Modern Fairy Tales: Of Vampires and Batmen

Dunn, M., 1993. Modern Fairy Tales: Of Vampires and Batmen. Reformulation, ACAT News Autumn, p.x.


Modern Fairy Tales: Of Vampires and Batmen

Mark Dunn

Working with a patient’s dream recently, the patient was describing being a batman or vampire. This led me to reflect on modem fairy tales and their important place in our popular cultural consciousness/ unconscious, ie films and TV.

In ‘Batman’ the first of two recent lavish Hollywood movies the hero, when a child, sees his parents gunned down before his eyes and this traumatic psychological experience causes him to grow up with a spilt personality. On the one hand, the face the hero shows to the world is of a rich, wimpish and ineffectual man; on the other hand the darker or ‘shadow’ side is of a fearless, violent, intellectually and technologically well defended but emotionally dead superhero, trying to save the world. In both roles he is unable to let a woman close to his heart or to be vulnerable in any way - even his car has hermetically sealing armour plated defences! One is led to believe that to let a woman get close would put the hero in touch with his ‘primal wound’ and perhaps undermine his superhero role.

In CAT terms the reciprocal roles might be described as 1. frightened and traumatised by terrifying abusers, 2. good enough care to autonomy, 3. perfectly caring for the vulnerable and needy world. The procedures, social isolation & and avoidance, cut off from feelings, involved and likely to hurt or get hurt or safe, distant but lonely. Make more up yourself...

In the sequel, ‘Batman Returns’ the hero meets his female counterpart - ‘Catwoman’ (unfortunately this is not a therapist!). Catwoman has undergone a similar psychological wounding process creating a parallel splitting, though she is portrayed as more overtly mad and sexualised. when the two meet they recognize their mutual psychological disabilities, are drawn together and start to feel things for each other that had been cut off but also how frightened of each other they are.

At another level it stuck me how these stories reflected light onto the classic therapists blind spot, which is common knowledge, whereby instead of healing our own wounds, or because this seems somehow impossible, we get drawn in to reparatively try to heal the wounds of the world (projection and inflation of the wound).

In a related way in some tales of Dracula, the vampire is portrayed as a narcissist who gains the admiration of women by displays of supernatural abilities and effortless charm; he is not the good guy, nor is he the bad guy, he is the ambivalent good-bad guy in between. In effect Dracula is shown as seducing women into letting him suck their blood (breasts) but in return they get nothing emotionally real. Dracula deals in eroticism, power and narcissistic display, shows no vulnerability, affection or repertoire of feelings. The female victim is sucked into the realm of the living dead (ie deprived of emotional life), by accepting seduction, by accepting the primacy of eroticism, narcissism and power over vulnerability and feelings. Only a man of fierce courage who can drive a stake through Dracula’s heart can stop the process, piercing and reconnecting the part that has been isolated, the symbolic centre of feelings.

In other stories of Dracula, he is portrayed as a rather sad and pathetic figure who can have no real life, cannot live in the sun, has to live in the night as a shadow, cannot be sustained by food, has to live off the lifeblood of others. Why should this be? In Freudian terms Dracula is stuck at the oral stage but a film could never show him sucking milk from the breasts of a new mother. In Slavic culture “the spirits of the departed were feared, especially those who were prematurely deprived of life and its joys. It is believed that such spirits are greedy for the good things thus lost, and that they make attempts to return to life, to the peril of the living”. How often do we find that it is not death but traumatic physical, sexual or mental abuse that prematurely deprives life of its joy; interesting that envy is the cause of destruction of self and others; and that therapists should work with the attempts of the dead to return to emotional life.

Mark Dunn

Full Reference

Dunn, M., 1993. Modern Fairy Tales: Of Vampires and Batmen. Reformulation, ACAT News Autumn, p.x.

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