie, the scene where Batman says "Some days you just can't get rid of a bomb!" was funny, and the movie was in the same vein as the TV show. Maybe it's better to base your speculations on things you're sure of, as it would provide a more solid foundation for your point of view.

      And no, the number of sentences doesn't automatically qualify as 'deep analysis', but the content may do. I think your attempt to tie-in the inevitable decline of the Batman TV show to 'moral entrepreneurship' betrays a touch of overthinking on your part.

      There's a couple of Scottish undercover coppers headed your way with the intention of luring you over the border so that you can be arrested. Facetiousness should usually always be regarded as a crime. (Unless I'm doing it of course.)

    3. I interpret moral entrepreneur as a morally neutral term, so I don't see the irony myself. Yes I have loaded it here by applying it to people who I perceive as socially parasitic. I don't though, always find myself in opposition to moral propositions. In fact, the currently prevalent attitude of moral cowardice is something I find distasteful. How one regards Wertham and his ilk, i.e. whether their motivations and actions should be related to morality, is an interesting issue.

      Wertham was an academic with a professional career in what, at the time, was an almost completely fictional discipline. So his actions have to be weighed in the light of the honesty with which he conducted his 'research', published his results and accurately relayed the rational basis on which they were founded. I think it fair to asses his performance as a failure on all three counts, motivation however in such circumstances is more opaque. So some sort of judgement is called for, happily there are just two choices, he was either deluded or a charlatan. It seems to me that a person with such illustration academic achievements, is a bit too smart to be deluded.

      That doesn't mean that the people who're occupied with the concerns Wertham purported to address or promote ideas similar to his, are like him or even wrong. It just means that the man himself was a tosser, who exploited the concerns of ordinary people and had little regard for the consequences his panic mongering. He wasn't the first, in other contexts, Dionysius lardner is good case for a role model. He wasn't the last either, Ralf Nader was hot on his heels.

      Perhaps I would have extracted more mirth from the Batman television series if I'd been older when I first saw it or maybe I would've just watched it for Julie and Yvonne.

    4. The irony, DSE, comes from applying a label (the label of 'moral entrepreneur' as defined by Google) to those who are accused of 'labeling'. A case of 'pot calling kettle' it seems to me. As for Wertham, his concerns were real enough, but he tended to see what he expected to see, which, to be fair, is something a lot of people do, without realizing it and even with the best of intentions.

      The Phoenix always rises, however, and without Wertham, we probably wouldn't have had '60s Marvel Comics or Frank Hampson's Eagle. Interestingly, now that we've got the sort of comics we'd have had back then without WErtham's intervention, most of them are sh*te (in my estimation). Give me the Masterworks, Epic Collections, and Omnibus Editions of yesteryear's classics (mostly) any day of the week.

      And there's nothing wrong with watching Batman for Julie and Yvonne - that'd be my main motivation for watching it today.

  2. I looked up "moral entrepreneur," and it sounds as if the label could be fairly applied to Dr. Wertham and the anti-comic book crusaders of the 1950's. Don't know if any such movement had anything to do with the decline and fall of the Batman TV show. I don't recall anyone condemning the show on moral grounds. Criticism (often by comic book fans) was usually that it was silly and stupid. And such criticism was ineffectual, because the answer was obvious: "It's supposed to be."

    We've talked about some of this on Kid's blog before (in fact, earlier this week, in a post re: The Avengers), so I hope it doesn't get too redundant.

    For a lot of comic book fans and creators (who wanted the comics medium to gain respect, and to be taken seriously), the problem was that "the broader public" (who, of course, did not read comics) got the impression that all comic books were like that. That is, silly and campy.

    To this day, when the mainstream (non-comics) media do articles about comics, or about comic-based movies and TV shows, they are often illustrated with the pop art "Bam! Pow!" sound effects. And when the 1989 movie came out, there were complaints about the violence and grim tone: "I thought it was gonna be like the TV show." (When one of my co-workers made that complaint, I explained that the Batman comics were grimdark when they started in 1939, then lightened up from the 1940's through the 1960's, and returned to grimdark in the 1970's. It turned out, she didn't know that the character existed before or after the 1966-68 TV show.)

    IMHO, though, a lot of the criticism is unfair. For one thing, comics really had a lighter tone in the Silver Age. Batman and Flash comics had colorful villains, themed henchmen, and melodramatic narration (in the captions). The TV series just jacked it up slightly, for comedic effect.

    And the show had to be tongue-in-cheek, because (unlike comic books) it had to appeal to adults as well as children. and adults could not take spandex-clad superheroes seriously. (Today, superhero movies are played straight, and adults seem to accept it. I don't know if that is progress.)

    Finally, campy comedy was the fad in the 1960's. I don't know if Batman started it, or if it was following an already-existing trend. The James Bond movies had tongue-in-cheek comedy relief, and the spy-fi movies that followed (Matt Helm, Flint, Modesty Blaise) were even more so.

    A lot of action-adventure TV series (e.g., Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Lost In Space, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Wild Wild West, The Avengers) also became increasingly campy in the 1966-67 season. It all reached its saturation point by 1967-68, and the camp fad quickly passed. Some of those shows tried to rein it in and tone things down, but the damage was done.

