Wednesday, 8 August 2012

How Far Has He Risen II: The Right Approach

After spending some time working my neurons, I have further thoughts on The Dark Knight Rises and its subtext.  Some of this came out of an interesting (if all too brief) Twitter discussion, but I'll save the meat of that for a third post.  Here I want to confess to my mistake.  There is a way to view the film as having an entirely coherent political subtext; it's just so far from my way of thinking that it took me a while to piece it all together.  Since the interpretation I'm about to describe requires consideration of one of the film's biggest plot twists, I'm putting everything below the fold.  You have been warned.

Still here?  Cool.

OK, so.  Here's the thing.  The only way I can put together an entirely coherent political reading of the film is to assume it's trying to defend the most obnoxious and soulless positions held by contemporary Republicans.

Consider its position on the rich.  When Selina criticises Bruce, she's entirely incorrect.  When Bruce mouths off about selfish charity galas to Miranda, he turns out to be completely wrong.  In my last post, I assumed that at least in the former case, we were supposed to consider Selina's mistake as being who she was having a go at, and not her position on the rich per se.  But let's imagine I got that wrong.  This is a film about a cat burglar who has set herself up in opposition to the privileged, and the very first thing she steals is someone else's inheritance.  She's the Death Tax personified.  That's your first call, by the way: eyes down for GOP Bingo.

Next up, we have Pesky Environmentalists. By persuading Bruce to funnel so much of his money into her plan to create nuclear fusion, environmentalist Miranda Tate takes a massive chunk out of the Wayne family fortune, to the point where there's not enough money to help orphanages any more.  If there's a clearer metaphor for the position that money spent on the environment would have been better spent elsewhere, I've never come across it.  And that's before we get to the point where the film's representative of the environmental movement - often labelled as terrorists by hyperbolic Republicans - turns out to be an actual goddamn terrorist., who has fooled the well-meaning but ultimately naive Batman (OR SHOULD THAT BE MOONBAT?) with the result that he comes within a whisker of being killed.

And what saves him from this terrible fate?  Selina Kyle, who has concluded that a) the assault on the rich by the baying mob of the working class (and what more obvious nod to Class Warfare could there be than a janitor who's brought an automatic weapon to the stock exchange to attack the job creators) and b) Batman's no-guns policy - a kind of personalised Gun Control - could never possibly work.  New ally of the rich Catwoman shoots dead the nasty terrorist, because Moonbat couldn't bring himself to do it, and someone has to do the dirty work.  Jack Bauer, all is forgiven.

Also: Doc Crane?  Sitting up there ignoring Gotham's legal framework in favour of doing whatever he wants?  Activist Judge, right there, Legislating From The Bench.  This is particularly egregious when you consider the last eight years have been close to crime-free in Gotham, because of new super-tough crime legislation.  What do we learn from this?  That Soft On Crime was always the wishy-washy bullshit conservatives knew it was.  Remove the possibility of parole and the streets will become an untroubled paradise, and only the occasional Bleeding Heart Liberal will be left to bitch about Convicts' Rights.  

Of course, having that many prisoners locked up in one place proves pretty useful to Bane (I mentioned this all being very Reign of Terror/French Revolution last time round; the obvious nod to the storming of the Bastille is one major reason why), but that just makes another point exceptionally clear: Death Penalty Protestors are idiots who helped bring about the subjugation of Gotham City.

Honestly, we've pretty much got the full house, here.  All the film needs is for Bane to have spent some time as an abortion doctor, and to have found some way of weaponising Anchor Babies.  Perhaps Nolan has saved that for the director's cut...


lyndagb said...

Well I won't say it's impossible that Nolan wrote a right wing film but he has explicitly denied that was his intention and I think I'd favour it being an imperfect story about a screwed up man and a screwed up city with overt French Revolution motifs than a perfect piece of Tea Party propaganda!

Jamie said...

I'm not sure authorial intent is relevant here; 'the author is dead' and all that.

I don't think that it's propaganda, but it certainly appears to have some alarmingly right-wing sentiments and assumptions at its core.

Jamie said...

(most of which have their roots in the previous two films, so it's not exactly a sudden turnaround, either.)

darkman said...

Selina Kyle isn't really wrong though. Most of Bruce's fortune has been used to make expensive toys so he can go out and play vigilante. The only charity he donates to is for orphans and he probably only does that because he identify with them. Bruce Wayne could probably end crime and poverty in Gotham by investing in schools and charities but that would mean that he couldn't wear the batsuit again.

SpaceSquid said...

I don't think Selina is wrong either, which is pretty much the only reason I have to think of this post as an exercise in argument contriction rather than my actual position.

That's not to say that the fact that the film's sympathy to the less affluent hangs pretty much entirely on a single scene isn't problematic, because it clearly is. It's worth noting here that Jamie's pointed me towards Nussbaum's post on the film over at Asking The Wrong Questions, in which she in all serious builds up not entirely different case to the one I've put together with my tongue at least somewhat in my cheek.

Jamie said...

darkman - I don't remember it being stated that Wayne only donates to one charity; is that really the case?

darkman said...

Name one other charity that the movie mentions that he donates too.

Jamie said...

So, because we don't get a list of Wayne's charitable donations, we assume that he therefore shuns all others? That's one hell of a leap.

Note that I'm not saying he necessarily does give to many/any more charities, just that the film provides no evidence one way or the other.

Anyway, this is a fairly moot point, as early in the film it is noted that Wayne's support of orphans has dried up, which I took to imply that, if there were similar charitable endeavours, they had probably likewise become defunct. I was given a strong sense that Blake, at the very least, disapproved of Wayne's apparent washing of hands, and since Blake comes across as such an obvious audience-identification figure I feel the film wants us to agree with his conclusion.

The problem I have with this is that this idea - that charitable responsibilities should primarily fall on wealthy individuals on an individual level rather than, say, the government through a welfare state and taxation - is uncomfortably close to Chris Christie's dismissive statement about Warren Buffett's pleas to be taxed more: 'He should just write a check and shut up'.

darkman said...

I also agree that the state should take the main responsibility for the poor. The point is that it just shows that Wayne is more interested in beating up criminals than looking at the underlaying reasons why people commit crimes. It also contrasts his father who by treating poor people and investing in the infrastructure actually hindered the League of Shadows in burning down the city without having to crash a monorail into a building.