The Arkham Sessions: The Psychology of Stalking In ‘Batman: Mad As A Hatter’
How far would you go to earn the affection of someone you love? Send them a roomful of gifts? Surprise them at their doorstep? Advance the science of neurotechnology to a whole new level by developing mind-controlling head accessories?
Through the practice of animal experimentation (of course), scientist Jervis Tetch has found a way to manipulate neuronal connections of brains in order to "control another creature's mind." But rather than use this new power to increase his wealth or destroy the Batman like most of Gotham's Rogues would do, Jervis decides to use mind control to manipulate his office assistant, Alice, into falling in love with him. As he heads further and further down the experimental rabbit hole, however, Jervis realizes more drastic measures are required to win Alice’s love.
Home invasion, kidnapping, and mind control take this episode of Batman: The Animated Series to a new level of creepy; writer Paul Dini ingeniously entertains the imagination of young viewers with Alice in Wonderland themes while also suggesting levels of subversion -- possessiveness, coercion, stalking -- that adult viewers find unshakably disturbing.
In this episode of The Arkham Sessions, we explore the delusions and dangers of obsessive, unrequited love as only personified by the Mad Hatter.
Living in Wonderland: Dream or Delusion?
Technologically brilliant but shy Jervis Tetch often escapes into the dream world of Wonderland, the only place where he feels accepted. As Paul Dini described in an interview about BTAS, Jervis’s escapism and social disconnection comes from a painful place: as a child he was ridiculed and seen as different because of his unattractive appearance and awkwardness. In Jervis’s mind, someone like Alice could never love him, so he resorts to manipulation and mind control in order to be with her. When he is wearing the Mad Hatter costume and reciting Lewis Carroll poems, he seems to be convinced that he is the Mad Hatter. Can he recognize reality from fantasy? Persons who hold strong beliefs that they are someone else (e.g., a fictional character, a religious figure, a famous person) may have moments during which insight is poor, and they may not realize the irrationality of their beliefs. Insight is a person’s awareness that they are suffering from a mental disturbance. Insight also includes more specific awareness that certain experiences including beliefs and perceptions (e.g., “I’m the Mad Hatter”; “Alice loves me”; “We live in Wonderland together”) may not be veridical, and further, that those beliefs could be part of an illness.
Our understanding that Jervis’s insight is poor helps us see what Dini saw in Jervis: in his efforts to feel love and acceptance, Jervis developed a world where it is acceptable to take what--or whom--he wants, and he may be psychologically removed from knowing how harmful and destructive his behaviors actually are.
Lessons from the Mad Hatter: The Seriousness of Stalking
One out of 12 women and one out of 45 men will be stalked in their lifetime. The majority of persons who are stalked know their stalker. Like we see in “Mad as a Hatter,” stalking includes following someone, showing up at their workplace or home, sending unwanted gifts, letters, cards or e-mails, damaging their property, and trying to control, track or frighten them. The emotional toll on stalking victims is significant: According to The National Center for Victims of Crime, a person who is stalked may likely feel unsafe, anxious, irritable, depressed, on edge, have difficulty concentrating, sleeping and may even have nightmares, flashbacks, or intrusive thoughts about their stalker's attacks on them. Studies on interpersonal violence reveal that the majority of stalking victims show signs of psychiatric problems like severe depression, anxiety, and somatic symptoms, and a third of victims experience repeated thoughts about suicide. Despite confusing messages in our culture that stalking is normal, unpreventable, or humorous, stalking is illegal and has serious, long-lasting consequences.