Batman: The Neocon Knight?

Zach Wiita

My childhood hero was always Batman.

Whether it was Adam West giving a POW! and a WHAM! to Cesar Romero or Michael Keaton doing battle with Jack Nicholson, Batman was always my favorite superhero. Sure,

I loved Superman and Spider-Man and all the other adjective men – but the best superhero was always the Caped Crusader.

So when I found out that some people were favorably equating Batman to George W. Bush in this summer’s hit “The Dark Knight,” I, quite understandably, felt as though my childhood had been violated.

In the Wall Street Journal this July, writer Andrew Klavan specifically identifies Batman with President Bush, claiming the film is a tribute to the “fortitude and moral courage” shown by men like President Bush in confronting evil. Further, he writes, the film recognizes that sometimes people must “violate their values in order to maintain those values.”

Klavan seems to have utterly missed the point of the film.

As anyone who has seen it knows, “The Dark Knight” is a story of escalation; Batman wears a cape and mask to fight crime, so the underworld unleashes the villainous Joker, brilliantly played by the late Heath Ledger, upon Gotham City. Using bombings, assassinations and acts of public intimidation, the Joker creates chaos in Gotham. In response Batman, the police and the seemingly heroic district attorney Harvey Dent become more and more desperate in their attempts to save the city from the Joker’s madness.

It is here that Klavan’s point about violating one’s values to maintain them becomes evident. The heroes of “The Dark Knight” are not morally pure; in the course of the film men who are otherwise moral commit several acts of torture. In that sense, they may be compared to the Bush administration, which has famously employed such techniques as “waterboarding” – an interrogation technique some claim is not torture but was used on heretics during the Spanish Inquisition – in its attempts to glean information from suspected terrorists.

What Klavan seems to overlook, however, is that the acts of torture in “The Dark Knight” consistently backfire for the heroes; Batman is never able to beat the Joker’s location out of his Mafia patrons, and a cop’s attempt to assault the Joker once in custody only leads to his escape. Most strikingly, Batman’s attempt to torture the locations of the abducted Dent and Dent’s fiancee from the Joker yields the wrong information; the Joker reverses their locations, leading to the woman’s death and to Dent’s descent into madness and revenge as Two-Face.

“The Dark Knight,” at heart, is the story of how the Joker seeks to manipulate the people of Gotham City into betraying their values. “See, their morals, their code? It’s a bad joke. Dropped at the first sign of trouble … When the chips are down, these, uh, these ‘civilized’ people? They’ll eat

each other.”

The movie ultimately rejects the notion of deliberately violating one’s own principles in the name of defending them. The Joker is never able to goad Batman into killing him, despite numerous attempts. When Batman gains an Orwellian technology that allows him to spy on all of Gotham, he uses it once in an immediate crisis and then destroys the system – certainly never turning it over to the government for eternal use. When the Joker attempts to scare the passengers of two ferry boats into blowing up the other one first with remote detonators lest he destroy them both, the passengers of each boat refuse.

There are, you see, some values that are more important than security, some principles more valuable than life itself – and holding on to your essential morality, even if you’ve faltered in the past, is one of them.

“The Dark Knight” is based on this understanding. When its heroes violate human rights, the consequences are negative. The character who relinquishes his values becomes the film’s second villain. It is deplorable that the Bush administration has rejected this understanding of human rights.

From the unconstitutional detentions of U.S. citizens to the military commissions system (denounced as rigged by its former head prosecutor) used on suspected terrorists to the abuses of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay to the program of domestic spying employed on millions of Americans by the National Security Agency, it’s clear that the United States has done exactly what the Joker would want it to do – violated its own principles in a mad rush for security.

Klavan thinks of Batman as Bush, but that analogy has “Epic Fail” written all over it. George W. Bush is not Batman.

George W. Bush is Harvey Dent.

Zach Wiita is a senior political science and theatre studies major and a columnist for

the Daily Kent Stater.

Contact him at [email protected].