Saturday, 30 March 2013

Batman: the perfect American hero.

I was sitting around in a local comic store last night playing a rather pointless card game (The DC Comics deck building game, for those interested.) While the game itself was rather turgid, it did lead to a conversation about the relative morality of Batman and how it is he, not Superman, who best represents the American personality in the 21st century.

Let's leave aside the aspirational nature of the man of steel and think about Batman for a while. It is, after all, the Dark Knight who has had a smash trilogy this decade, while Superman's movie was met with significantly less enthusiasm.

Batman is an anti-authority figure, a format of hero that has been hugely popular in the American psyche for a long time, but certainly became a mainstay after the Vietnam war (see The A-Team, Airwolf, Knight Rider, etc.) He does what he does without care for rules, procedures and protocol. Indeed his very existence is built on the premise that the established system is unable to cope with the manner of criminals he fights. Very much a Reagan-like attitude. Without this attitude Batman would just be a nasty thug who went around beating people up, by default "vigilante" should not be considered a heroic thing, but when caste in the light that the authorities cannot maintain control, then the actions of Batman are exonerated. In that situation one man can indeed make a difference, perhaps you should indeed call in some soldiers of fortune.

However, Batman is in himself inherently authoritarian. No one can argue that with his deep gravelly voice (which just keeps getting more scratchy as he goes on, eventually he'll be a blues singer) and his intimidating presence Batman isn't a simple of power and authority in any space he occupies. His very intent; to intimidate Gotham's criminals into renouncing crime, is employing a form of fearsome authority that smacks of Big Brother. Batman sees all, he is waiting on the rooftops to catch you committing a crime, don't make those bad choices, freedom is slavery!

But the brand of authoritarian control Batman brings is not about society being in unified, to the exclusion of personal freedoms. In fact far from the socialist nightmare George Orwell in visioned  Batman is that wonderfully American creation; the libertarian. He is an incredibly wealthy man, who chooses to spend his wealth on what makes him satisfied. His drive to do what he does is built on a feeling of being wronged (how very common that seems in this country) and he feels empowered by this combination of personal righteousness and vast financial reserves (which is itself a form of moral purity to some) to go out and commit crimes. The fact that his wealthy appears to require no work from his part (how very Romney-esque) is only the icing on the libertarian cake.*

Finally, like so many on the right of this countries (and more than a few on the left) the Bat sees the two dots. Crime of the sort Batman fights (I've yet to read a comic where he investigates white collar fraud and corporate ethics) is almost always a symptom of poverty, of massive holes in whatever social safety net normally prevents people from slipping into desperation. Which, it is noted, seems to be non-existent in Gotham, I see churches handing out soup, but I don't see unemployment offices and social welfare programs.    But Bruce Wayne chooses not to reduce crime by funding massive private charitable giving, or vastly expanding his manufacturing industry to bring masses of well paid low-skill jobs to Gotham, or even running for public office (often the domain of the super-rich in this country, he could be the next Bloomberg ) Because to him crime is a disease, not a symptom.
solution to all the countries ills in violence. It is pretty clear, from the position of any casual observer, that the problems Gotham City faces are terrible poverty and crime. Personally when I see this I connect the
So he solves the problem with violence and incarceration. How very American.

In fact this point is brought home by the clear issues of mental illness that characterize his biggest villains. These people are all deeply unwell; they are the perfect example of the "crime is a disease" hypothesis that Batman is built upon, the bigger the crime the bigger the illness.

When it comes down to, Batman is just a hyper-rich libertarian who spends his time beating up the poor and the mentally ill, what a hero.

*By the way a libertarian cake is a cupcake that can only ever serve one person, is exactly as good as you can afford it to be, and all the ingredients must be taken from other people's cup-cakes.

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