The Arkham Sessions: The Psychology Of Fanaticism In ‘Batman: Eternal Youth’
When Alfred suddenly begins to "redecorate" the Batcave with colorful potted plants, Batman knows that something is awry. Nothing bothers Batman more than having to co-exist with other organic life forms --plant or otherwise-- in his reclusive hideaway, but what's also disconcerting is Alfred's uncharacteristic energy and euphoria. It doesn't take Batman long to realize Alfred has actually been poisoned by a substance in the beverage he received during a retreat at a health spa.
Further detective work leads Batman to Poison Ivy, who, in disguise as the company's owner and biochemical specialist, has been infusing a chlorophyll-based formula called "Demetrite" into the spa's food, water, and even the air. He comes face-to-face with the vermilion villainess in the spa's giant greenhouse, only to discover she has victimized numbers of Gothamites whom she considers a threat to the planet's ecosystem. "You and I are surprisingly alike," Ivy tells Batman. "We both strive to see evil-doers punished. While you have your gallery of rogues, I have my grove."
Does Poison Ivy's strong dedication and ideology differ much from the Caped Crusader's mission to rid the city of criminals? (Crusader is his nickname, after all.)
In this episode of The Arkham Sessions, we delve deeper into Poison Ivy's psychology with her second appearance in Batman: The Animated Series by exploring her predilection for plants and her fanatic, destructive level of devotion to protect them.
Is Poison Ivy a Fanatic?
Fanaticism is an unusual, extreme level of devotion to a particular topic -- anything from religion to something like comic books. The term "fan," which by itself does not necessarily have a negative connotation, actually comes from the word "fanatic." There is no mental health diagnosis called "fanatic," nor are there any existing illness categories used by psychologists to label someone who is extremely obsessed with a religious, political, environmental or other cause. However, fanaticism may occur as part of a broader mental health condition or symptom (e.g., presenting itself during a delusional or manic episode).
Fanaticism is not merely a strong commitment to a set of beliefs or a hobby -- we'd then all be fanatics about something, right? Instead, persons considered fanatics have unwavering conviction about their beliefs, seek to impose their conviction on others, have a willingness to sacrifice themselves for the cause, and carry a very rigid "black and white" worldview (i.e., an "us vs. them" mentality).
When we encounter people like Poison Ivy, we begin to ask ourselves, What does this fanaticism serve? Research in political ideology suggests that the obsession may function as someone's unconscious motives to understand a world they see as harmful, to avoid existential threats and to maintain the relationships they get out of it (for Ivy, her imagined relationships with plants).
What is Delusional Companion Syndrome?
Speaking of relationships with plants, what do we make of Poison Ivy's connection to her beloved garden? The term Delusional Companion Syndrome, which was suggested by an Arkham Sessions listener, refers to a very rare neurological condition wherein a person believes inanimate objects have feelings and thoughts. The affected patient may, for instance, believe that a stuffed animal or doll is alive and can communicate with him or her.
Typically, some kind of neurological injury predates the odd behavior, such as physical head trauma or stroke. We know that Pamela Isley has experienced a life-threatening attack more than once, so some kind of head injury isn't out of the question. However, because plants are technically not "inanimate" or "non-living," this condition would not apply to Ms. Isley. Furthermore, some of her plants do appear to have anthropomorphic qualities, perhaps due to her expertise in botanical sciences and her ability to create more "evolved" companions. Finally, this condition alone wouldn't explain her destructive, unempathic quest to target numerous innocent citizens of Gotham.
Listen to the episode for the full analysis!