13 June 2022

In Good Company w/ Orphans, Orphanhood, the Orphan Trope, Lazy Writing, and (Why do we really care—so much—about) 'The Batman'?

Why is the orphan utilized as a protagonist/villain by writers who are not orphans? Charles Dickens was not an orphan. Orson Scott Card is no orphan. The creators of Loki were not orphans. Batman’s creators were not orphans. And why do famous orphans not write about orphanhood? The problem, for me, is that writers who are not orphans but who utilize the trope of the orphan—abandoned, alone, afraid, angry, the lowest low from which to rise to the highest heights—are largely mistaken. Nevertheless, I do believe that being an orphan or becoming orphaned is the most traumatic thing that can happen to a child. 

The issue is that all of our traumas are different, and mostly, I never think of myself as an orphan. And the most irritating thing to me is this idea that being an orphan makes you angry and vengeful. If anything, as a real orphan, I feel sad, worthless, hopeless, purposeless, and largely irrelevant. If I’m going to harm anyone, it’s going to be myself. And this is where I know that these writers who write about orphans—since, as I’ve established, they themselves are not orphans—assume too many things, and one of these things they assume is that we are all so sad and angry that we’re going to take our anger out on the world around us. This is the fallacy. 

My orphan experience made me feel as if I do not belong in this world, and the way to resolve this feeling is to remove myself from the equation, not insert myself where I feel I do not belong, duh. Instead, all of these non-orphan writers truly believe that being an orphan is so terrible that the only logical conclusion to their existence is to force themselves and their significance upon the world. When has this ever happened in the real world? Yes, there are a handful of super-famous orphans—Ray Charles, Ella Fitzgerald, Marilyn Monroe, Babe Ruth, Edgar Allen Poe, Joel Kim Booster, Tiffany Haddish, to name a few of the very few—but where are the criminal orphans? Of course, I did not do some rando Bing search on “criminal orphans,” because my point is more esoteric. My point is that the famous orphans above are all artists, well, I guess Babe Ruth is an athlete. 

Orphanhood, I would argue, does not steer one toward violence, as often depicted by parentful writers. Instead, I would suggest that orphanhood creates artists of an ilk like no other. Orphans are forced to observe the world from the outside, which makes us outliers. Once a person acquires outlier status, they are instantly different. They see the world differently, experience the world differently, and thereby are able to understand the world differently. It’s the perspective of the orphan that makes us uniquely attuned to the reality of the world, since we—as outcasts—are not part of the world as you or anyone who is not an outlier understands the world to be. And obviously, there are many paths to outlier status, but I am speaking specifically about being an orphan, at this time. I could obviously speak to my outlier status as a Korean in this white-White world, but this is not about that. 

And then the reality of the mindset of these non-orphan writers about orphans becomes painfully obvious. These types of writers who rely on depicting the orphan as the lowest low so obviously reveal their own egos by essentially saying, “If I were an orphan, I’d be so alone, afraid and scared that I would, obviously, want to destroy the world that caused me so much pain and suffering by making me an outsider.” These non-orphan writers view outlier status as something truly terrible, as if being “outside” is the worst possible thing, but what these types of writers reveal is how those on the “inside” feel about orphans on the “outside.” Their stories say nothing about what it really means or is to be an orphan. Their stories depict what they fear the most about the fact that orphans exist. They fear being outsiders because they are all-too familiar with the way that “insiders” view “outsiders,” and they do NOT want to be on the outside. 

Thus, the flaw, I would argue, is that orphans are not so overwhelmed by their outsider status as they are hurt by the constant pain that “insiders” make them feel about being outside, as if there is no place for you in the world if you do not have your own parents. But what does this say about adults who are not your parents? It says a lot more about them than it does the orphan. And so, I argue that orphans are not prone to lash out at the world. The actions of the suffering orphan—if accurately depicted on the page and screen—ends in the self-harm of the orphan, upon her/his/their own self, one-hundred percent of the time. Duh. 

And so, to produce any story about the orphan that is not written by an orphan is simply lazy writing. 

Nevertheless, I did watch The Batman (because I live with a fellow, educated artist who watches everything, no matter how “good” or “bad” it is), and I was pleasantly surprised by the idea that the writers attempted, which was to challenge the orphan trope by creating a villain who is a “real orphan,” who “suffered,” unlike the billionaire orphan, Bruce Wayne. Despite the surprising attempt at some other type of orphan trope, it largely failed because the orphan in question, the Riddler, inflicted his pain upon the world, the type of action I argue is largely implausible. But again, I have not done a serious study of criminals and their orphan/non-orphan status. I simply know a lot of orphans through my own status as an orphan. 

My overwhelming point is that orphans are not writing about orphans because we largely do not think of ourselves as orphans. We’re just people. And yea, we survived extraordinary circumstances, and yea, all of our journeys have been different, all of our stories are different, but we are all outsiders, outliers. And as an outlier, we are unique. We are special. We are literally the stuff of superhero origin stories. 

Thus, if you are an orphan and you are reading this, know that I am out here, with you. You are not alone simply because you’re an outlier. You are in good company. Orphan does not equal unwanted. There are far worse fates than being parentless. Yes, it is the ultimate struggle, but the actions of others rarely have anything to do with us. Yes, you must struggle. Yes, you must survive, if survival is what you want, but the struggle is one that forges you into something greater, something more than any parentful, non-orphan will ever have the opportunity to become.

So, sure, the world may see the orphan as the lowest low from which to rise to the highest heights, but it’s not a low. Orphans are not above or below the non-orphan. We are simply removed, set apart, shoved to the outside, outliers in the banal world of the inside. In short, it seems that those on the inside know the truth, they know that orphanhood, orphan status, the orphan is necessary. Non-orphan writers who depict orphan characters know that any reader will identify with the sad, sad plight of the orphan, because everyone, every reader is familiar with the feeling of being an outsider, and they want to avoid that feeling at all costs. The orphan represents that feeling as opposed to representing a person, reinforcing the orphan’s self-realization that they are not worthy of the love of people, since we are not people, we are orphans. And so, yes, I understand how a non-orphan would default assume that we would want to take out our rage on the world, but I am here to say that this is the fallacy. The orphan will, undoubtedly, take out her pain on herself. The orphan will, undoubtedly, take out his pain on himself. The orphan will, undoubtedly, take out their pain on themselves. I know too many orphans, in real life, to think otherwise. 

And so, I have a problem with the way that non-orphans depict the nature of the orphan.