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The other day, pop culture artist Brandon Bird tweeted: “I wonder what Biden thinks about Batman Returns.”
And that was enough to send me down a rabbit hole.
Batman Returns came out in 1992. Joe Biden had already been a senator for 20 years by then. Maybe he was on the record saying something about the movie in some context. How could I find out?
I began with C-SPAN, the cable channel which has been recording Congress since 1979. Perhaps the movie was mentioned in some context on the Senate floor while they were recording. Luckily, C-SPAN’s website has a search engine. So I searched for Batman.
C-SPAN’s search results include transcripts from House and Senate proceedings as well as other C-SPAN programming: They have call-in shows, and programs about books and American history. So the search result was a bit broader than I’d intended.
The top search result for Batman actually came from an episode of “Reel America,” a C-SPAN show that highlights old films. This one was a 1966 Batman Treasury Department Savings Bond Ad starring Adam West.
Hello, boys and girls. I have a special message for you from the President of the United States. Let me read it to you. “I salute the boys and girls who are buying United States saving stamps and bonds through the Treasury’s School Savings Program… giving important support to the cause of freedom and the men who fight for us in Vietnam.” That message is on this wallet-size U.S. Savings Bond pledge card, which you’ll get in school as soon as you begin to buy U.S. Savings Stamps. Let’s get started today. What do you say?
Fascinating. But that’s not Batman Returns. So I kept looking. Then I found this speech by Michael Keaton at a National Press Club luncheon in 1994:
I am going to now say something that I've taken a long time to say publicly — and this is the best spot to do it I think for now. And that is, I want to talk about why I did not do the third Batman. (Laughter.) Let me make it very clear, it's really pretty simple. I walked away, I turned it down, I said no. That's the truth of it. I said no to Batman III, or the title I think is Batman Forever. Apparently not for me. (Laughter.)
He goes on to talk about what he found lacking in the script and how it competed with his personal and professional goals, and what was happening in the world at the time. “When you look around the world and you look at places like Haiti and Sarajevo and Rwanda, I mean, do we really care who plays Batman in Batman III?” It’s actually a quite interesting speech. I’ve never seen Michael Keaton talk like this before.
So then I started to wonder: What other pop culture icons could I find in the C-SPAN archives? I began just typing in whatever I could think of. Here’s some of what I found:
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
First I found another National Press Club event, featuring a speech by TMNT co-creator Kevin Eastman in 1992 telling the story of how the Ninja Turtles came to be.
But mostly the Ninja Turtles show up as examples of violent programming aimed at children. For example, there was the time Mr. Rogers was asked about the violence of shows like the TMNT cartoon. His response to the National Press Club:
I must confess that I do not watch television very much at all. I haven’t seen any of this that you’re asking me. But I’ve heard from others that most of it is quite violent, this Turtle business… I don’t think that 18 minutes of violence and 2 minutes of resolution of that violence is the least bit helpful.
The earliest mention I could find of TMNT on the Senate floor was June 16, 1993. Senator Byron Dorgan (Democrat, North Dakota) told this story about the influence of TV violence on children:
I had a pediatrician come to my office recently. He said, “It’s interesting, I see different injuries on some of the children that come in.” I said, “What do you mean by that?” He said, “For example a young five year old child was in a while ago with a giant wound on his head from a baseball bat. It was the neighbor boy, watching Ninja Turtles, who can't distinguish between reality and fantasy and watching Ninja Turtles comes back outside and takes a baseball bat as the Ninja Turtles do and whacks the neighbor boy over the head and creates a significant injury.”
The earliest reference to Darth Vader in the archive is from a 1988 hearing on NASA’s budget for the following year. Representative Jack Buechner (Republican, Missouri) makes this baffling statement suggesting school kids could help raise money for NASA if you find the right angle:
I might suggest, even be so bold as to say, that you might take the space station and maybe come up with a little better name than “space station.” I don’t want people to think it's an Exxon pump out in the ionosphere. Maybe call it Liberty II. The schoolchildren of this country raised a lot of money to refurbish the Statue of Liberty, and Liberty II might be a good new torch for America… I know you're not going to raise a billion dollars from the children of this country, but if you got them involved in doing something towards pushing in space, then maybe we'd be able to, as a nation, redefine ourselves and find out that space is not necessarily Darth Vader. It's so also got a lot of NASA Luke Skywalkers out there.
Maybe he should have asked Adam West to dress up as Batman again and ask kids to fund the space station with savings bonds.
At least he didn’t do a Darth Vader impression, right? I mean, that would be… Nobody would be so childish as to do a Darth Vader impression right there in the hallowed halls of Congress, right?
Enter Ted Cruz.
On March 10, 2016, during a debate on defunding health care, Senator Ted Cruz (Republican, Texas) said:
I will confess that phrase, “a rebellion against oppression” conjured up to me the Rebel Alliance fighting against the Empire — the Empire being the Washington DC establishment. And indeed, immediately on hearing that phrase I wondered if at some point we were going to see a tall gentleman in a mechanical breathing apparatus come forward and say in a deep voice, [bad impression] “Mike Lee, I am your father.”
During the 1995 confirmation hearing of Dan Glickman for Agriculture Secretary, Senator Bob Kerrey (Democrat, Nebraska) said:
Reminds me of… the movie Ghostbusters, where Billy Murray goes up to Sigourney Weaver’s room, and she has been possessed by an evil spirit. And she wants him to go into her bedroom with her. And he says, “I have a rule. I never do such things with people who are occupied by evil spirits.” And then she kisses him. And he says, as we very often do after we’ve given our speeches, “Well, I guess it’s a bit more of a guideline than it is a rule.”
It’s met with great laughter. When he finishes speaking, Committee Chairman Richard Lugar (Republican, Indiana) addresses the nominee:
Already, Mr. Glickman, you have heard the thoughts concerning Rasputin, Sigourney Weaver of Ghostbusters, and Abraham Lincoln. A wide variety of sources of comment. Without, I’m sure, being disappointed, we turn now to Senator McConnell of Kentucky.
And that was the last time anyone assumed Senator McConnell wouldn’t be a disappointment.
And while not exactly on the topic of Ghostbusters, you can also find a 1990 panel discussion of Huckleberry Finn in the C-SPAN archives featuring Bill Murray reading selections from the book.
So What About Biden?
I never did find a comment from Joe Biden on Batman Returns, but it was a longshot, and just checking C-SPAN is a pretty limited corpus. Plus I got sidetracked pretty quickly, as you can see. Pretty much every pop culture search term I threw in had interesting results: TV shows, actors, comedians, movies, etc. Most of the results were from book-related programming, since everything under the sun has been written about. But you should poke around yourself and see what you find!
Remember Brandon Bird?
Sure you do, from the first sentence of this newsletter. His tweet about Biden started this whole thing. You should check out Brandon’s pop culture art. This 2019 calendar of paintings of SEARS stores is my favorite calendar ever. It’s like something executives would be given in earnest at a SEARS corporate retreat.
October’s SEARS painting was “Night Sears, Flagstaff.” I love this painting:
I can’t wait until 2030 when I can use the calendar again.
And if you were a reader of the blog incarnation of Ironic Sans, you might remember my scientist valentines back in 2008. Brandon’s Law & Order: SVU valentines were partly the inspiration for those. Although my art doesn’t quite compare to his:
That’s it for this week. If you find anything cool in the C-SPAN archives, let me know.
And now, I leave you with the Batmen of C-SPAN: