Kersey: Conservatives should not condemn The Dark Knight Rises for its attack on capitalism

Paul Kersey writes:

I’ve been following the comments at your site regarding the shooting. I didn’t want to bring in my opinions (having endorsed the first film Batman Begins as displaying some very important critiques of our society as no longer worth fighting for). Please know that I do agree with you that only a return to Christianity—a true Christianity—can be the saving grace.

Did you see the first film? [LA replies: Based on your and others’ recommendations, I’ve been intending to see it, but hadn’t gotten around to it.] I still think there is something very much worth considering in the actions of The League of Shadows, who realize that the decadence and corruption of Gotham City has infected every level of society. And I would argue that the film goes beyond the left vs. right political debate. Some of your valued contributors have attacked the movie for being anti-capitalist.

Two thoughts on this: The League of Shadows is attempting to break Gotham, by creating a world where the socialist and libertine ideas are allowed to flower. Indeed, the most insane character from the first film (the Scarecrow) emerges as the judge in charge of dispensing automatic guilty verdicts to the aristocracy in the third film. Christopher Nolan shows a world that parallels the French Revolution as Dickens described it.

Two: defenses of capitalism are fine and necessary, but defending our current system of sociopathic capitalism (that puts profits for shareholders above the building of communities and social capital in American cities) is foolish. [LA replies: I’m not sure what you mean. We would all agree that capitalism in its current form is a major force in globalization, and thus in open borders and the ongoing destruction of the Western nations. But that doesn’t mean that leftist attacks on free enterprise and the profit motive are the answer.] Some of your excellent contributors think that the villain Bane is attacking socialism [?], which couldn’t be further from the truth.

In light of the almost universal attacks upon Chick-Fil-A President Dan Cathy for merely stating his belief in traditional marriage, traditional conservatives should understand that the entire capitalist system has been corrupted, with just one lone company standing against a tidal wave of change.

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Thomas Bertonneau writes:

The flaw in Paul Kersey’s apology for Batman is that an attack on the social toxicity of the reigning National Capitalism is no good as long as the attack is just as socially toxic, in some other way, as its object. The only result is that the cultural waters are now twice as toxic as they were before. Even if the critique of liberalism that Kersey ascribes to Nolan’s trilogy were actually present in it, the three films would remain unexceptional entries in the massive archive of dark, violent cinema, exuding a malaise of hopelessness, and inviting the audience to delectate in depictions of fiendish acts—with which our cineplexes have been perpetually glutted since Bonnie and Clyde (1968). An antibiotic pill is just the thing for an infection, but not when it is served in a glassful of gutter effluvium.

For a genuine cinematic critique of liberal antimorality, we have the marvelous, non-violent films of Whit Stillman. We do not need more comic-book-based, bloody rampages masquerading as entertainment; we need fewer of them; we need none at all.

Paul Kersey writes (he sent this before Mr. Bertonneau’s comment came in):

Forgive the mistake in the email I sent you. Many conservatives have asserted that Bane (played by Tom Hardy) is trying to unleash a socialist revolution upon Gotham, since he attacks Wall Street in the movie and because of the contents of his speeches.

Here’s something I started to write, but never got around to finishing:

Now, if you aren’t interested in having the movie spoiled, you should probably stop reading right now. In fact, head over to where Jon Nolte brags about “Occupy Wall Street in Damage Control over Dark Knight Rises,” without mentioning that the whole purpose of the League of Shadows (SPOILER) destabilizing Gotham City is so the entire world can witness its destruction by a fusion bomb blast.

Though Nolan told Rolling Stone that the movie has no particular political agenda, this hasn’t stopped members of Conservatism Inc. from gloating about its negative portrayal of the Occupy Wall Street while at the same time bemoaning the fact that the ultra-right wing Bane (played with haunting brilliance by Tom Hardy) is some metaphor for Bain Capital, the great white hope of the GOP. [LA writes: I’ve slightly edited the second part of this sentence, changing Mr. Kersey’s “to bemoaning” to “while at the same time bemoaning,” to try to make sense of it. I hope I got it right.]

Though the character Bane was created in the early 1990s, Rush Limbaugh asserted that naming Hardy’s villain “Bane” was an attempt to create a disparaging link to Romney’s former hedge fund company, “Bain Capital.”

Bane’s contempt for the decadent Gotham (all levels of society being corrupted—as we have seen this in both Batman Begins and Dark Knight) can be seen in his speech to the people of Gotham, after he has taken power. He quite derisively asserts that he has merely given the power back “to the people.”

Directly after this scene, we witness the unleashing of the masses upon the remnants of the Gotham elite—the upper-class being thrown from their houses into the streets. The state is completely broken down into chaos with no police force. They have been trapped underground in an explosion—another part of Bane’s plan to unleash a world where libertarians’ goals of anarchy have come to fruition.

LA replies:

This is awfully confusing. Is Bane right-wing (opposing Occupy types), or left-wing (empowering the people and releasing Jacobinist-type riots), or anarchist-libertarian? It would be helpful if Mr. Kersey instead of just throwing all these contradictory plot elements at us would put them together and provide a coherent picture of what he is saying.

Matt writes:

I think the confusing nature of Mr. Kersey’s analysis probably reflects the confusing, incoherent, and at times excruciatingly boring nature of the movie itself.

The movie is so incoherent that one can more or less read into it whatever one wants and construct an interpretation that is amenable to one’s own perspective. In that it is similar to the incoherence of nominalist liberalism, and reflects liberalism’s ultimate shallowness, papered over (like liberalism) with ample helpings of faux-drama: a real movie for our times. So now we begin the ultimate argument over the REAL liberalism, I mean the REAL Dark Knight interpretation, as opposed to those evil tyrants “over there” who don’t understand the REAL meaning of freedom and equal rights as the ultimate political principle, I mean the REAL meaning of The Dark Knight Rises. [LA replies: I confess that I don’t quite understand the meaning of the previous sentence.]

But few will come to the accurate conclusion that it all boils down to an assertion of meaninglessness, of “there is no authoritative truth,” leading to the triumph of the free and equal will of the emancipated superman. [LA replies: This touches on Matt’s idea, developed at VFR in earlier years, of the “oppressed Ubermenschen.” It is referenced, e.g., by me here in the context of the Columbine killers, and discussed by Matt here in August 2002 in reference to blacks as the oppressed ubermenschen who seek revenge on their own version of the oppressive untermenschen—whites.]

I say that as someone who admires the darkly artistic merits of the second movie, though I would never describe it as conservative, as I said here.

Matt writes:

You wrote:

“I confess that I don’t quite understand the meaning of the previous sentence.”

Oh, I was just riffing on the idea that there are different sorts of liberals, and that one kind of liberal generally views other kinds as inauthentic: “I know the true meaning of freedom and equal rights, while those guys over there are simply pretenders who invoke freedom and equality as a power grab.”

In the same way, they say: “Here is the true meaning of The Dark Knight Rises … ” You’ve shown how this is a gnostic approach to truth, and I’ve argued that this gnostic approach to truth is actually enabled and perpetuated by the incoherence of the underlying ideas—ideas which are never questioned, but to which unprincipled exceptions are made as a way of getting on in the world.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at July 24, 2012 10:28 AM | Send

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