Waaay back in the summer of 2008, me and my dad drove up to Northern California to attend San Jose State University’s freshman orientation.
It was a long drawn out process where first-year students basically were told and shown a bunch of things they would forget and relearn by their first day anyways and culminated with all of us spending one night in the campus dorms so we could all get a taste of the “campus life” experience.
I wanted it to end badly for a couple reasons. Being an introvert, I was not comfortable sharing a room with anyone, let alone a stranger, for a night but more importantly, I was being kept from the biggest movie premiere of the year that day: “The Dark Knight.”
As soon as I woke up the next morning, I rushed my dad to find the nearest theater and purchased tickets immediately for a late-night screening. I was already a huge fan of “Batman Begins” but every trailer to Christopher Nolan’s epic follow-up indicated we were in for an even bigger blockbuster than before and I was beyond pumped.
Two and a half hours later I left the theater blown away by the experience. “The Dark Knight” was everything, at the time, I was hoping for in a comic book movie; angsty, dark, edgy (all things I thought I was as a teen), cinematically sharp, thrilling, a fantastic score once again by the legendary Hans Zimmer, and fulfilled just about every fanboy wet dream I had at the time for a perfect Batman movie.
To this day it remains the most satisfying theatrical experience I’ve ever had seeing a movie, not that it’s my favorite movie of all-time anymore, mind you, but that I have never gone into a movie with such high expectations and had them blown away quite like that since.
I’m a different person now, of course. If you were to wipe my memory of the film and had to watch it again today I doubt I would have the same fanboygasm I had then as the cynical 30-year-old I am now but I’ll argue that “The Dark knight” still remains a high mark, if not the standard, for comic book movies today.
That said, parts of this film have definitely not aged well. Visually the film still holds up, the action is still exciting, the performances are all stellar (though Bale’s Batman voice is still bad) but what hasn’t aged well, for me, are the movie’s politics.
“The Dark Knight” is, of course, a post 9/11 movie, in fact, it’s arguably the definitive one as its pop-cultural footprint dwarfs pretty much all within its sub-genre. This Nolan sequel deals heavily in themes of terrorism with its iconic villain The Joker, played maniacally by the late great Heath ledger, wreaking havoc across Gotham with various explosive devices. Though the Clown Prince is more an anarchist than someone with an ideology, like those in Al Qaeda or the Taliban, the results of his beliefs/non-beliefs are more or less the same; cause pandemonium and fear in the masses. Batman, representing the power of justice and order, does battle with this in a war to save Gotham’s soul and again this is still a damn entertaining and thrilling story.
But where the film’s 9/11 politics become problematic is toward the end of the film when the Joker begins his final act to plunge Gotham into unstoppable chaos. Batman becomes desperate; The Joker has eluded him at every turn, always two steps ahead of him, escaping justice no matter what Bruce Wayne does so he concocts a plan to finally to locate and stop the Joker for good.
He creates an elaborate sonar system using every cell phone in Gotham, effectively creating a massive surveillance state to spy on its citizens in order to locate the Joker.
Lucius Fox, played by Morgan Freeman, appropriately calls this out telling him he’s wrong and that he cannot support this but Batman insists that it’s the only way. Fox reluctantly agrees and tells him he’ll resign once this is over as he can’t morally support such a system. The sonar, of course, works and Batman is able to stop the Clown Prince once and for all and upon Fox entering his name into the sonar computer the program dissolves and is deleted presumably for good.
This is of course to wash Batman’s hands of this deed to the audience. Our protagonist knows this is wrong, the audience is told it is wrong but by ending the surveillance he shows he would never abuse such a program, that sometimes good men have to do terrible things to defeat evil and that makes it ok.
For years, as a bleeding heart liberal (at the time) who grew up in the Bush years but loved the hell out of this movie, I tried to reconcile with this part of the story because Batman was the hero. I thought maybe this kind of action is ok because if the “good guy” is in charge bad stuff is fine because he/she won’t abuse such power. That’s real justice, right?
The problem is in the real world, at the top, there really aren’t any good guys and they are counting on you to believe that they are when they get a hold of such power because that’s how we are programmed.
The Patriot Act, which was the signature Bush-era reform post 9/11, created our current surveillance state. In the interest of national security and ensuring those “dern turrists don’t go killing lil’ Timmy riding his tricycle out in Des Moines, Iowa” our elected leaders, both republican and democratic (make no mistake), effectively signed away our constitutional rights to “ensure our safety” by spying on us basically without warrants. The proponents proudly claimed its necessity in fighting the “War on Terrorism” and those naysayers either shouldn’t worry “if you have nothing to hide” or worse were un-American Taliban sympathizers.
For progressives, of course, this was an evil violation of our civil liberties but for many conservatives, this wasn’t a big deal. They are just trying to keep us safe after all.
But conveniently ignored by many on the left still today is the complicity they had in bringing about this era in warrantless surveillance. Yes, this policy started under Bush, of course, but it continued to be re-upped through the Obama administration and the Trump administration, not to mention revolving majorities in the House and Senate, showing no matter who was in charge they all liked the idea of keeping an eye on all of us with or without reason.
