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Psych Geeks: How 'The Batman' can ride cultural cynicism about hero billionaires

WGLT’s Psych Geeks — aka Illinois State University psychology professors Scott Jordan and Eric Wesselmann — are back to help dissect Bruce Wayne and The Batman.

As you might have gleaned from all the jokes about Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk going to Mars, today’s billionaires don’t exactly garner a lot of hero worship.

Onto the stage comes another billionaire, Bruce Wayne, who also happens to be The Batman. Robert Pattinson plays the titular character in “The Batman,” which opens in theaters Friday.

WGLT’s Psych Geeks — aka Illinois State University psychology professors Scott Jordan and Eric Wesselmann — are back on Sound Ideas this week to help dissect Wayne, the rich boy whose childhood trauma led him to become the vengeance-seeking Batman.

“We’re in a different culture right now,” Jordan said. “The idea of a billionaire individualistically saving a culture may have been popular years ago, but I don’t know that that’s the space the concept of heroism is in right now in American culture. The louder national issue tends to be: Why can’t we create a culture that’s heroic, instead of waiting on billionaires to do it?”

Eric Wesselmann and Scott Jordan
Laura Kennedy
Illinois State University psychology professors Scott Jordan, right, and Eric Wesselmann, aka WGLT's Psych Geeks.

Jordan added: “If they’re sensitive to that issue, and they examine that, and it’s part of the self-reflection that The Batman character goes through, that can be inviting.”

Trailers for “The Batman” suggest that’s what will happen. The primary villain, The Riddler, appears to be poking at the Wayne family’s past relationship with corruption in Gotham.

The Riddler, after all, is a natural foil. If Batman is the world’s greatest detective, it makes sense to throw at him the world’s greatest mysteries (or riddles), Wesselmann said.

“If we see the Riddler lead Batman down a trail he would have never found by himself, and it’s a villain who’s doing it, that’s extremely rich. And it makes sense that you’d have to get to that place of understanding your own complicit-ness – get their cognitively first, and after you’ve been there cognitively for a while and examined the things in your life that are part of that, the emotionality can then be experienced within that space,” Jordan said.

Apparently fighting alongside Batman in this new film will be Catwoman, or Selina Kyle. Wesselmann said he welcomes the opportunity to see Wayne/Batman’s social connections play out on screen, vs. portraying him as a loner.

Whether Wayne wants to admit it or not, he needs social relationships, Wesselmann said. When we have a relationship with someone (even non-romantically), we bring them into our self-concepts, and vice versa, he said. We become more independent. Some psychologists say the best relationships are the ones where we complement each other or bring out our best selves.

“Batman is not an island,” Wesselmann said. “And I don’t like that we downplay the importance of social support in dealing with the slings and arrows of our lives, whether it’s fighting villains or just getting by day to day in the middle of a pandemic.”

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Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.
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