Of Bloodlust and Batman

Everyone saw The Dark Knight Rises except anyone I know so I couldn’t talk about Violence In the Media and How It Causes (allows, perpetuates, etc) Real War with anyone who has actual opinions on these things besides “PEOPLE LIKE TO WATCH VIOLENCE THAT DOESN’T MEAN THEY LIKE REAL VIOLENCE”/ “JUST BECAUSE I WATCH TORTURE PORN DOESN’T MEAN I’M A BAD PERSON.” Which, ok.

However. The usual “media outlets” (if that’s what we’re still calling the non-events of monied mannequins’ love lives printed on slash-and-burned Amazon) turned the resulting actual violence inflicted in Colorado on opening night into a bloodbath of their own (via a violent lack of respect for the victims and a continuation of their brutal war on good taste), without ever stopping to ask actual questions concerning the events of that night as indicative of greater truths of the culture they occurred in. The earth kept turning, and there was another shooting the next week, this time by a white supremacist, no big deal, is the divorce final and who’s pregnant now?

Nolan’s undeniably deft handling of an imaginary, beloved legend has been the most fun I’ve had at the movies as an adult: pondering whether the Gotham of Batman Begins is an analogue for an America at late-capitalism and the League of Shadows a barely veiled reference to Al Qaeda ignited my little pre-college cranium, and much of the The Dark Knight’s thematic tension, pulled straight from the pages of an Ethics 100 textbook, appealed equally to the philosophy nerd and the young and stoned among us. Plus, Christian Bale is one of probably two “movie stars” that I find legitimately babely and compelling (see: vintage Christian in Little Women, squeal). Mysteriously (intentionally) lacking any real public persona, we graft Bruce/Batman onto to the blankness of the Bale and revel in his dark and tortured nature, imagine he gets slightly too drunk at Hollywood events and is kind of a dick, and we like that, as any woman worth her mercurial self-respect loves a good smirk from a strong jaw.

Nolan’s franchise remains the only contemporary one that seems to have any real darkness to it: the brightest moments of the trilogy reveal dirty psychosis and unanswerable questions that no big budget films, especially summer popcorn superhero-y ones would dare to venture near. And here’s the other however.  During the more overwhelmingly violent arcs of The Dark Knight Rises, I felt like I’d just paid to ingest the filmic equivalent of pizza-flavored Bugles: something that I’d never knowingly consume, and would suffer the consequences for days after. The visual dénouement of the Dark Knight Rises, a conceptually and visually orgiastic rendering of the destruction of Gotham and palpable terror of all of its citizens, is so overblown in its goal of Maximum Possible Destruction (ok, so like what if the cops are all in the tunnels underground! And then let’s blow them up and show all the streets in the city like just COLLAPSING, THEN let’s get Bane to hold an entire football stadium captive while he proselytizes to the masses in a so-ridiculous-as-to-be-embarrassing-to-the-filmmaker Sean Connery voice about how to reclaim their freedom from the decadent capitalist pigs [or whatever point the summer-blockbuster-as-moralist-societal-allegory is trying to make], all while most of the football team falls into the depths of the crumbling earth below and the mayor’s box seats are engulfed in flames) that I wondered if the screenwriters had recruited a coterie of fifteen-year-old boys to help them imagine the absurd climax (yup) of the film, much as it looked like Nolan hired actual murderous psychotics to conceive the Dark Knight’s opening sequence. As I internalized what it would be like to live in a society that has actually been hijacked by armed and violent vigilantes [choose your own George W./ Wall Street joke], I thought of the Holocaust, 1990s Colombia, Hussein’s Iraq, North Korea, the litany of instances in modern (!!!) history that have provided Real models for Nolan’s simulacrum, Gotham. Then I wondered if I’m the only American who doesn’t consume movies about the Vietnam War, the Mafia, hyper-violent superhero movies, etc, without my hands in my pants.

Experiencing violence through cinema is a first world luxury. We pay to witness the destruction and murder, ostensibly to experience the emotion granted by chaos and its resolution.  But our spikes are relegated to the safe cocoon of the dark theatre; the credits roll and we go out for a beer and talk about how we should be getting paid more. Watching Gotham crumble for my enjoyment and adrenaline rush, I was overcome with something like guilt and disgust at the realization I could turn on the news, live from Kabul, and witness a live-action version of Gotham’s destruction. Watching Nolan’s suddenly homeless children and families gripped with fear for survival seemed the ultimate first world indulgence when this condition is reality for millions of human beings that we share a planet with. Right at this very second.

And closer to home: we claim to mourn the events of September 11th  (what will we say this year, the eleventh after the fact? What is left to say?). Not to get all French theorist over here, but: We Loved It, in the way we love the events, whether joyful milestones or tragic losses, that give our lives meaning. It was what our movies had prepared us for, and we got to experience the true horror and what later settled into real tragedy in real time. Finally, we were in our very own Hollywood movie: a pornographicly violent event that caused us to finally feel authentic fear, disgust, rage and the terror of real loss. There were villains and victims and there was no question which one we were.  We remember watching the news that Tuesday, and it’s too recent in our collective cultural memory to not acknowledge the undeniable reference by Gotham’s crumbling. A decade later, are we over it? Can we go back to fantasizing about terrorism, lusting for it (while vindicating ourselves through a fictional hero)? One billion dollars in worldwide gross, a cool half of that provided by Americans says: Yes. We mourned the stock market crash more.

In something so normalized that we don’t even question anymore: the very theatre I saw The Dark Knight, about three weeks after the Colorado shooting, had an armed police officer in the lobby. Can we pause for a moment and think about the fact that somehow in America today we need to be protected by armed officials when we engage in public events? Mitt Romney and all of his blank-eyed supporters believe in the RIGHT TO BEAR ARMS, the media doesn’t perpetuate violence and this is our Freedom.


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