Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Batman is pro-Bush?

Man, it was time to crawl into bed but I just had to read comments on the web how Batman in THE DARK KNIGHT was pro-Bush, that the whole thing with the monitors and all were giving an a-ok to the wire-taps and eavesdropping. And, then I couldn't sleep.

Regardless of what you think about Bush and the war on terror, the movie wasn't about that. It's seeing what you want to see. If that's an analogy equating Bush with the hero Batman, what does it say about vigilantism? It's too shallow of a comparison, it ignores the very basic nature of superheroes. Not too surprising when the comic book writers don't really understand it either and turn out stuff like CIVIL WAR.

Superheroes have been breaking the law before they were even superheroes. Sherlock Holmes took it upon himself on occasion to act mercifully and mete out justice when a court of law would not necessarily. They have been judge, jury and executioner. Batman, Superman and the rest have used interrogation techniques not allowed any police officer, have committed felonies and violated civil liberties in their pursuits of evidence. The scene in the movie is no different than a host of other questionable acts the hero performs to get the job done.

We cheer the heroes but it doesn't mean we approve of the actions. One can love reading the Shadow and the Spider and still favor gun control laws. It reminds me a little of a disagreement I had with a fan over the Charlton character, the Peacemaker. He found the character unheroic, that he valued peace so much, he was willing to fight for it. It's not an unrealistic dichotomy. Think of Hitler and other tyrants. There are times, in the interest of others, it's ok to fight for peace. How is the Peacemaker who fights for peace unheroic and Batman, who breaks laws and civil liberties in the name of justice heroic?

Because the latter, and the Shadow and the Spider are all heroes. Sure, if they existed in the real world, I'd be out there with the rest clamoring for them to be arrested (and the Spider as the Batman in the movie recognizes that is the way it has to be for the Law to work). However, in the narrative of their stories, they are the heroes. They are the Honest Men. We don't worry about Superman violating all sorts of civil liberties and having laws re-written to accommodate his x-ray vision and super hearing that make him better than any wire-tap or even just being a creepy voyeur (although Bryan Singer seems to think he should be). As the Honest Men, we are privy to their thoughts, their motivations, we know that their intentions are pure and honorable, that they won't use their powers for their own gain. Just as we know that somehow, the Shadow and the Spider won't accidentally gun down an innocent civilian or undercover police officer. It's part of accepting the superhero package. Just as in the movie, Batman's actions are justified because he doesn't accept the power for himself. He puts it in the hands of someone else and trusts them to do what's right and honorable. We allow the Honest Man to stand outside the Law and above the Law and we root for him through his struggles, because we know he's just and right even if the Law itself cannot allow him to stand.

The Honest Man only works in fiction, in story though. Johnston McCully made a living off of his rogue outlaw heroes from Zorro on down. We cannot trust real fallible human beings with the power we grant our fictional heroes. It's why we have the Law. Not that it is infallible either, but we have to have those standards. We thrill to the chase scenes and the gunfights of the police and the bad guys in countless movies and seeing our superheroes do what needs to be done when the system doesn't seem to work. We also recognize that vigilantism is often not just, we investigate when a cop fires his gun at somebody and there are actual rules governing when he can and cannot open fire, the reading of miranda rights, search warrants, etc. There has always been this gulf between what is allowed for our fictional Honest Man and what we allow flesh and blood flawed human beings. So, it's a bit disingenuous to pull out one element like this and ascribe some kind of political rhetoric to it.

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