put. that laptop. down.

"You know what second prize is in the dipshit political-economy-of-The-Dark-Knight posts is? Setta steak knives."

Because Handsome Andrew's fave summer movie has achieved a wild and insane popularity reserved for pop bands, new Popes, and...ah, well, insanely popular summer movies, it of course falls on obscure political and cultural writers to reflect upon the deep-seated politics and/or neurosis that girds said film.

Getting a lot of play elsewheres - even Glenn Beck's repugnant show - is thisWSJ piece.

A cry for help goes out from a city beleaguered by violence and fear: A beam of light flashed into the night sky, the dark symbol of a bat projected onto the surface of the racing clouds . . .

Oh, wait a minute. That’s not a bat, actually. In fact, when you trace the outline with your finger, it looks kind of like . . . a “W.”

There seems to me no question that the Batman film “The Dark Knight,” currently breaking every box office record in history, is at some level a paean of praise to the fortitude and moral courage that has been shown by George W. Bush in this time of terror and war.
[emphasis Dex's] Like W, Batman is vilified and despised for confronting terrorists in the only terms they understand. Like W, Batman sometimes has to push the boundaries of civil rights to deal with an emergency, certain that he will re-establish those boundaries when the emergency is past.

"No question," indeed. I wonder how Bats' poll numbers are.

Or, whatever. This other one is a little more bothersome, courtesy Dissident Voice, which is generally only read by angry lefties like myself. While the WSJ thingy is way more profane because of the wide distribution and seriousness an establishment news outlet buys, it's straight gibberish, propaganda fresh n' hot from a college Republican listserv: this piece merits some mention not only for the sheer number of lefty-grad-student-essay cliches ("That is, a text like this film presents a menu of choices from which it then invites the viewer to select, and we can locate the trace of pernicious ideology not in the choices themselves but rather in what the authors choose to leave off the menu."), but mostly for the fact that he fails to tap decent primary sources for the piece. I'm always down for some po-mo deconstruction, but where's the Robin Wood? You know - the left-leaning film critics whose writing might help you build the foundation for a solid critique?

The critics are evidently bowled over by the film’s “ambivalent” portrayals of high-tech adumbrations of warrantless wiretapping (when Batman rigs up a super spying system based on sonar readings from Gotham citizens’ cell phones to stop the Joker), superheroic enhanced interrogations (when Batman threatens to beat the life out of the hostage-holding Joker) and debates about the advisability of democracy itself when the barbarians are at the gates, to quote a speech from Dent recalling the Romans’ dictatorial practices. And indeed, as a tribute to the film’s supposed complexity, some critics believe the film to be advocating the suspension of democracy in a time of terror, while others see it as endorsing a liberal skepticism about leaders’ claims to free reign during a “state of emergency” which is often those very leaders’ own creation.


What’s on the menu in The Dark Knight? The same thing that’s on the two-party American political menu, year in and year out.

First we have Batman and Dent representing opposite poles of so-called democratic politics. Batman, operating outside the law to protect the defenseless people, represents a kind of Bush/Cheney figure, doing what he has to do for the good of the homeland. Dent, on the other hand, along with Rachel Dawes, who chooses to be with Dent in the end, is an idealistic but by-the-book type who is nevertheless pragmatic enough to collaborate with a vigilante like Batman if it’s necessary to get the bad guys. In other words, a post-political Barack star.

But what of the Joker himself, with his advocacy of terrorism and chaos, his speeches lifted from the adolescent repertoire of might-is-right conservative anarchism à la Sade, Nietzsche, Marinetti et al.? As liberal-hawk ideologue Paul Berman showed in his 2002 Terror and Liberalism, a figure such as this can very easily stand in propagandistically for “America’s enemies,” hence Berman’s insistence, for example, that Palestinians constitute not an oppressed and exploited, diverse and divided group trying to resist its enemies in various ways, some more defensible or ethical than others, but rather that they are a fundamentally irrational, chaotic and lawless cult of death. Thus, the Joker offers only the wild, amoral, killing life beyond the protective (and expansionist) borders of “democracy,” aka corporatist imperialism.

