Sunday 18 December 2011

The Dark Knight Propagandizes

I see the first big trailer for the next installment of Nolan's Batman franchise has been leaked.  It looks consistent with the previous films.

Remember in Batman Begins, the League of Shadows claim to have caused the recession that crippled Gotham when Bruce was a kid. So recessions happen not because capitalism is inherently prone to them but because nefarious Europeans and Orientals come over from outside and artificially create them.

Of course, recessions are something that happens to capitalism, not something that capitalism can't help itself causing... we know this because Bruce's Dad is a noble, wise, kindly man who happens to be hugely wealthy and own a massive mega corporation, so wealth and corporations must be just fine and dandy per se. Papa Wayne has even helped the city... by building a massive elevated train system. Hmmm, that'll help the people who can't afford tickets (or homes) anymore. And naturally it was all done at his expense and he made no profit... something that is even less likely in reality than flying bat-costumed ninjas.

Sure enough, we later learn that corporations are only bad when run by unscrupulous individuals like Rutger Hauer (in probably the single most irrelevant film role in cinema history) who wants to take the company public and manufacture weapons... and all that icky stuff that nice capitalists never do 'cos they're just so socially responsible and unconcerned with profits.

The victims of the recession that get most screentime and sympathy are, natch, Bruce's wise and noble Dad and his silent blonde Mum, ie the rich people who are the victims of the filthy poor.

In the next film, we learn that it's necessary to take extreme measures that might (briefly) offend principled liberals like Lucius Fox, in order to defeat the unreasoningly hostile terrorists who just wanna watch the world burn and hate us because of our freedom, etc. So that lets President Bush off the hook, don't it? When faced with insane and wanton aggression from terroristic nihilists, what can the responsible people do but take the law into their own hands, torture people for information, spy on the populace, peddle propaganda to keep the sheep feeling hopeful? The guy with the strength to do what has to be done will find himself morally compromised and unpopular, but he's doing it all for the greater good, shouldering the burden for the weak and squeamish. 

Of course, the public hero who will inspire the people, Harvey Dent, is not averse to abducting suspects and threatening them with guns... but he's still a noble, heroic white knight... and when the villainy of al Qaeda... sorry, I meant the Joker... drags him down, this fact must be concealed from the plebs for their own good.

If Batman Begins is pure neoliberal propaganda, Dark Knight is pure neo-Conservative propaganda. By the trailer, Dark Knight Rises - in which Selina Kyle taunts Wayne at a party about how his lot have "lived so large that there was so little left for the rest of us" and then cuts to Bane leading what seems like a revolt of the unwashed - looks set to be the film equivalent of Fox News commenting on Occupy Wall St.


  1. To an extent, this has always been a bit of an issue with Batman, and if you going to do what Nolan did and try to tell a "realistic" version of the story, it's going to rear its ugly head. Batman is an incredibly rich philanthropist who thinks the best way to solve crime and make the world a better place is to beat up poor people. This isn't so obvious in an obviously cartoony world like the 60s Batman series or Batman: The Brave and the Bold, but the more like our world you try to make the concept, the more clear the discrepancy sticks out. This is a guy who, despite his parents' death, has been given everything in life, has the best training/weapons/gadgets money can buy, and has decided to regularly beat up people less fortunate than him (maybe some teen's own parents were killed, but without the money to go overseas, had to settle on becoming a drug dealer just to survive?).

    In continuities other than Nolan's, I buy it because he was eight years old, happiest he's ever been, just watched Zorro, BLAM! His world collapses and he thinks Zorro is how the world works. Got it. Nolan, however, brags about getting rid of Bruce's connections to any other hero or concept of heroes because it has to be 100% Bruce for some reason, so it just makes you ask, why the heck does he think this is going to in any way make a difference? It's removing symptoms, not problems. All he ever deals with are street level problems and scenarios, while ignoring the context that exacerbates this. Even "the Mob," Batman mythology's great cop-out to go "No, no, we're after rich fatcats, not poor people, honest!" is simply a product of the system that produced this kind of black market. Black markets are like distilled capitalism. Price is completely up to the people with power who can choose to distribute the producer however they want, and competition literally ends with death a good deal of the time.

    We've all seen the stock Batman fight where he takes down some drug dealers, but let's think about that for a minute. Batman is happy to stop and harm the peddlers because hey, cocaine is bad, kids! But big pharmaceutical companies make fortunes off incredibly dangerous benzodiazepines, with cold turkey withdrawal from them often causing *death*, but he never deals with them. Now tell me, if the situation was reversed, would Batman REALLY care what drug was being sold by where? That he'd let street level benzo dealers go, but would be after companies for selling big bad cocaine? Of course not. That right there should tell you Batman is an establishment figure, but there's more. Rob a bank, Batman comes after you. Run a bank, get your money through quasi-legal means that nevertheless rob a helluva lot more people than a bank robbery would the bank's owners, Batman doesn't say a word to you. In The Dark Knight Returns, Frank Miller tries really hard to make Batman a rebel against the establishment figure Superman, but he fails because Batman really is an establishment figure. Given that he's the fanboy god who's become pretty much synonymous with "cool," but the fact is Batman is someone who repeatedly takes care of blue-collar crime while completely ignoring white-collar crime. The fact that he's a freaking billionaire just rubs this in more.


  2. (Cont'd)

    I often hear two kind of responses to this. The first is that while that sort of crime is serious, it's not Batman's place to sort of tackle that sort of crime. Except Batman has no place at all, and if he did, it'd be there. Remember, blue-collar crime is taken care of by regular cops every single day. Murders, rape, muggings, the sort of thing that Batman is "supposed" to solve is exactly the sort of thing cops are good at solving and taking to justice. It's white-collar crime that regularly goes unpunished. Sure, the Batman mythos and Nolan's films in particular try to handwave this by making the police SO corrupt that literally nothing can be done in the city without Batman, but in any sort of "realistic" Batman setting, it should become obvious that white-collar is exactly the sort of thing a supposedly good-hearted billionaire with the resources and connections to know what kind of corruption is friends and co-workers are responsible for should be fighting against, not the common crimes that are fought against everyday. The other thing I hear is Batman's just a fictional character, blah blah blah, wouldn't be very exciting if he just fought white-collar crime. Y'know what? I agree. That's why I love the goofy Batman, the colorful one in blue-and-grey, the one who's a force for good and that's that. A superhero who goes to outer space and stops Starro? I can buy that. A serious crusader for social justice? Don't make me laugh.