Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Obama/Wayne 2008? McCain/Wayne 2008? (x-posted) Having failed in my attempt to compel Adam to discuss The Dark Knight in terms of Schmitt, Benjamin, or Agamben — the perpetual state of emergency and what-not — I was content to let the matter drop. But as a future professor of literature somewhere, preferably in the near future, I can’t let the conservative push to lionize Bush-as-Batman or the liberal push to demonize Batman-as-Bush stand. Both interpretations are naive inasmuch as they mistake the depiction of an issue for an endorsement of it. The conversations on Unfogged about the impossibility of an anti-war film always annoyed me because they either 1) knighted those most likely to misunderstand the most basic literary devices — like irony — the final arbiters of meaning; or 2) devolved into polite-but-pointed accusations about who really loves watching people-bits scatter across the sky. In professional-literary-type terms, the conversations flat-lined somewhere between Fishian reader-response and crude Freudian insinuation. Needless to say, neither of these modes produces much in the way of value. To return to The Dark Knight: although not immediately evident, the film is profoundly critical of the current administration and its policies. Its utilitarian compromises — the surveillance system, Batman in the box with the Joker — are criticized by sound moral agents as they occur: Lucius threatens to quit, Gordon breaks for the door. The problem, in both instances, is that neither Lucius nor Gordon has the authority or muscle to stop Batman. Their attempt to stop Batman from compromising his moral authority fails; and their failure leads directly to Batman’s debasement at film’s end. But I’m getting ahead of myself here. (Way ahead of myself, as I meant to note that one of the reasons I’ve written so much about The Dark Knight isn’t because I’m a fanboy — although I am — but because it’s a such a rare horse: a film as substantial as it is popular and can be discussed with an audience unaccustomed to literary analysis. It’s as if the world itself has done the reading.) In Batman Begins, the formative event in Bruce Wayne’s life is the murder of his unambiguously good parents. To young Wayne, their commonplace death — nothing atypical about urban violence in impoverished cities — represents a radical wrong in the moral order of his universe. The depth of his belief in its wrongness is evident in the lengths he goes to combat it: the years of training, thieving, imprisonment, &c. It was all for naught. As Ra’s al Ghul said, when a city is so corrupt criminal organizations can infiltrate its highest offices, only a purging fire can set matters right. Nothing more unusual here than the standard revolution-as-social-reform, proceduralism-won’t-work line. Given the dystopia that is Gotham in the first film, Ra’s al Ghul is certainly right. Wayne’s solution is quasi-proceduralist, inasmuch as he introduces a radical element within the extant social structure in order to provide Gordon, Dent, and Dawes time and space enough to prosecute via conventional means....

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