How to Win Your Family’s Annual Thanksgiving 'Batman & Robin' Argument

Prepare yourself for the inevitable shouting match.

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Nov 22 2017, 6:50pm

Photos via Getty Images and Warner Brothers

Each year when the holidays roll around, we ask ourselves the same question: How should we talk to our families about contentious political issues without completely losing our minds? Other websites have generously provided advice on how to talk about Trump with your racist uncle. But let's be real—most Thanksgivings are unlikely to turn into a CNN panel discussion. Instead, your family will probably spend the long Thanksgiving weekend relitigating the same argument they've had every year since the 1997 release of Batman & Robin—is the film, which holds a 10 percent "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes, really that bad?

As you all know, due to the film's overwhelmingly negative reception, Warner Brothers cancelled its sequel, and the franchise wasn't resurrected again until Christopher Nolan's gritty 2005 reboot, Batman Begins, a sharp departure from director Joel Schumacher's delightfully campy rendition of the caped crusader.

I'll say it. I don't care if this makes me a member of the "coastal liberal elite": Batman & Robin did not deserve such critical condemnation. After all, great movies like Psycho, Alien, and The Shining also opened to bad reviews, but now we see the light. So this year, when your problematic grandma launches into her annual expletive-filled tirade on the ridiculousness of Batman's superhero suit having nipples, you should stay calm, cool, and collected. Here's how you demolish your relatives' bad opinions:

Have a copy of Susan Sontag's "On Camp" on hand

Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy via Warner Brothers

The fundamental divide in the typical family debate about Batman & Robin comes from whether you respect camp as an art form. The negative response to Batman & Robin was a reaction to the movie's abundance of camp—from the bright colors to the nipples on Batman's suit to Uma Thurman's Poison Ivy bellowing her lines as if she's a 1940s starlet. The movie is ultimately a celebration of artifice, exaggeration, and ridiculousness.

When your grandpa begins to quote Roger Ebert's 1997 review of the movie, in which the late film critic wrote Batman & Robin failed "to explore the bizarre world of its heroes" and instead "settle[d] down safely into a special effects extravaganza," whip out a copy of Susan Sontag's "On Camp" and let him know that camp "is the difference, rather, between the thing as meaning something, anything, and the thing as pure artifice."



Bring the conversation back to Arnold Schwarznegger's performance as Mr. Freeze

Few universal truths exist, but it is self-evident that Arnold Schwarznegger, in his infinite and glorious stupidity, makes every movie better. Schwarznegger's admittedly silly interpretation of Mr. Freeze, with his nonsensical ice-themed puns, is part of what makes the movie so enjoyable, even to the biggest haters.

Compare Batman & Robin to other superhero movies

My biggest issue with other superhero movies, for example The Avengers, Captain America: Civil War, or even The Dark Knight Rises, is that they can be mega-boring and take themselves too seriously. Batman & Robin is a celebration of the silliness of a comic-book franchise that once upon a time embraced things like the Bat-Mite and whatever is going on here.

The nipples on the Batsuit is part of the film's delightful queerness

George Clooney as Batman via Warner Brothers

In an essay about the queerness of Batman and Robin from his book, The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture, critic Glen Weldon wrote that both of Schumacher's Batman films "proved a final, defiantly queer victory lap for the Bruce and Dick team. What Schumacher produced wasn’t gay subtext; it was gay domtext."

So when the unavoidable question of the Bat-nipples arise, redirect the conversation to be about a far less controversial topic—queer representation in film.

Focus on the things you agree on

As a great respecter of Batman & Robin, even I can admit it has its flaws. It's at least a half-hour too long, George Clooney is uninspiring as Batman, and the plot line about Alfred dying is really, really boring. If disagreements over Batman & Robin get too heated, bring the conversation back to the points all Americans can unite around.

So this year, don't let the annual family argument about Batman & Robin get you down. Remember the advice Alfred Pennyworth gave to Batman: "There is no defeat in death, Master Bruce. Victory comes in defending what we know is right while we still live."

Follow Eve Peyser on Twitter.

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