My Photo

Categories

Roll Call

Become a Fan

« "We want to her to be a really powerful female character, you know, a role model for young women. What you got?" | Main | You can be a winner in the Game of Race! »

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d8341c2df453ef012875ab0537970c

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference The Dark Knight is, without question, a meditation about dogs.:

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

SEK

I understand this post's not "of the moment," or what the kids call "cool," but I'm feeling unscheduled at the moment, and there's no reason not to embrace my belatedness, right?

Adam Roberts

Actually I watched The Dark Knight the other night for (I think) the third time -- the three-separate-films-bolted-together aspect of it bothered me less than previously, although I was more struck than ever that it really lifts off the ground when Ledger's onscreen. Not the most original observation, I appreciate. And not wholly germane. Hmm.

Is there something doggy about bats? (Dogfaced, maybe?)

I hadn't noticed, til you pointed it out, that the Joker sticks his head out of the back window of the police car, there. Nice!

Rich Puchalsky

You managed to get through the post without bringing up the African American Vernacular English meaning of "dog", which I think is an important one in this context.

Haven't seen the movie. But in general, the Joker as archetype works precisely because he's conflicted. If he's a Trickster, he's not one that has settled into his society. He's never, to my knowledge, adopted an anarchist ideological identity. (Although even The Batman has on occasion.) There aren't any stories, to my knowledge, about an alternate world in which the Joker has taken over and become the ruler of everything, as they are about just about every other hero comic books character. His crimes are famously not really practical, even by comic-book standards.

So what does he want? Mostly, he seems to want to be appreciated. "Appreciated" in the sense that people fear him, think he's important, think about him, etc. But that requires being a social leader of some sort. The Joker doesn't have what it takes to be a pure loner. He's too needy. You always see him bouncing ideas off of his followers or thugs, if not his victims or enemies. He needs an audience whenever he's really working.

So, back to "dog", AAVE. That's an identity that the Joker would like to inhabit, right? Society is against us, but that pushes us together. They think we're primitive? We'll adopt their slur as a point of pride and show them primitive. And our pack will give us both communal strength and show off the pack leaders' strength.

But the Joker can't really do that, because he's not really part of any community. He's too odd, too individual. It's not just the conflicted relationship between human and canine sociality there, it's the conflicted relationship between ordinary comic-book romanticized criminality, which shares a lot with romanticized hip-hop criminality, and the Joker's archetype as an individual, psychopathic genius who can't help but have his own agenda. He doesn't really need to commit crimes for ordinary reasons. So he needs his minions, but his attempts to make them into a pack always fail. He'd like to be a dog. But he just doesn't fit.

Jake

The matter of the film's ideological coherence, then, rests on whether you believe Nolan is complicit with a deliberately self-deceptive Joker here or not.

I don't know if the answer to this is supposed to be obvious but my answer is yes, given that the entire plot of the film is driven by the Joker. The Joker is not much of a character in my mind, as he arguably has one function throughout the film and that is to be as disruptive as possible, and his reasons for being disruptive are muddled in various ways. I guess that is why the film would be seen as coherently incoherent ideologically? But there are other events too that contribute to this supposedly intentional incoherence that lie outside of the machinations of the Joker, like Batman using spyware to locate the Joker at the end of the movie. His use of it is briefly condemned even though it is entirely reasonable within the context of the movie, and then after its use it is destroyed. I think that scene right there (though there may be others, I haven't seen this movie in quite a while) caused a lot of debate on whether or not this movie was "right-wing" or "left-wing" or whatever (from Andrew Klavan all the way to Socialist Worker), when actually it was intentionally ambiguous, touching hot button issues without actually taking sides. I think such scenes (in a superhero movie) function to please everyone in the audience, especially those not inclined to give superhero movies much praise.

I realize I haven't said much about dogs here, but with the way Joker's mouth is sliced and the way he licks his lips a lot, he looks like he has some dog chops going on there.

SEK

I hadn't noticed, til you pointed it out, that the Joker sticks his head out of the back window of the police car, there. Nice!

