With Americans fleeing to multiplexes to escape reality and the heat by seeing the latest Batman movie, it is important that someone speak up for poor, neglected reality.
As always, I am the man for the job. From an early age, I was told: "Get real, Henry!" I hopped right to it and became real enough for most purposes. Very shortly afterward, I started to develop a sense of humor because one thing about reality is that it is very depressing.
They say the new movie "The Dark Knight" is indeed dark, which means that you can flee reality and still be depressed. This may explain why many theatergoers dressed in costume. It is hard to be depressed if you are sitting in the dark with a mask that has pointy bat ears. It would certainly cheer me up.
However, lacking bat ears, I am not rushing to see a very dark movie — who wants to sit there trying to figure out which character Dick Cheney is supposed to be? But I suppose I will go and join the throng eventually because I like air-conditioning and special effects as much as the next person.
Yet I can’t help thinking what would happen if Batman were not in Gotham but in a city like Pittsburgh, where reality is our constant companion. Here in the Rust Belt — we could call it the "creative oxidation zone" but nobody would believe us — Batman would find it hard going.
First of all, the whole bat costume thing is problematic. In these parts, anyone who has a cape suggestive of wings runs the risk of being confused for a fan of the Baltimore Ravens. Confusion is possible because we know a lot about Steelers football around here, not so much about ornithology and flying mammals.
And, of course, the local diet would be unhelpful to bat crime-fighting exploits. Those tights would fill out a bit once Batman got a taste for the famous Primanti’s sandwiches, with the fries in them, and pierogies.
Even if the citizens of Pittsburgh were to rally to a more fuller-figured caped crusader, the state of the roads, bridges and tunnels would soon loosen the bolts on the batmobile or bat cycle. We have potholes around here bigger than the bat cave; the batmobile could fall into one of those and land on top of a Port Authority bus.
In addition, Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl is only 28 years old and this town is not big enough for two Boy Wonders. As it happens, friends who have seen the latest movie tell me that Robin does not appear this time. That’s just as well. The neighbors were beginning to talk.
In the movie, wealthy playboy Bruce Wayne, the off-duty persona of Batman, has an ex-girlfriend but no spouse. That is another problem. From Pittsburgh out through the Midwest, there’s great social pressure to be married if you want to fit in, because single people are widely suspected of having too much fun. Certainly, single people with butlers would cause alarm.
But if Batman were married, that would be the end of him. He would be too busy pleasing Mrs. Batman to fight crime. By day, he would be forever taking out the bat trash to the bat bins. By night, she would harangue him for hanging upside down and snoring. All the while, the Joker would be laughing.
Of course, Gotham is meant to be a big city like New York, and Batman is more likely to do his crime fighting in a bigger, more cosmopolitan environment where they are accepting of butlers.
He would still have his problems. The general rule is that the bigger the city the more the lawyers. Vigilante bat justice is all very well, but in real life it would be an open invitation to the plaintiff’s bar. As Batman pursued the Joker, he in turn would be pursued by a pack of suits wielding the dreaded briefcases. Not to be outdone, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals would be staging protests on behalf of the endangered Penguin.
It is funny how real life intrudes to disturb our dreams. From London comes news that Christian Bale, who plays Batman in "The Dark Knight," has been arrested on allegations of assaulting his mother and sister. Holy Toledo! Next time Batman’s mom sees Batman, she should hit him over the hood with a baseball bat. It seems the nights aren’t dark enough to hide his shame.
(Reg Henry is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. E-mail rhenry(at)post-gazette.com.)