How Social Media Killed Batman

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This article was first published in the National Young Lawyers’ Committee’s Putik Lada column in The Star.

Much as Bruce Wayne wants to keep his alter ego a secret, it would be hard to do so what with everyone on the lookout for the iconic figure and his every move followed by frenzied Twitter and Facebook updates.

Holy mackerel! Batman is dead! Was Batman killed by a demented maniac from the depths of Arkham Asylum? Or by a crime mobster from the streets of Gotham City?

No, it was social media that killed Batman.

Batman is more than a man. He is a myth, a symbol. Bruce Wayne is not Batman. Bruce Wayne becomes Batman.

Batman stands for justice. But Batman is also a symbol of privacy. He keeps his thoughts and actions to himself. That’s how he rolls.

You can’t kill a symbol with knives, bullets, or toxic gas. But you can destroy a symbol by unmasking the human face behind it and revealing its human flaws bit by bit, until people lose faith in the symbol.

Everyone’s on the lookout for Batman. Any sightings of Batman in action scaling rooftops, cruising in his Batmobile, or breaking into buildings to rescue hostages would be followed by frenzied Twitter and Facebook updates.

Likewise, as a socialite billionaire frequently surrounded by beautiful ladies and the elite of high society, Bruce Wayne attracts much media attention.

It would be difficult for Bruce Wayne to keep his Batman alter ego a secret. You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out that the person behind Batman’s mask is either very rich or has a rich benefactor.

Why does Bruce Wayne often abruptly leave midway through parties, and without taking his lady friends along? Why is it that Batman and Bruce Wayne are never sighted at different places at the same time? Very suspicious indeed.

Even for us ordinary folks, there are parts of our life we want to keep private within our family and close friends. Parts which you do not want your employers and colleagues or teachers and schoolmates to know.

It could be something as serious as your sexual orientation or political affiliation, or something less serious but no less incriminating as what you did (and wore) last summer in Phuket, Thailand.

Social media exposes our lives to public scrutiny, and consequently, public judgment. And that makes us think twice about the things we say and do. We hesitate to be ourselves, for fear of being misunderstood and misjudged.

While fighting the Joker, Batman faced an ugly truth. The public is fickle and demanding. Today you can be glorified, tomorrow you can be crucified. Batman may save lives, but what about the collateral damage to public property and innocent bystanders?

Go too hard on suspected criminals, and “Batman Brutality” will be trending. Take it easy for a night, and it’s “Batman, why you no help?” instead.

It’s hard to please everyone.

Social media is filled with unnecessary melodrama and misinformation. Tear gas is a relatively safe, legitimate and standard law enforcement method for dispersing crowds.

Yet, the reaction of some quarters during the recent Bersih 3.0 rally was as if the police had released toxic gas manufactured by the Scarecrow and Ra’s-Al-Ghul that kills you if you’re lucky, and drives you crazy if you’re not.

Last year, during the London riots, it was found that rumours circulated by social media contributed to the spread of panic and disorder.

As former British prime minister Winston Churchill once said, a lie can get halfway around the world before the truth has the chance to get its pants on.

Weeks before Bersih 3.0, a public relations war was already being waged between politicians, the authorities and protesters. The Kuala Lumpur rally was eventually marred by acts of violence by the police and public.

But was it surprising? Having thousands of emotionally charged people in a crowded area is akin to a volcano waiting to erupt. Even in football stadiums, chaos can lead to casualties, like the Heysel and Hillsborough tragedies.

Humans make mistakes. But under the microscopic lenses of the media, every mistake is magnified and every molehill is made into a mountain.

When Batman catches and interrogates the bad guys in a race against time to save innocent lives, the last thing he needs is someone to tap his shoulder and say: “But you forgot to tell him he has the right to remain silent”.

After the Bersih 3.0 rally, people can’t stop but point fingers at each other shouting “No, he started first!” like kids.

No one’s really talking about electoral reforms, which in case people had forgotten, was what the rally was all about. Sadly, we have missed the forest for the trees.

The Joker cunningly manipulated the media to feed the fears of the people of Gotham. His mere words turned Harvey Dent’s moral compass upside down. The Joker is evil, yes. But what’s most evil about him is how he makes good people go bad.

Social media itself is not evil. It’s just that there are plenty of jokers out there manipulating social media to influence our thoughts and actions.

When we allow our lives to be consumed by social media, we risk losing our identities. Social media drives us to do what we think will be liked, rather than what we think is right.

Thus, we must rise above the cacophony and chaos of social media. We should find solace in that private place deep inside of us, where we keep our secret dreams and hopes.

We all need to discover our inner Batman. Not to discover how to be heroes, but to simply discover how to be true to ourselves.

The writer is a young lawyer. Putik Lada, or pepper buds in Malay, captures the spirit and intention of this column – a platform for young lawyers to articulate their views and aspirations about the law, justice and a civil society. For more information about the young lawyers, visit www.malaysianbar.org.my.


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Raphael was named after an angel and Italian Renaissance painter. However, he does not have a halo on his head and consistently scored a ‘C’ grade in art class back in school (no, ‘C’ is not for Consistency). Previously a litigation lawyer, he now works in a multinational company giving legal advice to those who need it, and those who think they don’t. In his free time, he travels through the past, present and future – through the sheer power of imagination, a few shots of single-malt whiskey and Daft Punk’s ‘Random Access Memory’.

Posted on 16 May 2012. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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