Pop culture essays, criticism, fistfights

We Don’t Need Bruce Wayne

(The following contains spoilers for Batman 5, 6, and 7.)

Okay, you can run shit.

If I was going to live in a city lorded over by an unaccountable wealthy elitist (sup, Bloomberg), I would want that city to be Gotham and that master capitalist to be Bruce Wayne. Actually, that’s only half true. I wouldn’t want the city to be Gotham – I’m middle class, and there’s no middle class in Gotham, only billionaires and the poor criminals that murder them in the night thus turning their children into costume-wearing vigilantes. No thanks.

But sure, let Bruce Wayne run everything. He knows karate, okay? And if his methods are maybe a little on the fascist side, well, what’re you gonna do? He’s got dudes in clown make-up and cybernetic muzzles to keep in line.

Granted, Wayne’s done some screwed up stuff, like covering up the heinous misdeeds of one of his wealthy buddies in order to usher in a new tough-on-organized-crime era for his city. (In those new laws, by the way, is one that makes it okay for lady criminals to be imprisoned in male general population. I don’t care how tough Catwoman is, that seems like a weird and rapey policy and I wouldn’t vote for it.) He also did that whole warrantless wiretapping thing in order to catch the Joker. But then he blew the technology up because Morgan Freeman was all stern. George W. Bush didn’t blow up his wiretap technology; he just left it laying around for the next guy.

Also, another lame thing that Batman did? He relied on an auto-pilot mechanism that wasn’t necessarily up to code to transport a nuclear bomb six miles out of his city. That seems like a big risk to take with some junk you just fixed a couple weeks ago, dude. All so that you can have your martyr cake and eat your Hathaway, too.

I can ignore these questionable acts, accept them as shaky steps taken toward the greater good by a well-meaning hero because we’re talking about fucking Batman. He’s a fictional character. I’ve seen into his very heart and soul, most often via thought bubbles in the 80s, and I know that he’s a badass that’s right pretty much all the time. Batman should be in charge. Of his fictional world.

At least until some super strong space alien with X-ray vision descends from the heavens.

I called Bruce a capitalist before, but maybe that’s not even true. Here’s a really excellent essay that argues, in part: “Wayne has no interest in profit, in accumulation, in investing his wealth to produce more wealth. […]Wayne is far more feudalism than finance: heir to a manor complete with fawning manservant, unconcerned with business or money-making, bound by duty and honor even if it makes him a recluse.”

So Bruce Wayne is a lot like King Arthur with a trust fund. Superficially, it would seem like Christopher Nolan’s message with The Dark Knight Rises is that when the streets are overrun with gun-toting anarchists, we ordinary Gothamites should just keep in doors eating our canned goods until the wealthy elites can sort the mess out.

Except Nolan’s movie falls short of endorsing the wealthy as unerring protectors of the hoi polloi, because outside of Bruce Wayne the rest of the well-heeled class come off as a bunch of psycho douchebags. There’s Daggett whose pursuit of profit at all costs involves turning Gotham over to terrorists. And then there’s Miranda – Talia al Ghul – whose charitable exterior hides a Koch-style funding for a fringe group that would see society brutally destroyed.

(A brief aside on Bane’s group as Occupy Wall Street. While Nolan certainly played fast and loose with some OWS imagery, and the film’s scoring might as well be “whose streets? Our streets” set to drums, there’s really not much basis for a comparison of Bane’s group to OWS. Or even The Tea Party, despite Bane’s corporate funding and the vast amount of “Banes” Brian Ross found listed on a Tea Party website. These aren’t ordinary citizens rising up and controlling Gotham with tanks; these are cold-blooded mercenaries and violent criminals. They’re not concerned with the futility of Congress.)

Does Nolan’s Batman trilogy have some spooky fascist overtones? Sure. But, as this other really good essay argues (although I disagree with its ultimate conclusion), so does like every comic book ever: “These stories, which I have grown up on and still love, are predicated on creating a situation of such exaggerated threat that fascist solutions, i.e. strongmen acting outside due process to restore order by violent force, become not only plausible but desirable.”

Might there be some wealthy political aspirant out there that checks out The Dark Knight Rises in his private screening room and comes away thinking ‘holy shit, I’m Bruce Wayne, all these put options my broker just bought are for the greater good!’? Maybe. But, we unseen Gothamites know the truth. Those people are the real world’s Talia al Ghuls.

And therein lies the problem in ascribing pro-capitalist or fascist motives to Nolan’s filmmaking. Despite the gritty realism of the Dark Knight trilogy, these are still just superhero movies. Luckily, we don’t have a Joker or Bane in the real world. We don’t need to give fascist carte blanche to a costumed crime fighter. If something here in the real world begins to feel like a problem that might vex Gotham City, we need to remember that, using the language of that second essay, there is no threat so exaggerated as to require a fascist solution.

We can still separate reality from fiction, right? We know that there aren’t really any super villains lurking in the sewers, I hope. Sure, I’d put Bruce Wayne in charge if he actually existed. But he doesn’t and he never will. I’ll remain a fan of Nolan’s trilogy until someone tries to argue the necessity of extraordinary rendition because it’s what Batman would’ve done, and probably even after that. Don’t blame Bruce Wayne. We should recognize that the fascist actions of a dude with a bat fetish don’t have a place in the real world.

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