Considering the Patriot Act was made to win the “War on Terrorism” our leaders were never going to relinquish this power anyways because you can’t win a war on terrorism. Terrorism is not a country or a people, it’s an ideology behind many different ideologies. The US, no matter how you see it, be it as liberators or oppressors, will always have enemies and that’s all the reason they need to keep this power it seems.
Having the data on our lives mined like oil can easily be used against us in a variety of ways regardless of if any of us have terroristic or even criminal intentions. But for many in this country, it was only a problem if the wrong guy wielded that power. As soon as their “good guy” got in though, suddenly it was no big deal. I wonder why…
“The Dark Knight” puts forth a problematic view on who can and should wield supreme power, that even terrible choices can be made as long as the “right” person is the one making them.
Liberals are notorious for justifying them when it’s one of them who does it.
It’s a lie. A lie that both parties use to their advantage because they want you believe everything they do can be justified because you happen to be a part of their party; the “good guys” once again. But there is something extra cynical about the way liberals wield it as they parade themselves around as paragons and moral pillars against the Jokers of the Republican party.
For all the platitudes liberals give, that would make some superhero speeches seem benign, they wear masks about as well as the vigilantes do but not for the same reasons. When confronted by this blatant hypocrisy, liberal voters justify all kinds of horrible things as long as the other “bad guy” isn’t the one doing it. For all the shit Bush gets, and rightfully so, for plunging us into a military, financial, and humanitarian quagmire in the Middle East, Obama gets almost zero real pushback by liberals for effectively drone bombing the hell out of the same people. During these past three years Trump has more or less allowed ICE to run rampant on immigrant communities sure and liberals have been critical, again as they should, but who made the cages they were thrown into and who deported more of them during his first three years in office than Trump did?
Liberals often like to present themselves as the moral purveyors of good in the face of conservative opposition and they use it to their advantage to more or less do many of the same foul things those with R’s next to their name do. Sure, not all their actions are equally as evil but even then, we rarely truly hold either of our leaders feet to the fire because we believe their actions are somehow better because they have a “D” next to their name.
These horrific policies and actions will never see justice as long as we keep justifying them because the “right” person is behind them.
No, this is not an all sides are equally bad take. That discussion requires more nuance and for a different time, but I will say both sides are varying degrees of bad that should be taken seriously instead of not at all and can’t be pushed aside again and again and again because “the other guys are worse.”
We are running into the same situation today as our presidential election features a credibly accused rapist, sexual predator, who supports Bush-era tax cuts, who takes money from major corporate lobbyists, who is against Medicare for All, has open disdain for millenials, and not only supports but openly bragged about the aforementioned The Patriot Act.
Hmmm, sounds an awful lot like someone we know, huh?
You could argue that one of these two men mitigates, or even vastly mitigates, harm if in office and I’m not here to necessarily scold you for making what you feel is morally the least awful choice but the point still remains; we are justifying evil again because our “good guy” is in charge.
Being liberal, just on its own, does not vastly minimize the problematic nature of a bad person.
Regardless of how you feel about this election and what choice you plan to make this November (and again, I’m not here to tell you what to do), bad things and bad policies will be continued to be enacted by bad people because that’s what choices we’ve been given. There isn’t a good one and the most vulnerable will be hurt the most by it regardless of who wins. There is a reason so many are disillusioned with voting and it’s not just voter suppression laws.
I can already hear some of you screaming “OH MER GERD pURiTy TeStS,” but this is far more cynical a standard we have than simply choosing a less than perfect candidate. Many are already making rather tone-deaf comments about people being “privileged” for choosing not to compromise their morals anymore. What’s “privileged” is voting for the guy who will do less harm for you but ultimately still disproportionately harm more people of color no matter who is in office.
Yes, I might agree that one is probably a net positive for the world at this point but to act like someone choosing to not participate anymore in what is effectively a never-ending cycle I can’t say I blame them either. At some point, our society has to draw a real line in the sand on these things with our leaders and force a more moral standard for our government instead of the status quo.
We can’t go on this endless “pragmatic” path picking “the lesser of two evils” until we gradually just become evil. You can make the argument that maybe the time isn’t now, and you might be right but when? These folks at the top are COUNTING on us accepting circumstances and justifying terrible beliefs and actions over and over again because of the state of our politics.
“The Dark Knight” believes that sometimes bad things must be done to defeat evil but the real world can be so much less cynical if we stopped compromising on our beliefs. It’s not entirely too late for us to do the right thing. We can’t go on forever letting bad behavior go because the “good guy” will be the one doing it instead of the other one.
Taking money from corrupt billionaires is wrong. Extra-judicially drone bombing the Middle East endlessly is wrong. Throwing migrants in cages like fucking animals is wrong. Rape and sexual assault are wrong. Mass warrantless surveillance is wrong. Doesn’t matter if its Batman or fucking Superman doing any of these things; immoral behavior cannot and should not be ever justified.
Otherwise, we really will live long enough to see ourselves become the villain…
Looking forward to the comments on this one…