There is an interaction that has become routine in my life. Let me offer a recent example: I was sitting around a large group of people, some of whom didn’t know me as well as others. I was wearing a sleeveless shirt, so my Batman tattoo was showing prominently on my right shoulder. One of my close friends pointed this out to the group and thus began the routine interaction. Someone usually snickers and asks, “Why would you get THAT tattoo?” Another person usually says “Wow, good luck explaining that to your kids!” There’s also the occasional nonsensical comment about the tattoo being bad for my career (since we all walk around corporate offices in tanktops, obviously).
There’s about a 50/50 chance that someone new to the tattoo will ridicule it or admire it. And there’s a 100% chance that people wonder why anyone in their right mind would permanently put the Batman symbol on their body. The unfortunate thing is that when people ask me about the tattoo, we’re not in a position to have an insightful conversation about it. This often results in me providing a cursory answer or avoiding the question altogether. I can’t explain how I like Batman because he continuously evaluates his own decisions and molds himself into a better person. There’s usually no time.
Well, good thing I have a blog now.
I first noticed Batman after immigrating to the U.S. in ’98 and immediately Americanizing myself through cartoons. Of course I liked the things the other kids liked: the gadgets, the villains, the vehicles. I think most boys had a thing for Poison Ivy too (or was that just me?) I also liked that Batman was an only child like me and owed his ideals to the upbringing he received from his parents and Alfred. But I especially liked how Batman and his city were flawed.
I immigrated from an India that was flawed – our laws, lawmakers, and lawmen were often corruptible and hardly set in stone. You might see your uncle use a bribe to avoid a ticket at one traffic light, and then help a beggar at the next light. Right and wrong never seemed to be black and white when I was in India. In contrast, as a child in America, there seemed to be a lot more rules and a lot more people who were upset when you bent or broke those rules. I never liked this part of America, and always enjoyed the ability to set my own rules when I visited India (i.e. I made sure to engage in public urination whenever I went home).
Batman, too, lives in a world where the rules are not absolute. His methods are not conventional and his morals are his own to decide, challenge, and execute. He does not always do the “right” thing as defined by society because he abides by his own moral sense. Criminals do this too – they choose to skirt the laws of society because they find them stifling or unimportant, but the difference is that Batman does this for the sake of other people. Cause no harm to those who don’t deserve it, punish those who hurt others, and create a better society overall. This moral system might evolve over time for Batman, but certain rules are never compromised. For example, regardless of how tempting it might be, Batman refuses to kill the Joker. Doing so would negate the difference between him and the criminals he fights. Each day he remakes the decision not to kill so that his struggle is not just one of personal revenge. This is crucial – Batman makes the conscious decision every day to stand for something.
The desire to examine and decide my way of life is one of my main reasons for having a Batman tattoo. Recognizing that the world operates in a moral “gray area”, I believe in sticking to the principles that I define for myself. These might change over time, but some rules are incontrovertible, like the way I treat true friends or the respect I show people. Too often, people go through life without questioning their moral code or decisions. In other words, they live a life unexamined. Instead, I use Batman’s example to remind myself to lead a deliberate life. To help me, I surround myself with people who are different from me yet understand me. When I talk to my friends, I can look to them to challenge my views and help me grow. Sometimes that just means they tell me when I’m being an ass… Seeing my tattoo every day reminds me to intentionally decide what kind of person I want to be.
Keeping with the theme of being flawed, Batman is one of the few superheroes that are absolutely mortal. He is rich through no merit of his own, but everything else he became was the result of a measured choice to strive for perfection. What is “super” about this is simply a mindset of hunger and belief. Not only does he train himself physically, he is well-versed in literature, sciences, philosophy, and social life (read: ladies). This goes hand-in-hand with leading an examined life. By assessing and challenging your own way of life, you find your weak areas and strive to fill the gaps. Even though the Batman we see in comics and movies has built himself to a near-perfect state, he still finds ways to learn from every new case or villain that he encounters. He makes mistakes but does his best to correct them – such that he never makes them twice.
The desire to constantly improve myself is another of my main reasons for having a Batman tattoo. If I’m not improving, I’m stagnating. Accordingly, I try to keep in mind the things I’m working on each year – becoming better at my job, becoming more fit, becoming more connected in my community, etc.. I also like to acknowledge my weaknesses to myself and others– admitting my mistakes ensures that I will mature. With the acknowledgement that there is always more to learn, I aim to never be satisfied with who I am. Seeing my tattoo every day reminds me to keep pushing forward.
It’s unlikely that every person with a Batman tattoo thinks similarly. But as I grew in my appreciation of the character and read the defining graphic novels of his lore, Batman’s morals and desire for self-improvement stuck out to me. More so than the latest Batmobile or costume. When it came time to put needle to skin, I knew why I was really getting this tattoo. It was a concise, visual way to represent ideals that I planned to keep for the rest of my life. 1) Live honorably by consciously deciding the rules you set for yourself and 2) stay humble so you’re always improving.Besides, when your tattoo artist plays Lil’ Wayne music and talks about tattooing people in their private parts, you don’t feel like it’s really happening anyway.
So, for all those who see my tattoo and wonder if I’m “still going to like Batman when I’m 70 years old”, the answer is Yes. Yes, I will still want to examine myself every day and decide the kind of person I want to be. Yes, I will still want to learn and better myself every day.
These values are permanent and this ink on my right shoulder is accordingly, and incredibly, permanent.