Sunday, August 5, 2012

Batman joins the police to take on Occupy Wall Street

Toronto Star

Film critics have rightly picked up on a disturbing message in the latest instalment of Christopher Nolan’s hugely popular Dark Knight series of Batman movies. Fascism, the film suggests, is just great.
In an interview with Rolling Stone, Nolan insisted the film is apolitical. “What we’re really trying to do is show the cracks of society,” he said. “We’re going to get wildly different interpretations of what the film is supporting and not supporting, but it’s not doing any of those things.”

But, as many critics have pointed out, the parallels between the movie’s plot and recent political events are hard to ignore — as is the film’s apparently conservative, if somewhat incoherent, stance.
As The Dark Knight Rises begins, the good guys are still in charge of Gotham, the ersatz New York City watched over by Batman. Gotham is in the midst of a precarious peace, preserved by the white lies the state tells to placate its citizens. It’s a utopia taken from the pages of neo-conservative guru Leo Strauss.

Bruce Wayne, Batman’s billionaire alter ego, spends his time managing his declining health and the anxieties of retirement, until he is coaxed back into his batsuit by a violent group of anti-capitalist crusaders. The activists, led by an enormous, incomprehensible masked mercenary named Bane, expose the state’s lies and foment a successful popular uprising with rhetoric ripped directly from the Occupy Wall Street movement. (At one point, the villains literally occupy the stock exchange.)

Left to its citizens and their vicious, hypocritical leaders, Gotham succumbs to chaos and brutality — an updated version of the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror, with Bane a muscle-bound Robespierre. Kangaroo courts, political murders and looting — this is what we get, the film tells us, when the people win power.

The city’s only chance for salvation: a crackdown by police and Batman, a charter member of the 1 per cent. In Nolan’s world, rows of armed, marching police are a symbol of hope, a Warren Buffett with martial arts training is Gotham’s only possible saviour, and a populist movement, which in many ways resembles the one still playing out in the real world, is shown to be fraudulent and evil.
If this isn’t topical political commentary, it sure seems like it. And whether the film’s authoritarian vision is political propaganda or artistic oversight, the troubling message communicated to millions of viewers is the same.

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