Sunday, July 27, 2008

What Bush and Batman Have in Common

I was sent an email that linked to this op-ed article in the Wall Street Journal. Very interesting stuff. Personally, I dislike getting into politics on my blog. I'll admit it straight up, I'm more conservative than a lot of bloggers I know, so I try to stay away from the arguments. I'm not going to change your ideology and you're not going to change mine. So please, agree to respectfully disagree before flaming someone. That said, I kind of feel compelled to put this article up. It's very rare to see the Bush Administration portrayed in a positive light and to see an opinion piece that not only has good things to say about our current President, but compares Bush to Batman, leaves me feeling as if I woke up in Bizarro world. I don't know if the author of the article is brave or masochistic. I'll let you be the judge. What Bush and Batman Have in Common By ANDREW KLAVAN July 25, 2008; Page A15 A cry for help goes out from a city beleaguered by violence and fear: A beam of light flashed into the night sky, the dark symbol of a bat projected onto the surface of the racing clouds . . . Oh, wait a minute. That's not a bat, actually. In fact, when you trace the outline with your finger, it looks kind of like . . . a "W." There seems to me no question that the Batman film "The Dark Knight," currently breaking every box office record in history, is at some level a paean of praise to the fortitude and moral courage that has been shown by George W. Bush in this time of terror and war. Like W, Batman is vilified and despised for confronting terrorists in the only terms they understand. Like W, Batman sometimes has to push the boundaries of civil rights to deal with an emergency, certain that he will re-establish those boundaries when the emergency is past. And like W, Batman understands that there is no moral equivalence between a free society -- in which people sometimes make the wrong choices -- and a criminal sect bent on destruction. The former must be cherished even in its moments of folly; the latter must be hounded to the gates of Hell. "The Dark Knight," then, is a conservative movie about the war on terror. And like another such film, last year's "300," "The Dark Knight" is making a fortune depicting the values and necessities that the Bush administration cannot seem to articulate for beans. Conversely, time after time, left-wing films about the war on terror -- films like "In The Valley of Elah," "Rendition" and "Redacted" -- which preach moral equivalence and advocate surrender, that disrespect the military and their mission, that seem unable to distinguish the difference between America and Islamo-fascism, have bombed more spectacularly than Operation Shock and Awe. Why is it then that left-wingers feel free to make their films direct and realistic, whereas Hollywood conservatives have to put on a mask in order to speak what they know to be the truth? Why is it, indeed, that the conservative values that power our defense -- values like morality, faith, self-sacrifice and the nobility of fighting for the right -- only appear in fantasy or comic-inspired films like "300," "Lord of the Rings," "Narnia," "Spiderman 3" and now "The Dark Knight"? The moment filmmakers take on the problem of Islamic terrorism in realistic films, suddenly those values vanish. The good guys become indistinguishable from the bad guys, and we end up denigrating the very heroes who defend us. Why should this be? The answers to these questions seem to me to be embedded in the story of "The Dark Knight" itself: Doing what's right is hard, and speaking the truth is dangerous. Many have been abhorred for it, some killed, one crucified. Leftists frequently complain that right-wing morality is simplistic. Morality is relative, they say; nuanced, complex. They're wrong, of course, even on their own terms. Left and right, all Americans know that freedom is better than slavery, that love is better than hate, kindness better than cruelty, tolerance better than bigotry. We don't always know how we know these things, and yet mysteriously we know them nonetheless. The true complexity arises when we must defend these values in a world that does not universally embrace them -- when we reach the place where we must be intolerant in order to defend tolerance, or unkind in order to defend kindness, or hateful in order to defend what we love. When heroes arise who take those difficult duties on themselves, it is tempting for the rest of us to turn our backs on them, to vilify them in order to protect our own appearance of righteousness. We prosecute and execrate the violent soldier or the cruel interrogator in order to parade ourselves as paragons of the peaceful values they preserve. As Gary Oldman's Commissioner Gordon says of the hated and hunted Batman, "He has to run away -- because we have to chase him." That's real moral complexity. And when our artistic community is ready to show that sometimes men must kill in order to preserve life; that sometimes they must violate their values in order to maintain those values; and that while movie stars may strut in the bright light of our adulation for pretending to be heroes, true heroes often must slink in the shadows, slump-shouldered and despised -- then and only then will we be able to pay President Bush his due and make good and true films about the war on terror. Perhaps that's when Hollywood conservatives will be able to take off their masks and speak plainly in the light of day. Mr. Klavan has won two Edgar Awards from the Mystery Writers of America. His new novel, "Empire of Lies" (An Otto Penzler Book, Harcourt), is about an ordinary man confronting the war on terror.


