Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Was George W. Bush the Batman?

I'm not a fan of our outgoing President. My own politics range from quite left to solidly centrist. But my problems with Bush aren't just political. They're moral.

On the other hand, I am a fan of Batman. I'm not a fanboy, exactly. But I've read and enjoyed most of the canon - Miller, Loeb, Moore. So I want to sound off on this interpretation of The Dark Knight:

The theory goes that the film's message ("Some men just want to watch the world burn") is not touchy-feely Hollywood-friendly... Batman himself has been compared to President George W. Bush -- the unpopular enforcer protecting an angry public from a monstrous foe.

A Bush apologist at the Wall Street Journal goes further:

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.

So is Bush Batman? Kind of. But that's not necessarily a compliment. Batman is an ambiguous character whose exploits give us the chance to wrestle with our own morality.

When Bruce Wayne returned to Gotham, it was run by the mob and crooked cops. It was Batman's destruction of those forces that gave the freaks the opening they needed. Even the movie gets this right:

Bruce Wayne: I knew the mob wouldn't go down without a fight, but this is different. They crossed the line.

Alfred Pennyworth: You crossed the line first, sir.

As time went on, Batman and the freaks developed mutualism. The Killing Joke, for instance, ends with Batman and the Joker hugging in the rain, laughing at a joke that only they can understand.

Batman never truly succeeded in his quest. But he still felt justified in coming out of retirement to find a death worthy of his self-image. In The Dark Knight Returns, the Joker is comatose in Arkham. It is the news of a Batman sighting that wakes him up for a last killing spree.

Before people try to spin Bush into a real-world Batman, they ought to consider what they're saying. They're saying he's a psychopathic, selfish, violent vigilante who enabled and inspired his own enemies. It makes great fiction. But it's not what we should've looked for in a President.

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