A defense of the Dark Knight movies

Brandon F. writes:

For balance to the discussion I would like to add another perspective. Although there is gratuitous violence in the Dark Knight series, especially in the second one featuring the Joker, there are also elements of heroism and self sacrifice in a world gone mad with vice and nihilism.

Bruce Wayne is a billionaire young man who could choose to wallow in his wealth and seek all the pleasures that go with it. Instead, Gautama-like, he turns from that possibility. Instead of seeking salvation for himself he seeks justice. He is the ancient hero archetype in the mold of 21st century Western man. The villains are power-hungry or simply nihilists with no regard for the innocent. Through pain and self sacrifice Wayne risks all, his personal life, money, comfort, in an effort to combat those forces of evil.

Do we not live in a nihilistic world full of people seeking various mixtures of pleasure, fame, wealth, and all manner of satisfaction at any cost? Who among us is willing to sacrifice everything to combat this nihilism, this very “root of the revolution of the modern age” as Eugene Rose puts it?

LA replies:

Even if everything you say about the positive elements in the Dark Knight series were true, it would not change the problem that I have identified, because these putatively positive elements come in a nihilistic package that normalizes extreme violence and removes society’s moral capacity to judge and oppose it.

If what I just said is incorrect, then why does the entire country call this mass murder (and all other mass murders, including the 9/11 attack) a “tragedy”? As I’ve discussed many times, the habitual application of the word “tragedy” to acts of evil eliminates the very concept of evil. So it would not appear that the morally healthy elements that you claim to see in the Dark Knight movies are having any effect.

And if these movies are so morally healthy, then why is Batman prohibited by his own moral code to use deadly force in defense of innocent life—a code that results in many more innocents being killed?

I must speak frankly. People who defend these movies as “conservative” are playing the role in our culture of the useful idiots of yore. The revolutionary liberal project advances itself by pretending that it is not revolutionary, but ordinary, mainstream, normal, even “conservative.” And there are always plenty of conservatives who eagerly fall for that lying message.

- end of initial entry -

Brandon F. writes:

To be clear, I was not defending the movie as conservative but only pointing out some elements in order to balance your view and opinion of it. There are disgusting aspects to these movies and you are correct that the higher messages of the content, morally speaking, do not appeal to or register with the general public. I do not wish to be the vehicle by which you condemn people as useful idiots who, by their nature, are able to perceive the albeit limited nobler elements in pop culture.

LA replies:

True. You did not, unlike some others, say that the movie was “conservative.” So I take back the implication that you are playing the same role in our culture as the useful idiots of yore. But you did praise the movie in the classic terms of a morally uplifting tale. And I said that even if you were correct that those classic elements were in the movie, those elements are still swallowed up and practically cancelled out by the traumatically negative view of life the movie conveys.

I can say this with confidence, even though I have not seen this movie, because I have seen numerous other extremely sick and nihilistic movies of which exactly the same things have been said, that they were really “conservative,” “uplifting,” “affirmative,” etc. The makers and purveyers of the liberal culture know exactly what they are doing. They know that if they inject some conservative or anti-liberal sounding message into their works, millions of conservatives will eagerly seize on those anti-liberal sounding elements, and miss the impact of the work as a whole. Thus a movie that would, at the least, obviously traumatize its younger viewers (who are legally allowed to see it under its PG-13 rating) gets called “the best conservative movie of the last 20 years.” [LA adds, July 27: I have now seen Batman Begins, as I discuss here, and the experience only confirms my point that it is ludicrous to describe this series of movies “conservative.”]

The basic problem, as I’ve discussed many times, is that contemporary, over-intellectualized people don’t look at things whole; they look at one part of them, and draw conclusions from that one part. It’s analogous to the people who say, “Islam is an Abrahamic religion, therefore it is compatible with Christian society.” Or people who say, “Hispanic immigrants are Christians, therefore they are compatible with our society.” They are looking at one part of the phenomenon under discussion, not at the phenomenon as a whole. They are reducing a complex reality to a syllogism that does not describe the reality. This is not thinking. This is slogans substituting for thinking.