The moral is as old, and as conservative, as Hobbes: we can live in a wild, murderous wasteland or a lawless, authoritarian police state. It doesn’t matter which of these options the film presents as more appealing or fun; all that matters is that no other options—e.g., left-wing anarchism, participatory democracy, decentralized communism, democratic socialism etc.—present themselves.

The writer allows that he may be just a "left-wing critic [who] is rigidly ideological and tone-deaf to the visionary powers of art," and spends a couple of sentences examining the pure anarchist heart beating at the center of Guillermo del Toro's Hellboy II. The choices for good lefties become clear, then: avoid Batman and the two-party system, vote McKinney, and go see the new Hellboy (and you should probably check The Shock Doctrine out from the library again if you go see that Clone Wars thing).

Let it not be said that people don't work through August.

I remember similar turds being dropped when Raimi's first Spidey movie came out; alas, Tobey Maguire failed to inspire the military to catch Osama bin Laden (though they may have been thinking forward to Spiderman 3 when they invaded Iraq), and though it may not have been the patriarchy's gyno-phobia made manifest in Peter Parker that made things hard between him and Mary Jane, Hilliary Clinton's hardcore supporters may wish to revisit that argument for their own purposes.

Films always say a lot, don't get me wrong. But when it comes to how loudly, and the truthfulness of what's being said, a sense of perspective helps, especially when it comes to really popular media, which, because of all the things that go into making summertime entertainment, tends to have a narrower range of ideas to express. And some audiences, even ones who don't show up to work at the Wall Street Journal, are pretty good about rendering unto the Justice League what is the Justice League's; sometimes a guy in a batsuit is just a guy in a batsuit.

Go see Roy for more.


Andrew Watson said...

SPOILER ALERT (but if you read the original post, you’ve read ‘em already)

What Dissident Voice columnist John Pistelli seems to miss is that the Nolans recognize that Batman is a conservative fascist. Batman has always been a conservative fascist. He takes the law into his own hands; he's driven by revenge—the Nolans get it (and we get it, too, John). As Bruce Wayne says in Batman Begins, “A guy who dresses up as a bat clearly has issues.” But he also wants to do the right thing, the good thing. He’s tortured by the possibility that he has made the wrong choice, and that is explicitly clear in The Dark Knight. The Nolans’ Batman questions himself, and with the help of pretty much every other character in the movie (e.g. Alfred, Lucius, Rachael, Gordon, even the Joker), he faces the fact that his methods are often unethical. And it’s clear to me that the character that needs to wise up is not the utterly likeable and ethical Lucius Fox, played by the venerable Morgan Freeman—it is Batman. There are real consequences for his actions in this movie. As sagacious Alfred points out, it is Batman who gives rise to the Joker, and as Wall Street Journalist Andrew Klavan writes, “That’s real moral complexity.” I agree with the charge that the film is rooted in some of the key philosophical debates that have sprung up around the Bush-Chaney White House. That is exactly why this movie is great. This comic-book movie addresses some of the most crucial concerns today. And I agree with you, Chris: “sometimes a guy in a batsuit is just a guy in a batsuit.” Pistelli’s claim that killing Rachael Dawes was sexist is ludicrous. If a filmmaker wants to seriously address the themes of justice and revenge, someone dear has to die. That’s just good drama.

Joaquin said...

What I dislike about a lot of these cultural and political soapboxers is how conveniently they exclude character motivation from their assessments of popular movies. To do this strips away what makes these characters human and three-dimensional, thus making it easier to superimpose their transparent archetype over current political figures. But more importantly, taking away character motivation is to deny the very thing that can make something art. I'm glad Andrew points out what Batman wants to do: the right thing. Where in the hell does anyone get Bush outta that?

Dex said...

insightful comments as always, gentlemen.

see the above post for a couple of style/grammar/content updates that should stand in for anything i might add down here.

Andrew Watson said...

What above post?

Imp-eratrix said...

Dex or whoever you are, if you're an "angry lefty", I'm a transgendered Dutchman! No you're not - any more than I am what I don't claim to be. (Such a claim of "leftness" makes me spit, seeing the general tenor of this site.) You're not any of the things you claim to be, and the only reason no-one has so far pointed it out is that only your friends post on here, and John Pistelli either hasn't got the time to look up his bad reviews, or is too dignified. Well I do, right now, and am not too dignified to get my hands dirty. I've been spoiling for a fight with someone stupid for ages - wanna play?

