I recently watched the Dark Knight Trilogy with my younger brother; it did not disappoint. As films go, it provokes questions beyond the normal ‘evil utilitarian vs good Kantian’. It asks about your identity.
My name is…
I am intrigued by the dual identity of Batman/Bruce Wayne. We become attached to our names, and want them to have a good reputation. I must admit that I would like to be well-known for something ‘good’. Being a world-famous thinker would be nice! Bruce Wayne/Batman does not reveal that the Batman is Bruce Wayne to Gotham at the end of the movie. In contrast , he does reveal it to several people throughout the trilogy, notably Rachel Dawes whom he loves. In Batman Begins Bruce Wayne actually lets his reputation (as Wayne) be damaged to help save those at his birthday.
However, I am more interested in when he had the option of ‘Bruce Wayne’ being remembered as a hero (as the Batman), or letting that fame and reputation solely reside in the persona of the Batman.
Glory and Honour
I feel that I would struggle, as Batman, to not let people know whom ‘I’ was at the end. Here we get to the crux of the matter. Throughout the series those close to Bruce Wayne begin to worry he cannot give up the Batman. Worse, they think he is becoming merely the Batman. If our desire for a good reputation and to be remembered gets attached to another name, then this decision is not so difficult.
An example: you have the option to sacrifice yourself to save 1000s, and everyone will know it was you. What do you do? What if you did it and someone you hated – or perhaps just didn’t know – was to get all the credit and you would instead be vilified or forgotten? Is that more difficult.
Now what if you did it, but that the credit would go to your official name – which for some reason you had not been aware of – so everyone would know that, say Ainlee Parker, had saved lives but no-one would know that (insert your name here) saved any lives? You don’t have much attachment to that official name so it is still not ‘ideal’.
Who are you?
Clearly, just as we associate certain ideas and experiences with certain symbols and vocal sounds (writing and speech), we associate our identity, our ‘I’, with certain symbols as well. We want what we regard as the ‘I’ to be remembered well or known well, and when the symbols we associate with us are remembered we associate this with the ‘I’ being remembered. Hence Bruce/Batman was okay with Bruce Wayne, a name he had little attachment to anymore (and a lot of pain), fading into obscurity while Batman was well known. However, the Rachel he loved only ever knew and cared for Bruce Wayne. It was important for him that she associated that person she had grown up with, not with the failures of Bruce Wayne, but the heroic deeds of the Batman.
Why care at all?
In fact, this all seems absurd. You care about unknown people thinking that you are caring/brilliant/generous. Yet they no more connect your name with your genuine ‘I’ than another collection of symbols which might represent you.
An example. Imagine Jane suddenly changed her name to Jill before her act of heroism? Would it make a difference to those people if they read Jane not Jill in their news feed. Consider your immensely complicated set of emotions, thoughts, feelings and that overarching identity, that ‘I’. How could someone understand that, if they have only read a random name in a paper? Our name translates to our identity for us and our friends, as they know us. We wrongly transfer the understanding those close to us have of our name to strangers.
Why not instead just care that people know a good deed was done by someone? Let them associate it with a name, but there is no need for it to be yours!