It’s one of my Mom and Dad’s favorite stories:
Christmas morning, 1990. I tear open one of my presents and exclaim, “Wow! Bat jet!”
Then, upon a closer look, I mutter, “Oh. Bat copter.”
On the surface, it seems like an epic tale of colossal disappointment. Kid opens a present expecting his dream gift, then pouts when he learns it’s something else.
It’s sort of like Ralphie in A Christmas Story, in that scene where he’s opened all his presents, but didn’t get the BB gun he really wanted. (We later find out that his dad really did buy it for him and has it hidden behind the desk.)
Unfortunately, my moment of glory is preserved forever on home video. There’s no way for me to pretend it never happened.
The thing, though — which I patiently explain to my family each time we watch the tape — is that I wasn’t disappointed with my gift.
I was bewildered.
See, the “bat copter” in question was a toy marketed for Batman, the Tim Burton-directed film starring Jack Nicholson and Michael Keaton, which had come out the year before. The box was packaged with the movie’s distinctive branding, which included the iconic Batman logo and stills from the film. It also came with Batman and Joker action figures.
The thing, though, is that there’s no “bat copter” in the entire movie. I know — I re-watched it several times to make sure. I actually wore out the VHS tape.
There’s the batmobile, which most people are familiar with. Who could forget its protective shields, or the way an actual flame belched out the back?
And there’s the bat jet, which Batman uses to dispose of the Joker’s gas-filled balloons toward the end of the film.
But nowhere in the movie did I see a bat copter — as evidenced by my worn-out VHS tape.
How could toy manufacturers reinvent reality, just to sell a product? It seemed dishonest, unethical, and — I thought, clenching my 10-year-old fists — maybe even outright illegal.
This was a really big deal for me. At that age, I didn’t realize you could sell a toy that wasn’t in the movie it was based on.
When I was opening the gift and saw the familiar Batman logo — which was on all sorts of merchandise at the time — I just assumed I was getting the jet from the movie. That was why I blurted out “Bat jet!” when I opened the package.
Instead, I got the copter.
Don’t get me wrong — I loved that toy and played with it for years. It was an awesome gift.
It’s just that I’ve never quite recovered from the befuddlement of its origins.
Now that I’m older, it all makes sense. Marketing, advertising, product tie-ins — I get it.
But for my childhood counterpart, that was a pretty harsh lesson to learn on that fateful Christmas morning. It opened up a whole new door of nerve-wracking questions:
If they could create a bat copter that wasn’t in the movie, then what else could they create? A bat sub? A bat bike? A bat unicycle?
And if they could create all that, then would my parents buy it for me? (Because if it existed, I would have to have it, regardless of whether it was in the movie or not.)
Where would the madness end?
That moment where I opened the gift is preserved forever. But as I’ve long pointed out, it doesn’t depict disappointment.
Rather, it shows a moment of bewilderment, of puzzlement — of subtle disorientation as the sordid ways of the world were revealed to me.
In fact, the phrase “Oh, bat copter” may one day come to symbolize that epiphanic point in every person’s life, when naïveté gives way to experience and wisdom, and all innocence is lost.
Or maybe not. Maybe it’ll just mean what it meant in 1990, which was “Since when the hell was there a bat copter in the movie?”