I've been following Mr Pistelli's work for some years, and am a big fan. It's a pity the likes of him won't find employ in the MSM - unlike our WSJ writer who, in his right-wing naievety, actually exposed some inconvenient truth to light. (And I understand he was swamped with e-mails thereafter, most of them hostile, probably most of them from feeble little Dems like you who like fascist superhero flicks.)

The point Pistelli makes about movies like this, more than advocating anything, excluding a whole lot of options from the viewers' menu of choices is a perfectly valid one. In fact, it is how capitalist consumerism "democracy" works. Do you want McCain - or Obama? Oh no, you definitely can't have any other choice! (Well, theoretically you can, but they're off the menu or never arrive. And don't even SAY the word "socialism"!)

You DO talk a lot of nonsense, Dex. Like this: where's the Robin Wood? You know - the left-leaning film critics whose writing might help you build the foundation for a solid critique?

So - one needs to cite "left-leaning film critics" in order to build "a solid critique"? I think not, Mr Dex - what nonsense! What about originality? And anyway, where are these "left-leaning" critics to be found? Certainly nowhere in the MSM. They're difficult to find even on well-known "alternative" sites. Even Counterpunch had a couple of authors that had a few good things to say about TDK, one who practically fell down and worshipped it! I suppose the cp editors thought it was OK because he was in fact a Muslim with an Arab name!! Truly. Pop culture does say a lot about a society. And America's is currently insane.

You also take my breath away because of the stupidity of some of your other assumptions. I'm a Brit and you wouldn't get away with saying all that nonsense even on one of our establishment TV shows. Take Question Time. One thing one learns from watching that, is that a commenter must NOT put words in people's mouths! You say that Mr Pistelli's article makes some claim, or even implies, that "Hellboy II" endorses anarchism, which the piece does NOT. You claim that Mr Pistelli advocates a vote for the Green candidate, Cynthia McKinney - he demonstrably does NOT! If you ever got on British TV the debate chairman would kick your American butt - he would tell you not to put words into the panelists' mouths - or those of the members of the audience! Jonathan Dimbleby is a better man than you. So is John Pistelli.

Signed, Liz the Fed-Up Brit.

Imp-eratrix said...

Like I was saying, there are a number of silly friends of the blogger posting on here. For "leftist film critics", if that is indeed what they claim to be, they have some pretty naive and conformist views.

I cite - only to prove my point!:-

Andrew Watson - That is exactly why this movie is great. This comic-book movie addresses some of the most crucial concerns today. And I agree with you, Chris: “sometimes a guy in a batsuit is just a guy in a batsuit.” "Great movie - addressing crucial concerns", hey? That's a line for the Joker to laugh at! And - even if you BELIEVE such mush - how can, then, the guy in a batsuit be "just a guy in a batsuit"? If the movie stands for more, so must he. You can't have it both ways and I notice that's what Yanks seem to want to do. All the time now.

Joaquin: I'm glad Andrew points out what Batman wants to do: the right thing. Where in the hell does anyone get Bush outta that?

I daresay that Bush thinks he is doing or wants to do the right thing, too: I daresay that's what he's been telling himself all these 8 years. Don't make it so... Anyway, I thought all you circle-jerkers on this blog were buying into the idea of Batman as "conservative fascist"... so what makes it so likely that he's doing the right thing? (Let's leave out intention.) Hmm. Amazing that Andrew, for one, can pal around with "leftists" (yes, that phrase I borrowed from the MSM) yet claim that Batman (or Bush?) is doing the "right thing". Dream on away, guys! "Motivation" my ass!

Further note to Andrew et al: this idea of "Batman as conservative fascist". What Dissident Voice columnist John Pistelli seems to miss is that the Nolans recognize that Batman is a conservative fascist

Do they really recognise any such thing? Is Nolan CONSCIOUS of whatever dreck he is peddling? I wonder, myself. I think it's his unconscious assumptions that are the problem. I'm sure he loves to think he's liberal, and that his films are too - hence the sop to the left with the black convict saving the ferryboat towards the end - which I have seen much more accurately described elsewhere as a "magic negro" moment! The problem with Nolan is that he is essentially a conformist, establishment-worshipping filmmaker. Only gallant John Pistelli, one or two people on blogs and David Walsh and others of the World Socialist Web Site have bothered to tackle this. As I said before, most of even the "alt" media have let the public down on the topic of popular culture.

