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But Do You Have a Bat-Warrant?

July 29th, 2008 · 3 Comments

Speaking of The Dark Knight, I’ve already had a couple requests for a “FISA analyisis” of the movie (believe it or not), and since Ezra’s already brought it up, I suppose I’m due to throw in my two cents.  Rest of the post below the fold in in the unlikely event that someone reading this hasn’t seen the movie yet.

So, as you may recall, at a cruical point, we learn that Bruce Wayne has (improbably) arranged for echolocation devices to be installed in just about every cell phone sold in Gotham, creating a vast sonar map of the city, and allowing him to pinpoint the Joker’s location. His corporate second-in-command and all purpose gadgeteer Lucius Fox is appalled, objecting that this is too much power for one man to wield. So Batman turns the system over to Fox, who will destroy it after this one use.

Now, I have no idea what Chris Nolan’s intentions here are. But I do think it illustrates the argument I made in my American Prospect story last year: The conventions of the superhero genre itself tend to embed what you might call a neoconservative ideology in superhero stories. That is, of course there’s going to be a threat that can only be dealt with by extraordinary means not available to normal law enforcement, because otherwise you have no rationale for putting a guy in a funny costume to engage in spectacular battles with fancy gadgets. And of course this unaccountable hero will use his extraordinary power wisely and judiciously, because he’s the good guy. Yes, Batman and Alfred can ruminate about the “blowback” that the Caped Crusader might cause, but insofar as they’re working with a property they can’t damage, they can’t ultimately conclude that the right thing to do is stop being Batman.

Tags: Art & Culture · Privacy and Surveillance


       

 

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Matt Tievsky // Jul 29, 2008 at 4:03 pm

    More generally, what’d you think of the movie, Julian?

  • 2 BJC // Jul 29, 2008 at 5:21 pm

    I guess you’re right that Gotham is set up so that only Batman can save it, but I wouldn’t call that “neoconservative,” necessarily; it’s sort of an archetypal “great man” hero story, and maybe “realistic” (as in the realist political theory).

    The Dark Knight is pretty fatalistic about Batman; Gotham can be made “livable” for honest folk by Batman, but Batman can’t stop the Joker before his depredations cause significant harm to the city and possibly hundreds of deaths.

    In my mind, that seems to be more of a Nixonian view; only a strong autocrat can prevent total descent into chaos, not that a strong man can lead us reborn into a new era.

  • 3 Tybalt // Jul 29, 2008 at 5:57 pm

    I wouldn’t call that “neoconservative,” necessarily; it’s sort of an archetypal “great man” hero story, and maybe “realistic”

    Instead of “realistic”, can we go with “rationalist”, in the tradition of Oakeshott’s Rationalism in Politics? It’s not quite what Oakeshott put his finger on, which had more to do with technocracy than the “great man”, but great-man-worship is a great sin of post-Enlightenment political rationalism.

    I thought this interesting :

    insofar as they’re working with a property they can’t damage, they can’t ultimately conclude that the right thing to do is stop being Batman.

    But that is only because they are prisoners of the ingrained Hollywood presupposition that nothing actually happens outside the four edges of the screen. The whole process is entirely sanitized; the only result of the bugging is that Batman knows where the Joker is, not that everybody gets listened to in their bedrooms. The “blowback” is referred to but ultimately discarded.

    But of course a moral actor wouldn’t concern themselves with “blowback”, they’d concern themselves with the moral status of the actions they were taking – of listening in on everyone in Gotham.

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