July 22

Andrea C. writes:

I have been following the discussions about The Dark Knight movies at VFR and I understand how you feel. I have seen the 2008 The Dark Knight and I covered my eyes at times during the course of it, even though all direct violence is off-screen and there is no gore—it is that intense. But I did and do come away believing it is a dark masterpiece. I wouldn’t ever consider it a conservative movie. It is definitely not “uplifting” at all—it is a very disturbing movie. At the same time, it is not at all like gross movies and shows falsely touted as conservative such as South Park, Pulp Fiction, Silence of the Lambs, and others.

I have long believed that we must stop hoping that conservative movies, songs, or businesses and organizations (currently Chik-Fil-A and the Boy Scouts) can be propped up as our lone standard to help to further our cause. We must stop hoping that when they come under the attack of liberal persecution they will serve as our proxies in this culture war. They can’t be our champions alone because our society is too smashed and atomized right now. It’s not going to be that easy for us. Rather, we must fight for them. And insofar as we don’t stand up and defend them, they fail, they’re left alone on the battlefield. (I know some are fighting, like yourself, but not enough are—no way near enough.)

In our atomized state some people are attracted by the Joker’s glamour (for lack of a better word). And this touches on your remark: “Even if you were correct that those classic elements were in the movie, those elements are swallowed up.” The Joker is so brilliant, so “absolute,” as Thos Hibbs wrote in First Things, that for some people he may outshine the tale of good vs. evil. I think that happens in any mass appreciation of a work of art. Knowledge, taste, understanding, discernment must be cultivated. And here’s the kicker. Cultivation of these things is no guarantee of moral superiority. We don’t get off so easily, ever. The Inferno is the most popular of the trilogy. And once upon a time there was a better understanding of what Purgatorio and Paradiso were trying to show us. Our society is atomized and we are, as a culture, for the most part successfully cut off from our cultural roots.

July 24

Matt writes:

Andrea C. wrote:

But I did and do come away believing it is a dark masterpiece. I wouldn’t ever consider it a conservative movie. It is definitely not “uplifting” at all—it is a very disturbing movie. At the same time, it is not at all like gross movies and shows falsely touted as conservative such as South Park, Pulp Fiction, Silence of the Lambs, and others.

I second this. I’ve seen all three of the movies, and while it would be ridiculous to defend them as conservative or morally upright in any general sense, the second movie is an artistic masterpiece. The latest movie, not so much. It is too long by half and more full of plot holes than Swiss cheese. I think falling asleep and cringing at plot stupidity is a greater danger posed by the third movie than cringing at violence: by the time the worst of the violence hit I was practically snoring.

One way that comic book based movies mirror the genre from which they have sprung is that they often attempt to be based thematically on a “moral”: a modern version of fable telling, if you will. In the Tobey McGuire Spiderman trilogy (not the newest film), that moral is, “With great power comes great responsibility,” and I think the moviemakers pull it off pretty well. With the Dark Knight trilogy, the moral is, “Why do we fall? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.” (See this.) I immediately notice that the Dark Knight moral is essentially, um, amoral.

Incidentally, when they made a movie for the Marvel character The Punisher, they actually omitted his (also amoral) moral because it was too direct and politically incorrect. The Punisher becomes a vigilante after his family is slaughtered. After he has finished slaughtering the men who killed his family, he is asked “what is the difference between you and them?” In the comics, he responds “I’m right and they are dead.” In the movie, he responds with the cringeworthy “They still had something to live for.” That’s a great example of Oprahfied anti-art.

LA replies:

Why is the moral,

“Why do we fall? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.”


Matt replies:

Let’s compare it to the Spiderman moral, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

The Batman moral is a generic encouragement: when you get knocked down, get back up again and redouble your efforts. It is amoral in that it makes no distinction between someone thwarted in bad behavior versus someone thwarted in good behavior: I can easily see some Occupy morons using the Batman moral as encouragement to each other after being ejected from the park, for example. It is a content-free encouragement not to allow setbacks to stop you from doing, well, whatever it is you happen to be doing.

Perhaps I overstate the case in calling the Batman “moral” amoral; but I do think it genuinely has less substantive moral content than the Spiderman “moral.”

Posted by Lawrence Auster at July 21, 2012 01:56 PM | Send

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