Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Teddy in tights? (x-posted.) As the premier Dark Knight poster ’round these parts, it has been demanded of, er, falls upon me to draw your attention to an interview with Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale in which the pair reveal their Batman is based on Edmund Morris’ The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt and Theodore Rex.* In the interview, Bale admits to confusion when the Nolans — brother Jonathan co-writes Christopher’s films — insisted he read The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt before they began principle photography on Batman Begins. Nolan then explains (and I paraphrase): Batman’s not as unique as people think. Grant Bob Kane’s Gotham is New York and Batman has a direct historical precedent in Theodore Roosevelt. His father, Theodore Roosevelt, Sr., had been one of the city’s preeminent philanthropists — having found and funded the New York City Children’s Aid Society, the Met, and the American Museum of Natural History, to name a few of his charitable works — and died in a way Morris contends traumatized his son: suddenly, from a cancer whose existence he’d hidden, and mere hours before Theodore returned from Harvard. In 1884, his beloved mother and wife died in the same house, on the same day. A bereft Roosevelt set out for the Dakota Territory shortly thereafter. He spent his time in the hinterlands learning how to be a proper police, then applied those lessons when he became president of the New York City Police Commissioners in 1895. Like Batman, Roosevelt employed bleeding-edge technology into his crime-fighting: under his watch, telephones were installed in precincts, bicycles were deployed on beats, and various criminal identification systems, like Bertillonage, were monkeyed about with. Nolan’s statement resonates with many a recent discussion about the Roosevelt’s legacy vis-a-vis the current administration. If Bush-is-Batman and Batman-is-Roosevelt, logic demands that middle be distributed and then it’s case closed, verdict delivered, suit settle, put a period on it already: Bush-is-as-Batman as Socrates-is-mortal. The which-president-is-more-Airwolf-Batman debate aside, Nolan’s decision to craft Batman’s appeal after Roosevelt’s is ridiculously savvy, inasmuch as it speaks to that most cherished (if post-dated) primal American myths: self-invention. In Batman Begins, the young Bruce Wayne isn’t some spectacular physical specimen; in fact, he’s thin, fragile, and perpetually frightened. Nolan’s direction reinforces this: he’s either in tears, bed, or the bottom of a well in every shot. Even Bale’s adolescent Wayne, returned from school for Chill’s parole hearing, buries a wisp-thin frame beneath layers of clothes as if to prevent circumstance from buffeting his head into a doorknob. The first act of Batman Begins plays directly into the Roosevelt mystique, i.e. the frail boy who refines his body into a weapon. The first film ends, then, much where Morris’ Rise does: his reputation established, his name to be reckoned with, but his future uncertain. Where does this self-made man fit in the political machine in which he’ll have to function? What compromises must he make? What ideals must he betray in order to act upon? I can’t do much in the...
Handcrafted in solid 24-karat FAIL (x-posted nowhere! Totally original Acephalous content! Must cite me!) To counter recent accusations of poetry and overcompensation, an example of what the inmates write when the guards clock out: [In the chapters to follow,] I will demonstrate the pervasive influence of these non-Darwinian theories of evolution on late 19th and early 20th Century American literature, paying particular attention to how the haphazard traffic of scientific ideas in intellectual circles alters our understanding of theories of romance, realism, and naturalism. To build on the traffic metaphor, picture an account of these three novelistic modes as an interstate traveling in two directions: north represents a progressive commitment to social betterment through science, south a conservative commitment to the agrarian ideals of the early Republic. In the conventional account, realism and naturalism occupy the northbound lanes, romance the southbound. The realists responsibly drive Honda Accords north, five miles per hour below the posted speed limit; the naturalists muscle Ford Mustangs between them—one hand on the wheel, the other on the stereo—thirty miles per hour above the limit; while the romancers, they plod south, in aggressively polished Bentleys, driven by the help. The forced homogeneity is meant to be instructive: not all Japanese cars are Hondas, nor are they all driven impeccably; not all American cars Fords, nor do they all careen by whim of inattentive hand; and not all European cars Bentleys, nor are they all piloted with soft disgust by the help. But my metaphor's limitations parallel those of the conventional account, inasmuch as both betray an underdeveloped appreciation for detail and an overweening urge to categorize. A more accurate metaphor of the cultural scene, circa 1900, would have all three modes traveling north, as all three are equally committed—albeit distinctively, as will be demonstrated in the chapters to follow—to a broad conception of social development via applied science. In this account, self-proclaimed realists sport makes and models from across Japan and Southeast Asia: a Honda Civic jockeys with a Toyota Tundra for inside position until a naturalist in a Pontiac Grand Prix emerges from the shadow of a Chevy Silverado and cuts the corner and secures the lane occupied by a southbound-facing romancer in Rolls Royce who slams into reverse and proceeds north, backwards, as best he can. This final image—a menagerie of law-abiding Southeast Asian imports hurtling north alongside masculine American machines as both dodge Old World status symbols whose terrified drivers mistakenly believe everyone else wildfires north in the southbound lane—this final, chaotic image closely approximates the bounded diversity of turn-of-the-last-century American culture. Generalizations remain, certainly, but unlike the conventional account, they exist in a manner suitable to and for further differentiation. All Japanese and Southeast Asian cars are not Accords or even Hondas, nor are all American cars Fords, and so on. Moreover, while the driver of a speeding American SUV shares some beliefs and dispositions with the cautious driver of a American coupe, he may share other, more important ones with the driver of a Rolls Royce...

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