Few characters in pop culture have been able to capture the imagination of the public like Batman. With his masked adventures and eclectic collections of enemies, the Caped Crusader has been able to rack up a sizable following. In fact, the Batman symbol now represents a movement known as “dark culture.” As the name would suggest, this follows a path similar to that taken by comic books and films featuring the Caped Crusader, but it goes beyond this and includes a range of alternative activities that embrace a more sinister side.

The Power of the Dark Side

For those unfamiliar, the Batman symbol originates from a social media campaign started by filmmaker John Wick and artist Stefan Duma in 2016. Inspired by the classic 1966 Batman television series and its memorable theme music, the couple set out to spread the message that the Batman symbol stood for something more than just the superhero. As they saw it, the symbol was capable of capturing a range of feelings from anger to frustration to empathy, and they felt that it deserved to be used more freely outside of the superheroic realm.

The hashtag #DarkSideTakesTheLightSide was launched on Twitter, and John and Stefan began receiving artwork and messages of support from across the globe. This inspired the filmmakers to set up a crowdfunding page known as the Dark Side Film Festival – with an ambitious goal of raising $50,000 – and the momentum from this effort helped to give rise to a larger movement. Today, the Batman symbol is recognized worldwide as a symbol of rebellion and a rejection of traditional thinking and behaviours, all of which are represented by the dark side.

What is the Dark Side Film Festival?

While the goal of the festival is to celebrate the darker aspects of society, creativity, and culture, it takes its name from a simple yet profound question: what is the difference between the dark and light sides? Many have asked this question since the symbol’s inception, and John and Stefan have provided some insightful answers.

In an interview with Screen Rant, John said: “It’s not that the dark side is bad, it’s that you can’t have one without the other. You can’t have light without dark, it’s just like you can’t have peace without being aware of war or violence.” This thinking resonates with psychologist Elizabeth Tracey, who specializes in cultural humility and social media anxiety. She agrees, adding that there is something about the “darker the better” attitude that appeals to those with social anxiety and sensitivity. This can create a vicious cycle, she says, as those who embrace the dark side may become more isolated and vulnerable, attracting further comparison and judgement on social media.

Why is it so popular?

The appeal of the Dark Side Film Festival is easy to understand when one considers the wide range of activities and products that the symbol represents. From fashion and film to literature and art, dark culture has become a major movement in recent years, and for many, the Batman symbol is the perfect representation of this trend. In an interview with MarketingCharts, entertainment branding expert Sally Darragh noted that the Batman symbol has “connected with people on an emotional level,” and this is because, like the Caped Crusader, “it embodies qualities that make us human.”

Other popular culture icons have tried to emulate the Batman symbol’s success, with mixed results. The Joker from the DC Comics Universe is perhaps the best example of this, as his antics and subversive sense of humour have made him one of the most well-known villains in history. However, as the saying goes, “a jackass with a grin is still a jackass.” While he has never been a superhero, the Joker’s popularity has nonetheless mirrored that of Batman’s, and this is largely because he, too, represents the darker side of human nature. He attracts others to him who feel similarly inclined, which is why the social media hashtag #JokerAppreciationDay was such a popular trend in 2019.

The Batman Symbol as a Fashion Trend

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Batman symbol is how it has managed to achieve such popularity outside of the realm of comic books and films. Indeed, while these have been its most visible platforms, the Batman symbol has also become a fashion trend in its own right. Notable examples include:

  • Black is back, and it’s never looked or sounded better. In 2019 alone, black was chosen by beauty influencers as the most popular style among millennial women.
  • Fashion brands have realised the power of the dark side, with major designers taking note and emulating the trend. In 2019 alone, Burberry created a capsule collection in collaboration with the designer Marc Jacobs that drew inspiration from the Batman symbol.
  • Comic book movies are no longer the exclusive domain of Hollywood – as companies like Netflix are taking advantage of the craze for geek culture and original content, and creating their own comic book adaptations that feature popular characters.
  • The Batman symbol is also present on the covers of numerous best-selling novels. In 2019 alone, John Wick’s Dark Side was the most popular crime thriller on the New York Times bestseller list, while Gillian Flynn’s popular thriller Gone Girl was described as a “modern day twist on the classic murder-mystery.”

Beyond Fashion

With all the attention that has been paid to fashion and style in recent years, it might be easy to forget that the Batman symbol has also become a platform for much more than just clothing. Popular culture icons have used their platforms to speak out about issues that they are passionate about, from environmental causes to the treatment of LGBTQ+ individuals. In fact, some consider the Batman symbol’s emergence as a political movement to be one of the most significant developments in recent years.

Comic book historian Jim Starling has observed: “The Joker can be seen as the patron saint of dark culture. His success as a villain stems from his ability to tap into the darker side of human nature and make us laugh whilst playing with our prejudices.” The same can be said for the Batman symbol. Its popularity means that it has attracted a diverse cross-section of people who want to see more than just fashion and style represented in the media. Indeed, with the recent emergence of the #DarkSideTakesTheLightSide political movement, it’s clear that the Batman symbol means more than one thing to more than one person.