Holy Politics, Batman! Gotham and the 99 percent

Anti-capitalism is nothing new in Hollywood. From Wall-E to Avatar, corporations are repeatedly depicted as corrupt. The contradiction of corporate-funded films disparaging corporations is an irony that capitalism does not just accept but thrives on. However, Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, often considered more explicitly right wing than any blockbuster of recent memory, draws a clear line — anti-capitalist observation is fine, but any direct action against the rich or revolutionary moves towards the redistribution of property will lead to a dystopian nightmare. This pro-capitalist viewpoint is at home in a comic book universe whose central hero is without superpowers, but armed with a multi-billion dollar bank account.

Although this theory drives an entertaining plot, it is subconsciously harmful to its audience by portraying a severely flawed political theory as justifiable by dramatizing two extremes.

Throughout his trilogy, Nolan has explored the anxieties of a civilization threatened more by revolutionaries and bomb-throwers than traditional geopolitical rivals. That said, up until the most recent installment, the politics were subtle, overshadowed by the mystery of the Joker, the fear of Two-Face, and the love of Gotham.

In The Dark Knight Rises, we are introduced to Selina Kyle (Catwoman, played by Anne Hathaway) who was raised in less than fortunate circumstances that taught her to take what she wanted in order to survive. About fifteen minutes into the film, Bruce Wayne (Batman) dances with Kyle at a society ball. As the camera pans in towards Kyle, she demurely remarks: “You think this can last? There is a storm coming, Mr. Wayne…You and your friends better batten down the hatches. Because when it hits, you’re all going to wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.”

The connection between Kyle’s forewarning and the Occupy movement is so palpable one wonders why Nolan ultimately chose not to use Occupy Wall Street as the background for his depiction of Gotham, as publicly discussed  in the media earlier in the year. Yet, although he chose not to use the protests directly, citing concerns about trivializing the larger movement, it was indirectly implemented and played a large role through the film, consequently shaping viewer’s opinions on not only the Occupy demonstrations but those who fell on the other side of it, the one percent—Batman.

Although it is safe to say that Nolan’s political undertones in no way reflect the views held by everyone who went to see his film, it poses a threat to those who watch it blindly. To accept the inherent political outlining of the film without question or further thought is to accept a right wing way of thinking that, if put into practice in our society, is potentially disastrous. To believe that Batman saves Gotham alone one must accept that the one percent is the sole hero.

Yet, regardless of Nolan’s political nuances, the story of Batman remains the same — Batman does not save Gotham alone, but rather it is the inherent goodness and morality of the citizens of Gotham that save themselves. In The Dark Knight’s climactic scene, the Joker presents an ultimatum to the citizens of Gotham, families and felons alike. The families, and otherwise typical Gotham residents, are on one boat and given a detonator which will blow up the boat holding the prison inmate who have their own detonator capable of destroying the non-convicts’ boat.

Although the Joker’s plan was to show the lack of empathy and goodwill of Gotham by presuming one boat would press the detonator, neither did. The residents of Gotham, both citizens and felons, saved themselves by doing the right thing — caring about each other and not just themselves. This ultimatum is key in understanding the citizens of Gotham: When tested, they  allow the angels of their better nature to arise—they show that they care about one another, which, in turn saves Gotham.

Ultimately, Nolan’s political hints scattered through his trilogy lead viewers to believe a falsehood regarding the relationship between the rich and the rest of us, this falsehood is one that, when hidden behind films as powerful as The Dark Knight Rises, can be easily accepted as reality.

This deception is driven by the idea that Gotham is a city that needs a hero — a city dependent on the one percent, because without that one percent Gotham will face demolition at the hands of left-wing radicals. However, it is essential that we find our own truths and recognize that we cannot attribute our salvation and success to those who dress like the heroes. We are all heroes because we save one another, or at least we should.

As a society, we cannot press the detonator on those who are less fortunate than us — we are all responsible for each other.

via my article in The Berkeley Beacon.


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