Honestly, I'm not even sure how that works. I mean, how long are his arms?

So, back to "dog", AAVE. That's an identity that the Joker would like to inhabit, right? Society is against us, but that pushes us together. They think we're primitive? We'll adopt their slur as a point of pride and show them primitive. And our pack will give us both communal strength and show off the pack leaders' strength.

But the Joker can't really do that, because he's not really part of any community. He's too odd, too individual. It's not just the conflicted relationship between human and canine sociality there, it's the conflicted relationship between ordinary comic-book romanticized criminality, which shares a lot with romanticized hip-hop criminality, and the Joker's archetype as an individual, psychopathic genius who can't help but have his own agenda. He doesn't really need to commit crimes for ordinary reasons. So he needs his minions, but his attempts to make them into a pack always fail. He'd like to be a dog. But he just doesn't fit.

For not having seen the movie, you really seem to have gotten the movie. The Joker wants to be a "dawg," can earn the respect of "dawgs," but can't ever be a "dawg" because he scripts himself into a corner with his pathological neediness.

I guess that is why the film would be seen as coherently incoherent ideologically?

This would, I think, be the most charitable reading of the film: the ambiguity about wire-tapping is as deliberate as the characterization of the Joker. I'm not sure I buy that reading, though, if only because I've had students throw both arguments at me for the better part of six quarters.

JPool

My current read of the film is that it's an uneasy mix of the elements that Nolan found interesting in the source material and those that he felt he had to include. I'm not as steeped in said source material as you are, so I'm probably getting the identity of the different components wrong. My sense, however, was that Nolan wasn't actually interested the public symbol of the Uncorrupted Man thing, despite hanging the majority of the movie's dialog around it, and not interested in the Joker's actual motivations as such. What I think Nolan's actually interested in is how people respond to the Joker as a malevolent and unresolvable force of violence. I mean, the Joker as a character makes no sense (non-comic book henchmen tend to want something in the way of compensation), but I think Nolan keeps him an enigma because a) he's that much freakier that way and b) it puts the audience in the same position as the characters in the movie who have to determine how they will respond to terrorism without discernable motives. (I was thinking about themes that run through Nolan's work and you could make an argument for "capacity for evil", but certainly "keeping the audience off-guard" would be in there.) The result, for me, was that the parts about the question of response or that actually set the stage for the question of response are really interesting, and all the parts having to do with Batman or Batmanness are entirely uninteresting (Bale's performance is partly but, I would argue, not entirely to blame).

To put it another way (where I don't presume to know the Nolans' secret competencies or interests), the key scene for me in the movie was the two boats scene, not as cut away/prelude to the unstopable force/immovable object speech, but the scenes on boats themselves. Nolan's message sems to be, not that people are fundamentally good, but that they're most unwilling to/incapable of doing something actively evil, even when the situation makes it seem brave or necessary to do so.

I can't help you with the dog thing.

schauspiele

Hallo, I'm so glad you decided to write about this - the dog thing has bothered me since I saw the TDK, but I fear I was not smart enough to figure it out myself. (Also, I'm afraid I really didn't like the film...)

But I did want to mention an additional dog quotation - hope it's not completely irrelevant:

'You'll hunt me. You'll condemn me. Set the dogs on me. Because that's what needs to happen.'

Into which subject-position is Batman placing Gordon with that comment? Is it the generic pack leader? Or the pack leader who doesn't quite fit the position? Or the human who masters the pack but stands above and outside it? Or (given previous sickers-of-dogs-on-Batman) the Joker? And in being hunted by the dogs, is Batman in a sense leading them?

This is my first comment here, which I hope qualifies as (tardy) delurking. I've been reading here for at least a couple of years and think I may first have encountered you in Feministe comment threads.

ComeLately

I realize it's a couple years after the fact, and maybe there's a more complete version of this elsewhere, but I'll throw in a couple things to add to the body of evidence. The first is Dent's line that "the Joker's just a mad dog, I want whoever let him off the leash." The second is...wait for it...wait for it...the Joker lies like a dog.

The comments to this entry are closed.