As for this idea of Batman being "a conservative fascist".. I disagree! I most strongly disagree, and I have for years! (The Batman I refer to is the one of traditional comic strips.) It is only Frank Miller who made the Batman right-wing in comics - for his own nefarious Zionist or similar purpose, no doubt - and from thence the idea crept into movies etc. It's all a revision, similar to Stalinist revisions of Marxism, or whatever. Now, I'm just about old enough to remember the old Batman of the 60s TV series - and - again one has to ignore all modern propaganda on the subject, for it's all fomented by right-wingers... and I've studied this part of popular culture and comics too! AND: the conclusions I came to, in a nutshell, were:

1) The Batman in the 60s series is a SURPRISINGLY accurate representation of the traditional comic book version of the 1940s-1960s, just spoofed, that's all - but about 1/2 of the episodes of that series were directly wholly or partially based on stories from the old comics - true! Not a lot of people know that... or at least it doesn't click with them, once debates of "authenticity" start... Y'see, this has a wider relevance too, because EVERYBODY today in US wants to say they're "authentic". Even the Christian Right morons want to claim the Founding Fathers as their own! Anyway.

2) The Batman of the old comics and the Sixties series was definitely something (rather than "anything the viewer wants him to be") and I would say that if ANYTHING, he's no fascist - he's a conservative LIBERAL. Or liberal conservative. Of the sort that used to be around when Roosevelt and Ike were at America's steering-wheel. The old, optimistic, believing-in-human-improvement sort. The John Dewey sort. That kind of type. Not the unsmiling, humourless fascist that they have even tried to popularize in cartoons. (I like the Dini version, but it does have its faults.) Indeed, in the America of old, such new "archetypes" as the pop culture makers try to promulgate nowadays would have been regarded with suspicion as "nazi", in a society that regarded all dictatorships, both fascist and communist, with not-unfounded suspicion. It is a blemish on the character of America as a nation that it no longer thinks like that.

Liz the Brit has spoken!

Pre-emptive replies to possible criticism of myself: 1) I never post my real full name on the web - as little as possible. I'm privacy-conscious. 2) I WAS going to give this an id (I don't see why one has to, unless it is to increase capitalist surveillance) from my old livejournal account - only my lj password no longer seems to work and I am no longer at my original e-mail address so can't re-set it! So much for "technology"!)

Dex said...

thank you for taking the time to respond, liz; i'm sure that john pistelli appreciates your defense of his work.

i admit that i am not particularly proud of this post - it's a little too scattershot, a little too exasperated, on reflection. however, i think you fail to get the point i was attempting - again, i admit, rather inelegantly - to make: mainly, that the politically-rooted critiques of 'dk', and indeed comic book movies in general, take a tabula rasa approach to the material that the critic then just colors with whatever happens to be plucking their strings at the time (please refer to the linked stuff about spidey near the bottom of the post). i have a problem with pistelli's thing, just like i have a problem with that stupid wsj piece, because neither critic is actively watching the movie. instead, it appears that they're watching for things in an extremely popular summer film that affirm or reject their political convictions. this isn't engagement with the piece, it's attempting to own it andrew and joaquin - who are my friends, yes, but they also occasionally contribute to this site - make these points better than i do, and with more fairness, i think, and i would ask you to reread their comments to get the fullness of their respective positions.

as for my "lefty" bona fides, you may wish to refer to this link:


it will give you a full listing of my journalism - that's real, live, paid money journalism, not merely blogging on a wordpress account - over the last few years.

but whatever. a word of advice, also - ad hominem attacks generally mean you have no argument to make. you may wish to dispense with them, or be a little more judicious, in the future. at the very least, try to be funnier.

many thanks, once again, to responding at length to the post, such as it is.

Dex said...

i should also add you'd be a lot nicer about all of this if you knew how much this yank loves doctor who (old and new series).