Knight in political armour
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Batman, the film, is a Rorschach test — we read ourselves in it
Last week's shootings in Colorado have brought to the forefront a particular aspect of the Batman stories: their politics. Various social critics are hysterically advancing explanations for the massacre based on perceived political undercurrents in the Bat-mythos. Everything from the character's implicit condoning of vigilante violence to his fascist (a few say radical left or libertarian) tendencies is being thrown at the speculation mill, grinding out a homogeneous mush of alarmist finger-pointing and reductionism.
As early as 2005, Batman Begins — the first of the trilogy — inspired rumblings of political discussion. This was pre-recession, but its Gotham City was a poverty-stricken place, much of the crime stemming from the desperation of have-not Gothamites. Enter a billionaire whose approach was to replace his parents' philanthropy with fists and sharp objects. These rumblings became an outright avalanche with the 2008 release of The Dark Knight. Some read its third act deus ex machina of Batman locating the Joker via mass invasion of privacy as an apologia for Bush-era policies. Others interpreted Batman and Lucius Fox's destruction of that device as well as Joker's electrifying hospital monologue ("nobody panics as long as things go according to plan") as a criticism of those very policies.
Even before the tragic events in Aurora, the array of contemporary hot buttons pushed in The Dark Knight Rises helped the avalanche attain apocalyptic proportions. The fallibility of financial institutions, class warfare, renewable energy — all this and more is woven into the film's narrative tapestry. Primary antagonist Bane leads the unwashed 99 per cent into a class conflict that violently disrupts the lives of the hapless 1 per cent. Knee-jerk conservative politics, surely? A closer look at the film reveals that the reality of Nolan's approach is not quite so straightforward.
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