Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sixty-Seven Years Does Not Pass In Vain

So, recently I ordered the 1943 Batman serial from Netflix. I'd been under the impression these were early Batman cartoons, rather like the Fleischer Superman cartoons from 1941/42, but when it arrived they turned out to be episodes in a live-action series. They're pretty generic 'masked man' serial fodder of the era. It's nice to see Batman and Robin tooling around in a perfectly ordinary car, climbing up buildings by using the fire escape (rather than rappelling down walls), and losing almost as many fist-fights as they win (Batman tends to get tossed off roofs a lot). There are also some hints of things I associate with the 1960s tv series rather than the early Batman comic in the Bruce Wayne/Wayne Manor parts of the story. So, as a piece of Batman lore, it's passable. But at one point it's a scarifying reminder of its times.

As I said, this serial was made in 1943. And as such, it's not surprising to find Batman fighting not the Joker or Two-Face but agents of a wily Japanese spy. That in itself's not so bad -- I've seen a bad Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes in which Holmes fights the Nazis. But it's shocking that it includes whole-hearted endorsement of one of our country's most shameful episodes of that era. At one point early on in the first episode, the camera pans over a street of deserted buildings and closed businesses with Japanese names while the voiceover reads as follows:

"This was part of a foreign land transplanted bodily to America and known as Little Tokyo. Since a wise government rounded up the shifty-eyed Japs, it has become virtually a ghost street. But one business survives, eking out a precarious existence on the dimes of curiosity seekers." [i.e., a 'Cave of Horrors' carnival ride which features displays of Japanese atrocities toward American civilians and soldiers]

It's strange and perhaps thought-provoking to realize that the most popular thing FDR did in his presidency --rounding up people and sending them off to concentration camps based on their ethnicity -- is now the most shameful part of his legacy.

--John R.

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