B75 GUEST OP-ED: "What Batman Means to Me"
Author: Josh Costella (Follow @JoshCostella)
June 8, 2014

Do you remember the first movie you saw in theaters? I would imagine most people probably donít. Itís difficult for me to remember a lot of my childhood. My early years were pretty average and largely uneventful. However, in June of 1989, my parents took me to my first movie theater experience. Of course I had seen movies prior, but it had never been outside of the comfort of our home.

My nearly six-year-old eyes were overwhelmed by the size of the screen at the theater. In this current age of large TVs and readily available IMAX theaters to enjoy, an average theater screen size almost feels inadequate at times. But back then, it was the most amazing thing I had ever seen. Hearing surround sound for the first time was another bout of sensory overload. For the first time, a movie became an immersive and quite honestly life-changing experience. Then the movie finally began.

I had no idea who any of the actors or filmmakers were. I donít even think I fully grasped the concept of what actors and movies were yet. I was (kind of) mature for my age, but the magic of movies had not lost any power over me. All I do know is what I was being shown on that enormous screen with booming noise was completely real. As far as I knew at the time, Batman and The Joker existed in our world, Gotham was an actual city, and nothing would ever be the same.

In 1989, BATMAN changed my life forever. Youíre so impressionable during your childhood, and that movie created a bond between me and a fictional character which has done nothing but grow over the past 25 years. Itís difficult to explain everything I was feeling during my first viewing of this classic film. I didnít even know what my emotions were or what they really meant at the time. All I did know was I had never felt this way before.

When youíre as young as I was when I first saw BATMAN, itís difficult to place what youíve seen in context. But at its most elemental level, even my nearly six-year-old brain knew what the movie was about and, more importantly, what Batman was about. Good defeating evil, overcoming adversity, and refusing to give up were the most significant aspects that made an impression on me. And thereís no denying those aspects have made an impact on everyone whoís a fan of The Dark Knight.

Batman instilled within me the strength to want to do my best, no matter what. Luckily, my childhood didnít consist of having my parents murdered in front of me, but seeing Bruce Wayne overcome that adversity taught me a valuable lesson. No matter who you are, where youíre from, or what you believe, one thing that all of us will experience at least once in our life is loss. Whether itís losing a family member, losing a job, getting a divorce, it will happen. It all comes down to how we handle it.

Batman instilled within me the strength to make my life mean something. While I hadnít formulated any grandiose plans during my 6th year of life for what my eventual career would be, I knew at the very least that I wanted to be Batman. To me, who he was and what he stood for were the pinnacles of human achievement. Sure, heís kind of dark, not very happy, and likes punching bad guys in the face, but heís living with a purpose. Heís in control and doesnít settle. At his core, heís dedicated his life for the benefit of others. That left a lasting impact on me, because by the time I was 17, I joined the Army. I wanted to make a difference in the world and protect the people I cared about. Batman taught me that.

Batman instilled within me the strength never to be anyone but myself. At first glance that may sound odd since Batman and Bruce Wayne are ďtwoĒ different people. But are they really? Weíve all had the discussion about who is the true persona, Bruce or Batman. Itís been discussed in countless podcasts, message boards, and books. I believe thereís no separation whatsoever between the two identities. ďItís not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.Ē It doesnít matter if I have a costume, a billion dollar fortune, crazy gadgets, a really cool car, a teaching degree, or a 4-year enlistment in the military. We can all make a difference in the world, no matter who we are. Thereís never a reason we should try to be anyone but ourselves. Batman is not a costume. Heís a symbol. Heís the symbol of being the best person you can be.

As a fan of The Caped Crusader, I know Iím spoiled. Batman is the most popular superhero in the world. Thanks to Chris Nolan, heís the only superhero with two billion dollar films in a row and a trilogy of films that is widely considered to be THE definitive live-action portrayal of the character. His popularity has never been higher. Itís safe to say Batman wonít be going anywhere anytime soon. But no matter how many movies come out or how many billions of dollars his brand makes, it will never make a difference to me. Sure, we all love it when the characters we love are embraced by the majority of people. We enjoy being able to share in the experience with other people. But thatís not what makes Batman special to me.

Iíve gone through some challenging times in my life as Iím sure most of you reading this have. Iíve had times of darkness I honestly never thought Iíd escape. Iíve lost people I cared about, Iíve been hurt, and Iíve questioned the purpose of my life. Iíve felt the pain of rejection, the hopelessness of failure, and the frustration of fear. Despite all those challenging times, Iíve always had an escape. Iíve always had a way to get through it. Iíve always had Batman. And heís always been there for me.

It may sound crazy that a fictional character could have such a profound impact on my life. And you know what? Maybe I am a little crazy. But I do know whatís happened in my life. I know the good and the bad. Iíve made my mistakes and accomplished some pretty amazing things in my nearly 31 years of life. I have a lot to be proud of. At times, we can all use a little bit of inspiration. It doesnít matter where it comes from. We are all different and something that may help or inspire you, may not do the same for others.

Batman changed my life. He helped me be a better person. He was the reason I joined the Army. He got me through the times it felt like my world was falling apart. He is my hero. I know Iíll never be able to thank him for everything heís done for me. Heíd probably say Iíd never have to anyway. I know some of you may be wondering why I could care so much about someone that isnít even real. But let me assure you, Batman is real. I met him once at a movie theater back in 1989. - Josh Costella

Longtime BOF'er Josh Costella is a contributor for WhatCulture.com,
writer and podcast panelist for ModernMythMedia.com,
and an executive producer for the documentary,
Follow him on Twitter @JoshCostella.

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