Sunday, August 24, 2008

Is Dark Knight a political allegory?

Walking out of the latest Batman movie, my politically aware compatriot immediately remarked that he thought the Joker was a representation of Dick Cheney, an agent of chaos battling the rule of order.

I disagreed. In fact, if Dark Knight is a political allegory, then I would argue that Batman himself is supposed to be Dick Cheney, the secretive complex protagonist who grunts in monosyllables, an ersatz hero with a billionaire alter ego who has benefited immensely from the status quo and will go to great lengths in order to preserve it. Who are we to know what the political tendencies of the filmmaker are, if there are any indeed?

Cheney, like Bruce Wayne, and unlike the Joker, has lived within the crucible of the power structure of our culture and has done well financially and politically. Bruce Wayne is a self-assured and connected player within the Gotham society; he owns buildings, escorts dignitaries and influences the opinion of the mucky-mucks. That’s our beloved Dick Cheney.

The Joker is the disconnected agent of chaos, sowing destruction for no other reason than to do it. The better political analogy would be the Joker representing Osama bin laden or perhaps global terrorism itself. While some of us may see a bit more order to the roots of real world terrorism, for the purpose of the movie’s plot, this would suffice. The Joker recruits the dregs of society to do his bidding and act as fodder.

Continuing the analogy, Commissioner Gordon is akin to George W. Bush, the maligned leader who is caught between forces that he cannot control or even understand. Batman, while attempting to serve as the force for good, engages in destructive activities that lead to a host of unintended consequences that endanger the populace. The Commissioner bears the brunt of the mayhem as he wishes to bring the Joker to justice but must also navigate the mixed sentiments surrounding Batman’s violent vigilantism. In the end, Commissioner Gordon is hurt and his family (read: Bush’s legacy) is injured, as he muddles through the out-of-control situation.

Of course, the filmmaker may have had none of this in mind when he penned the screenplay. All comic book characters play with the notion of good versus evil, control versus chaos, and the Bush administration’s “with us or against us” ideology plays into the comic book analogy very well.

I suppose we can see political analogy in much of culture if we were to use our imagination. Was “Jaws” a metaphor for the Nixon administration’s wanton predation upon our civic structure? Maybe “The Exorcist” was meant to be a simile for the Vietnam War or the evil of war inhabiting the being of even the most innocent of our culture.

A couple years ago I read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and I could not help but see the similarities between the monster and George W. Bush, but then my senses were deeply affected at the time by the rapidly degenerating situations of the Iraq war and the economy. Bush, I truly believe, has always meant well by his intent, but he is flawed by infantilism, much like Dr. Frankenstein’s creation. Bush lacks the intellectual prowess, the cerebral horsepower, to navigate complex situations, he is a creation of our modern social structure, and seems truly surprised by the failures that he has encountered-- all ripped from the pages of Shelley's classic.

Of course some literature has been expressly intended as political allegory, as every high school student learns when studying Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift’s satire on European politics. Other fictional works merely play on eternal truths which can then be applied to many situations, political or personal. Ernest Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea could also be seen in the Bush presidency, and certainly Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.

With any of these possible metaphors, we start to paint a picture of George W. Bush as a pathetic character, a flawed hero who is put into an unwinnable situation, or eschews warnings to the detriment of himself and his charges.

The Dark Knight: Dick Cheney kicking ass and taking names.

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