Ben Affleck, BFG, Censoriousness, Chauvinism, Christian Bale, Crossing the Chasm, Dark Night, George Clooney, Global Sustainability Goals, Good & Evil, Human Friction, Humour, Irony, Lego Batman, Lobster Claws, Man Crush, matilde, Michael Keaton, Piety, Pilgrims, Plastic Caped Crusader, Political Correctness, Roald Dahl, Social Impact, Sustainability, Sustainability Vigilante, sustainable brands, Thomas the Tank Engine, Tim Burton, Willy Wonka
Ok, I admit it. I have a huge Man Crush on Lego Batman.
Yes, Lego Batman.
Nope. Not Batman. Or the Dark Knight. This is not a homo-erotic entreat to the wiry, muscular Christian Bale, or a slightly sloppy hug for big bad Ben [pre or post cocktail].
And though I feel that Keaton’s socio-psychopathic gift to the Burton Batmans was remarkable [is it me or do the Burton-Batmans sound like a rather smart family from Cape Cod?), and gorgeous George is always worth a mention, it is the small plasticky, modular superhero who has my heart.
Lego Batman is petulant, childish, misguided, isolated, narcissistic to the level of a clinical pathology BUT he’s still fundamentally a good and fun guy – and the ultimate role model, both literally [he’s modelled out of plastic pieces] ethically [he’s aways trying to shut down or thwart some toxic shocker or other] and symbolically [the Bat Sign is a beacon in the world that says bad awful things will always get their just and plastic desserts in the end].
Unlike the Dark Knight – he who broods in an enormous bat-winged cape on various V tall buildings – Lego Batman’s super-power resides in his all round, kinda clumsy unfunny dork-like coolness – or as a social strategist might say, his social reach. He is simply a lot more attractive and palatable to a far wider range of type and age-groups of people.
Lets face it, the highly cinematic and terribly troubled Bruce Wayne can get a little ‘BORING’ – but as soon as he is rendered in very shiny black plastic, has ‘Nope nope nope no no nope no Nope’ tantrums and crunches his way through microwaved Lobster claws, shell on, whats not to like?
Lego Batman’s love of industrial metal & grind core, and working with black, black, black and very dark grey, though broody and nihilistic in some ways, is really quite chirpy and redeeming.
And sure, he has a tendency to pop off with his Star Wars buddies just at the moment when he’s meant to be helping his Lego Movie buddy Emmet save everyone – and he struggles to maintain a text-book balanced and mutually beneficial relationship – but who wouldn’t; and doesn’t sometimes.
But my main love for characters like Lego Batman is rooted in their ability to be transcendent – to be able to be dark and light and left and right and rare and middle and base and grubby and funny and sad and inspiring; all at once.
It is an ability that the realm of Sustainability, Social Impact and those who’ve tasked themselves with rebalancing society could do with embracing far more.
The sustainability agenda needs all the transcendence it can get in the human department.
Though enormous steps forwards have been made [even getting it on the agenda of some corporations took decades of work and the relentless commitment of some very professionally brave people], there is still a deep division between the engineered integrity of the organisational, systemic and material change being undertaken at scale in large organisations and corporations and the insight and subtlety of the communicating voice and tone of the messaging that announces and celebrates these transformations for all the world to see.
It is the lightness of touch and the ability of characters like Lego Batman to appeal to all age groups in a very human and funny way that I find the most powerful. Especially in this space. The chiaroscuro of human nature, including the more childish and incorrect aspects of who we are as creatures needs to be front and centre to engage people.
But there seems to be a view amongst those trying to do something serious in the world that levity and playfulness diminishes or infantilises otherwise serious issues or points to be made. And that even when something childlike is to be used, it has to be ‘corrected’ in a trough of vanilla moralising and social engineering to make it finally palatable to a pungently consensual audience of rare intelligence.
The recent Thomas The Tank work around the Global Sustainability Goals, though wholly admirable, still ended up quite prim, was overly gender engineered, and in doing so ended up lacking humanity for me.
Friction is a human truth – friction tension and raw energy are essential in characterisations – even in children’s characters. The Homogenisation and cultural symmetry being inflicted on a lot of characterisations in pursuit of correctness these days seems inhuman to me. Humanity is imbalanced in so many highly nuanced and inextricable ways that to remove all imbalance between good and bad seems a fruitless pursuit.
Roald Dahl was the master of exploring dissonant and highly complex narratives inside beautiful whimsical and ultimately charming storytelling. The unvarnished nature and grimness of some of his characters made the stories all the more compelling.
Is Lego Batman on a par with the conflicted beauty of BFG or the moral ambivalence of Willy Wonka, the staggering and mystical precocity of Matilde and the creature narcissism of the Fantastic Mr Fox? Probably not.
But I’d still like to put Lego Batman forwards as the new prince [or princess; croissant or cork wedge shoe, depending on what gender he is identifying with at any given time] of sustainable communications.
I would rather have the 17 UN Global Sustainability Goals unpacked by the schlocky, childish, self-obsessed and mostly black plastic Lego Batman to a soundtrack by Ensturzende Neubauten than be cudgelled quietly by the imperious correctness of the reengineered Thomas The Tank Engine.
The Sustainability Vigilante picking on poor unsuspecting people with utterly inappropriate levels of vigilantism, weaponry and violent attrition for even the smallest infringement of a Global Sustainability Goal objective could be VERY funny.
Commissioner Gordon’s wife bins three perfectly recyclable containers…dun dun dahhhhhhh…without rinsing them!!!……arrggghhhh …cue trip hammer drum riff and crunching guitars…the roof ripped off the apartment block, a salvo of bat rockets pummelling the front room, followed by bat-swooping beatings metered out to her and everyone else in the block for good measure.
Lego Batman stringing up the old man from the Soda Shop as a highly sexually-suspect chauvinist and patroniser of women [how can I help you this fine sunny morning little lady?] or battering three men to a pulp with Bat hammers because they were found to be using face Scrub with Micro-beads could make for highly entertaining mini episodes of a whole series of ‘GSG themed’ Lego Batman content. We’d still get the point. But we’d also manage it with a little bumpiness and some conflicted humanity.
Doing good things and being a force for good in the world is not predicated on being insufferably GOOD. Goodness needs a foil to be real to the majority of people. People can learn immeasurably good things from bad or flawed people. And good people can only find their edges when confronted by bad things and people. The friction is essential. Adopting a Pilgrim approach to communicating good things is not the answer. But we are still doing it.
Perhaps the pilgrim piety that is still shaping sustainability communications is the same malaise that is rendering out safe space thinking in universities so that children and young people grow up believing that it is also possible to get through life without ever having to listen to something we disagree with or find unpalatable – simply by forcibly exorcising it from our immediate society – and see that as a ‘good’ thing. Dunno. But, as history has shown us, both the ‘Crusader’ thing and seemingly benign regimes where control is increasingly applied to blot out dissenting voices, when done with little or no humour and a highly tuned sense of irony, tend to end badly most of the time.
So blah blah blah. We must learn to speak of sustainability in human terms without homogenising and cleansing it of all human flaw and friction.
If we are to cross the chasm and move to engaging a far, far broader church of people and inspiring them to happily act upon more sustainable lifestyles it has to feel less goody goody and less pious.
We need to ‘lighten up’ and be prepared to be messy – because being human is messy. And we’re humans first and foremost.
Now where’s that Lobster Claw?