I recently watched this fascinating video about the regional and age-based differences in how people complete “Jingle bells, Batman smells.” It was so enjoyable that I won’t even be mad if you watch the whole thing and then close this tab, so long as you don’t tell my bosses.
It occurred to me, however, that I’ve never really sat down and thought about what this parody song means to convey. Given that I have a Bachelor’s in English*, it would be a real waste of my talents** to not perform a rigorous analysis of this text.
To start, I will lay out the song lyrics as I know them best:
Robin laid an egg
The Batmobile lost a wheel
And the Joker took ballet
“Jingle bells” isn’t just a convenient way to ground the parody in its traditional counterpart. It’s a reminder of the birth of Christ, the moment when a husband and wife welcomed a baby into their family and the world was forever changed. Batman’s origin is the opposite of Christ’s; his creation comes from a boy losing two parents and a family being torn asunder.
Christmas also reminds us of the differences in the lives of Christ and Batman. The former wanted to grow a flock and teach people to treat one another with kindness. The latter works almost entirely alone and wants mobsters and henchmen to live in perpetual fear. Jesus is described as the light; Batman shrouds himself in darkness. Jesus spends time inside churches; Batman skulks about on top of them.
In a literary sense, Batman is the anti-Christ, and setting this song within a Christmas carol emphasizes that anti-Christness.
Why, then, does “Batman smell?”
The simplest answer is because he spends hours fighting and hang-gliding in a full-body rubber suit, and the thing just stinks to high heaven. Anyone would reek if they spent all their free time kickboxing with a scuba suit on.
But there’s a more sobering interpretation: Batman’s soul stinks with the rot of sin.
We’ve already established the clash between Jesus and Batman, and nowhere in the Beatitudes does Christ say “Blessed are the emotionally unstable rich; extrajudicial privileges of violence shall be theirs.” Beyond Batman and Christ being different, this line suggests they may be moral opposites.
Recall that Jesus stops one of his disciples, Simon Peter, after he attacks a servant of one of the high priests sent to arrest Christ. If Jesus cannot condone violence even in defense of the Messiah, what hope does Batman have? The song tells us what God thinks of Batman’s self-appointed crusade: It stinks.
Robin, a human man/ward, cannot lay eggs. Beyond being a clever pun, this could be another reference to the miracle of Christ’s conception and birth, which also defied the traditions of biology. But if Robin is Mary in this analogy, what does that make Batman? Joseph, Mary’s husband? Joachim, Mary’s father? John the Baptist? (The Bible is big on J names, for some reason.)
Or it might have a different meaning entirely. Laying an egg, idiomatically, means to put forth an effort that fails, often in spectacular fashion. If Robin is Batman’s disciple, it forces us to compare the Dark Knight and the Son of man once more. The Apostles, while imperfect, did help launch a new world religion, shepherding the flame of Christianity from its first embers into a lasting conflagration. Robin, by laying an egg, has failed in some way we can’t yet identify in the song, but that defeat implies that Batman’s legacy has no future.
We see, then, that failure in the form of the Batmobile losing a wheel. Perhaps that’s a mechanical error on Robin’s part, given what we’ve already inferred from the previous line. Or could it be a metaphorical loss of a wheel, wherein Batman loses his moral and spiritual guidance, careening from one bad choice to another? Does the three-wheeled Batmobile represent Batman’s tenuous control over his own violence? Can it be interpreted as the blurry line between Batman being a watchful protector and a threat to public safety?
The last line provides the answer. Absent a malodorous Batman and his gadgets and left to his own devices, what does the Joker turn to?
Not kidnapping or murder or arson, but ballet.
Freed of the codependent relationship he had with Batman, the Joker can focus on healthy outlets for his emotions. Beautiful outlets, even! “Jingle bells, Batman smells” isn’t a silly children’s song at all. It’s a cry for Batman to hang up his stinky cowl and free Gotham from the cyclical reign of terror he’s inadvertently placed upon it.
Fear and force haven’t stopped Joker. Maybe liturgical dance can.
*From a Florida institution, so.
**Don’t worry, I’m also laughing.