The Id, The Ego And The Superhero: What Makes Batman Tick? : Monkey See Sure, Bruce Wayne is a secretive guy, but from a psychological perspective, is anything really wrong with him? A psychologist considers this question.
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The Id, The Ego And The Superhero: What Makes Batman Tick?

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The Id, The Ego And The Superhero: What Makes Batman Tick?

The Id, The Ego And The Superhero: What Makes Batman Tick?

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (as character) You mean you're going to feed those letters to the Bat computer?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (as Actor) They're made out of noodles, easy to digest.


Seriously? OK. Batman, you've dedicated your life and your large corporate fortune to fighting poverty and crime in Gotham City as a bat.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (as character) Holy haberdashery.

GREENE: I mean, you dress up in costume, you can't keep a girlfriend and sometimes they turn out to be cats.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: (as Batman) Why are all the gorgeous ones homicidal maniacs? Is it me?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: (as Robin) Holy looking glass.

GREENE: Your healthiest relationship, I mean, it's with your butler. You're fighting the memory of a childhood trauma that would really mess up anybody.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: (as Robin) Holy pressure cooker.

GREENE: Seriously, you need a therapist - and we have found you one. Robin...Rosenberg. She's a psychologist who's written a book. It's called "What's the Matter With Batman?" And Batman's not the only superhero that Robin Rosenberg has had on her couch. She actually blogs about superheroes for Psychology Today, and she believes that they offer some clues into the minds of mere mortals. When I spoke to her, she went back to Bruce Wayne's childhood and the harrowing murder of his parents that started it all.

ROBIN ROSENBERG: He decided to make meaning of his parents' deaths by spending his life protecting innocent people from what happened to him.

CHRISTIAN BALE: (as Bruce Wayne) People need dramatic examples to shake them out of apathy and I can't do that as Bruce Wayne. As a man, I'm flesh and blood, I can be ignored, I can be destroyed. But it's a symbol. As a symbol I can be incorruptible, I can be everlasting.

GREENE: That's actor Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne in the 2005 film "Batman Begins." And I wonder, Robin Rosenberg, as someone talking about as a man I'm flesh and blood. As a symbol I can be incorruptible. I mean, is this some kind of personality disorder that we're seeing?

ROSENBERG: No. Bruce Wayne is a really clever man who has both a high intelligence and a high EQ, emotional quotient. And he's right. We all respond more powerfully to the symbols of humanity, or super-humanity in this case. And so Batman transcends his humanness. I mean, he is one of the few fully human superheroes. The bat suit is really just a uniform that he wears when he goes on patrol the same way someone in military services will wear a certain uniform for a certain setting.

GREENE: OK. So, that explains the bat suit, but does Batman have trouble keeping track of this double life?

ROSENBERG: Bruce Wayne and the Batman inhabit the same body. They're two different identities. People often refer to them as dual identities. So, what's the deal with that? Sometimes when he's Bruce Wayne, he talks about himself as Batman in the third person. Does he have sort of a - in the old days, it was called multiple personality disorder. You don't have to look very far under the surface to figure out, no, he doesn't, because when people have dissociative identity disorder they have different memories in the different personalities. So, it's not a unified integrated sense of memory. And whether he's Bruce Wayne or Batman, he remembers most everything and he is the same person functioning in uniform and out of uniform.

BALE: (as Batman) It's not who I am underneath or what I do that defines me.

GREENE: You deal with a lot of questions in the book using Batman as a subject. I mean, you ask is he depressed, obsessive compulsive, if he has post-traumatic stress disorder, and the answer's no to a lot of those questions. What's your overall diagnosis of Bruce Wayne?

ROSENBERG: People who are truly selfless, who have given so much of themselves are confusing to most of us. And I think some of us in cynical moments say there must be something the matter with someone who would do that.

BALE: (as Batman) Gotham isn't beyond saving. Give me more time.

ROSENBERG: The question in part of what's the matter with Batman, I think for some people grows out of that cynical aspect of why would someone do that?

GREENE: Give up their whole life for a cause...

ROSENBERG: Basically give up their whole life. I think it misses that it's about getting a whole life.

GREENE: So, we have an explanation - kind of. Bruce Wayne is a sort of gifted but normal really nice billionaire. As for Robin Rosenberg, I was wondering what she actually learns from superheroes.

ROSENBERG: Superheroes in particular are, by their very nature, larger than life. They lend themselves to our saying, wow, how can they do that? What's that like? What is it like to live that experience? What do they give up? What do they get?

MICHAEL CAINE: (as Alfred) But that's the point of Batman - he can be the outcast. He can make the choice that no one else can make.

GREENE: Psychologist Robin Rosenberg is the author of "What's the Matter with Batman?" And she also does the superheroes blog for Psychology Today magazine. She's the editor of "Our Superheroes Ourselves," out next year from Oxford University Press. Thanks so much for joining us.

ROSENBERG: Thanks for having me. It's a pleasure.

GREENE: And if you want to peer inside the caped crusader's dark mind, you can catch the next chapter in the Batman story this Friday in Christopher Nolan's new film, "The Dark Knight Rises."

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