The Puzzlement of Batman (1966)

After having so much fun with the superheroes' list on the Mike-Kate Video Club, I decided to check out Batman (1966).

I didn't much care for it when I was younger; unfortunately, it is still almost unendurable.

It isn't the camp that bothers me. I quite like camp--I'm a huge fan of Lois & Clark which has a strong camp element--although I will admit that I prefer my camp to have a "wink wink nudge nudge" element to it.

And I don't especially mind the dorky costumes. Or the opening sequence, which is actually quite cool. Or the opening music which is fun because it reminds me of the hilarious song & dance numbers in Nero Wolfe: nah-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah. 

My problem is that the camp seems more deliberate than fun. Sure, the phone is silly. And the poles are silly. And the information-packed dialog is silly. And the police are silly (and the most incompetent police in the history of television). And the fights--ZAP! POW! BIF!--are silly and quite fun. But the villains are often more clever than silly, and the scripts have an underlying self-awareness that seems focused, bizarrely enough, on undermining the show's iconic image.

In other words, Batman becomes the butt of the jokes rather than the villains.

And everybody seems to know this except Adam West.

Burt Ward is so aware of the self-inflicted camp, he pounces on every line with great panache and little self-consciousness ("Geewillikers, Batman, I never thought of that! Of course, you are right.") Consequently, he is completely annoying; I spent every episode hoping the bad guys would kill him off (yes, I know that doesn't happen).

Adam West is also entirely unselfconscious--even during Episode 1 in which he discos (reminding me irresistibly of the sequence in Angel when Angel imagines himself dancing and then winces)--but he appears to take the character of Batman seriously. He isn't a terrible Batman either though both his demeanor and his attitudes are more Superman-like than Batman-like ("Yes, Robin, we must respect the law!"). He often mentions the murder of his parents, but otherwise, he seems a quiet, unassuming person driven less by personal angst than by a love for gadgets.

But he takes those gadgets seriously. The character is serious about his seriousness.

The end result is a difficult-to-shake embarrassed feeling that maybe Adam West is starring in the wrong show. The show definitely lends one into identity-crisis territory--and by "one," I mean me, the viewer. I was so puzzled by the show that I kept watching despite my aesthetic pain. Is this supposed to be funny? Serious? After-school cartoon? Message-loaded television for tots? WHAT IS THIS?????

So I totally understand why people would begin to think that perhaps the entire show was something like a Beatles record played backwards--there must be a message in here. Nobody does this deliberately. Whatever "this" is.

On the other hand, I'll admit, the show grows on one after awhile--like a disgusting scab. A positive outcome: Batman (1966) helps explain the history/origin of the unrepentant camp of the Reeves' Superman movies. Superheroes have come a long way since then, thank goodness.

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