Stewart Sternberg said...

This editorial speaks more to the success and impact of Batman than to any political ideology. It's fascinating how different groups would seek to co-op these popular culture icons. One would wonder though, if Bush is Batman, then is McCain Harvey Dent? Of course, if the conservative Republicans are claiming the D.C. pantheon, then are the Democrats claiming the Marvel group? Would Barack Obama be Reed Richards? What about Peter Parker? And where do we place Ron Paul? Why he's wearing the Guy Fawkes mask and hiding out behind "'V' For Vandetta". Would Gore be "The Watcher"?

Charles Gramlich said...

The guy makes some interesting points but I'm not sure W represents the things he claims he does. Besides, this whole comparison thing, as Stewart points out, just seems kind of silly.

SQT said...

I agree with both of you. I think Batman has a cool factor that the author is trying to attach to his ideology.

Laurel Anne Hill said...

“Holy W, Batman! You’re like Bush?”

I read the Wall Street Journal’s piece comparing the trials and tribulations of Batman to those of President Bush. Wow! Was that a bat signal in the sky, or the letter “W?” I found the comparison interesting but have my own opinions about heroes and battles against evil.

On the rope of life, heroes climb above their weakest point, putting themselves at risk for the benefit of others. Love, compassion, duty and honor call them forth and they respond. Still, even heroes on a worthwhile quest against evil must search their own hearts for smoldering embers of hate or vengeance that could influence their actions and bring dishonor and disaster. We are only human. Heroes or not, we often fight our deadliest battles against ourselves and the best way to tame our dark, snarling inner desires is to flood those beasts with light.

We live in the real world, one with presidents and CEO’s but no superheroes of fantasy fame. Public awareness and debate about all sides of political and social issues must comprise the beams of light in our darkened skies. And we should all vote according to the signals in which we believe. That “W” stands for “We, the people,” if we let it.

Laurel Anne Hill
Author of “Heroes Arise,” a parable about the necessity and complexity of breaking the cycle of vengeance. (KOMENAR Publishing, October 2007)

SQT said...

Beautifully said Laurel. Thank you so much for stopping by.

Steve Malley said...

I'm a big fan of Andrew Klavan's thrillers. His op-ed pieces, less so.

Here, he's cherry-picked his Batman lore. The character is 80 years old, for crying out loud, and he changes every single time somebody new writes him.

Yes, Batman has been written as a lawless vigilante. He's also been a coldly intellectual detective, a techno-junkie and an ascetic martial artist. He even traveled back in time by hypnosis to beat up Native Americans.

Perhaps my favorite Dark Knight is Frank Miller and Dave Mazzuchelli's Batman: Year One. In that interpretation, the caped crusader accuses a corrupt and lawless (but duly elected) government that it has grown fat, wicked and bloated by preying on regular folks. He tells them their day is over.

SQT said...

See Steve, that's why I love you. You know too much about Batman to have the wool pulled over your eyes. I think that op-ed might work for the masses who only know Batman from the movies, but like you said, the character changes and we can pretty much put any interpretation on it we want to.

Jon the Intergalactic Gladiator said...

It is an interesting piece, but I agree with everyone here who says it's cherry picked and attached so it can fit the arguement.

Remember way back when movies didn't have a political agenda? Remember when John McClain took down the criminals in the Yakatome building not to symbolize the current administration's effectiviness or inefectiveness but because it was a good story?

RD Williams said...

I always tend to wonder why some editorialists seems to think that EVERYTHING has to allegorical. I mean, sometimes a movie is just for entertainment, and when you look at it, those are usually the biggest winners in the public eye. But regardless of your political ideology(which I won't get into here) I've never found using Fantasy stories as a comparison of(oh, this is in tribute to this, or this means that, or such-and-so equals yada-yada-yada, to be very fulfilling, not to mention the fact that you can ask 10 ppl that saw the same movie, and they might each get a different allegorical idea or representation from it, depending on their own world view.

In short, in the words of William Shatner on SNL several years ago:
"It's just a TV show!" :)