    And Batman, unlike UNCLE or West, could not really pull back, because its premise was inherently silly and campy to begin with. It didn't really have anything to go back to.

    After 1968, the trend was away from larger-than-life adventure (sci-fi, spy-fi, super heroes) and toward relatively realistic, street level drama: Dragnet, Marcus Welby, The Bold Ones, et al.

    In the comics themselves, Batman returned to the Dark Knight image and eventually regained much of his popularity.

    I don't hate the TV show. It is what it is. I agree with Julie Newmar. In an interview in Amazing Heroes magazine ca. 1990, she mentioned that each version of Batman (grim Dark Knight, shlock sci-fi, straight superhero, camp comedy) was a reflection of its time. When asked if she thought there was room for the different versions, she replied, "Oh, yes."

    And the show is worth watching for Julie and Yvonne.

    1. Television in the sixties was subject to similar scrutiny to the comic industry a decade or so earlier, there was even another congressional enquiry into the topic, although conducted in a somewhat less public manner. None the less this attention had some quite profound effects on the television industry, a notable casualty being The Wild Wild West.That show even came under fire for it's animated title sequence and was cancelled while it was a ratings success.

      The sixties 'camp' fad, I think can be explained partially as a response to this attention television was receiving. While camp was in vogue, it gave producers an easy option, just make something wacky and 'far out' and hope no one notices that it's rubbish. Camp though, I think did play an important role in appraising of conventions in dramatic mediums and how those mediums fictionalise reality, after all camp is essentially a parody. It's very hard to view some of the serious drama from the era directly before camp, without thinking that those dramas are slightly ridiculous.

      There had been a focus on wwii dramas before the camp vogue and it's hard to think of a topic more befitting a realistic and honest approach. Yet the war films of the 50's and later had become increasingly stylised. Bridge on the River Kwai reduces the privations of the Burma Railway to an interpersonal drama, that focuses on the delusions of one man. The Battle of the River Plate, is to be honest, quite hard to watch without laughing at the stiff upper lips, that's something of an indictment for film dealing with such subject matter.

      So I see camp as flowing from that highly conventionalised narrative style, a natural progression if you like. Yes camp, as expressed in the 60's, does also encapsulate a flavour of the era, somewhat sanitised for public display on the television. Maybe it was this aspect that drew the ire of the moral entrepreneurs. I can say that the Batman television series did receive some quite intensive attention, the producers, in an attempt to waylay such criticism, going so far as to film sequence with Adam West and Burt Ward for inclusion as a prologue in particular viewing contexts.

      Any entertainment media is going to subject to attention from those intent on prescribing that entertainment. It's a universal constant that's been demonstrated through the entire history of such endeavour. Flippin' 'eck, even Thomas Hardy had to deal with it, all that changes are the terms with the moral entrepreneurs frame their objections. Today it's sexism, because sex is not a reality of the human condition is it and we have to pretend it doesn't exist. A particularly impressive feat of cognitive gymnastics but one that unfortunately entails a whole bunch of scrutiny into the minutia of dramatic fiction: did the joker just shoot a Batgirl? Oh my god, that's sexist!

      I've got to confess, I'm not a huge fan of the 89 Batman film or to be honest, superhero flicks in general. I've moderated that general view slightly with some of the latest films, Guardians of the Galaxy, Deadpool, Kick Ass and even Batman v Superman but to me they just seem to be marketed too broadly.

      Artists and writers want to be taken seriously I suppose and anything that extracts humour at the expense of the medium is going to be viewed with some hostility. That's especially true when the broader public are in a state of ignorance about the medium but that kind of ignorance is incredibly common and particularly difficult to dispel. There are a couple of instances that spring to mind when friends have encountered my Manga collection, which for some bizarre reason they seem to believe is comprised exclusively of pornography, wtf? How does the idea that Nausicaa is a porn entity get amid the public consciousness?

    2. The phrase 'moral entrepreneur' is really a bit silly, and you seem to use it as a putdown for those with a more traditional concept of morality than you. It seems to me that the phrase can be equally applied to you and the film-makers you appear to admire, as you're trying to imposes your ideas of morality on the rest of us, in the same way that you claim those on the other side are doing. Yes, sex exists, but there's a time and place for it, and showing such graphic scenes that we see in TV shows and movies nowadays as mere titillating entertainment seems to many completely unnecessary. As I say, the phrase 'moral entrepreneur' is silly, as well as pretentious and pompous, and can be applied to anyone, whatever their concept of morality happens to be. It's as silly as the word 'homophobe', invented to dismissively label anyone who has reservations about the encroachment of gay culture into mainstream entertainment. Spare us from the labellers, whatever their persuasions. You don't like something, then you don't like something - simple as that.

      As for 'camp', the reason the Batman TV show was done that way, is as a result of the old Batman movie serials been screened at some party or other in the '60s, back-to-back, and the audience howling with laughter at the absurdity of them. That gave the originators of the TV show the idea to present the absurd in an over-the-top 'serious' way, to such an extent that it would be funny to an adult audience, while at the same time entertain the kiddie one.

      No great analysis required.