Saturday, 26 July 2008

Comic-book politicians and the Goddamned Batman


Why is it that the big, important superhero films always hit us in times of political unease? Since the planes hit the towers we’ve sat through remake after Marvel remake, each with its own special ideology ticketed along with the tie-in merchandise.

So, it’s mid-June and the sun is fizzing in the sky like a malignant bath bomb. Crazy news season is dragging itself to a crazy zenith and everywhere we turn there’s a slick new politician who wants to be our summer fling, and batman’s in the cinemas again, and the British are in the mood for a spot of king-killing. On this inauspicious Sunday, I ask you: outside certain specialised industries, is a kinky black rubber bat-suit the workwear of a sane man?

Give Christopher Nolan his due, nobody does a better goddamned Batman. But it’s what Batman represents that fascinates me, why we come back to these particular lonesome superhero myths, and why it’s Batman in particular in Summer 2008. I wanted to see nuance, I really did. I’ve tried very hard to find the subversive gay elements in Dark Knight, for example. Yes, batman has been a camp icon and, yes, the chemistry fizzes between Christian Bale’s batman and Heath Ledger’s beautiful, doomed Joker, violent, kinky and thoroughly self-torturing. But the villain-as-warped-sexual-flipside-of-the-hero is hardly original, and Ledger’s maniacal screaming – hit me again! I like pain! – only makes this tired trope the more upsetting, a weary rehashing of a self-involved male sexual paradigm which can only ever be played out in violence.

We’re about ready to be rid of the prime minister now, it seems. In fact, we’re baying for his blood from Glasgow to Henley-on-Thames. But what has he done, precisely, to offend us so? He’s failed to be the Batman for us. We believed we were safe somewhere between neurotic mother Blair and daddy Brown, dour and puritan and firmly in charge of the purse-strings. But now mum and dad have proved themselves petty, human and fallible, what are the kids of 1997 going to do? Who can we turn to? We need a hero!

We seem to want a more charismatic, US-style politician in British tweeds. Someone with prestige. Someone like Mr Johnson, who knows he is entitled to power, who has the confidence to remake the law to suit his own ends. Someone dynamic, with heritage and perhaps a volcano lair and a butler or two around the place.
And all Labour seem to be doing about this is squealing faintly about toffs, forgetting, of course, that in times of economic instability a lot of the British fundamentally like toffs. Toffs make us feel safe.


Deep down, maybe we actually want uncomplicated, comic-book leaders, leaders who throw around words like good and bad, right and wrong. We fetishise them, quite literally. They are fictional characters given life and purpose. Batman is a fictional character; Boris Johnson is a fictional character, but with a real wanker behind the photoshoots. Batman is the living image of this, a specific entitled attitude to the world psychotically embodied in the shiny inherited keds of a millionaire playboy. Bruce Wayne has no higher mission except personal revenge wrung from a spoilt, traumatised, isolated childhood. Bruce Wayne has his privilege, which at the end of the day is all he wields in the face of forces he calls evil. Bruce Wayne wants nothing apart from his own sick, slick satisfaction, which for someone who already has their own butler and a trust fund which knows no credit crunch, means power. Sound familiar?

Why can’t progressive politicians stand up for once and say that this isn’t right? Where are the heroes on the left? We’d better come up with some of them pretty damn quickly if we don’t want another four years as henchmen to a comic-book Tory toff. Well, you know what they say. Some days you just can’t get rid of a blonde.

*grin*


7 comments:

  1. We believed we were safe somewhere between neurotic mother Blair and daddy Brown, dour and puritan and firmly in charge of the purse-strings. But now mum and dad have proved themselves petty, human and fallible, what are the kids of 1997 going to do? Who can we turn to? We need a hero!

    Dunno about you, but I want a Prime Minister who gives a shit about civil liberties and the environment, and who doesn't mortgage our descendants' fortunes for generations in the name of some ill-formed notion of market supremacy. If said Prime Minister is a toff, so be it: they're not my favourite species (and I've known plenty), but there are worse things. Such as the current shower, for instance.

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  2. That assumes, though, that the Tories have different policies New Labour's high-competition, market-led business strategy. They don't. They've never even claimed to.

    And labour give a hell of a lot more of a shit about civil liberties than the tories do. The tories wouldn't, for example, have just given us the Equality and Human Rights department. They wouldn't have given us Sure Start. They wouldn't have focussed so massively on child poverty and lifted two million kids out of deprivation. They wouldn't have made renewable energy such a priority. They wouldn't have doubled spending on the NHS. Labour isn't perfect, but it does fail somewhat in talking up its own successes.

    A tory is a tory is a tory. And they do not care about the poor, the opressed and the uneducated. As a white Eton boy with a first from Oxford, I can understand how they might care a bit more about people like you. But don't kid yourself that the toffs care. What the toffs care about is power, and that's all.

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  3. You know that Thatcher herself said that Blair did things she wouldn't have even tried because she wouldn't have got away with them?

    And labour give a hell of a lot more of a shit about civil liberties than the tories do.

    I'm sorry, but you're wrong on this one. The Tories' record on civil liberties is far from great (the first few Criminal Justice bills spring to mind), but Labour gave us the Regulation of Investigatory Powers act, the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Acts, the various Terrorism Acts, the rest of the Criminal Justice Acts, and the Identity Cards Act, to name but a few. The Terrorism Acts, in particular, have been a disaster, and are constantly used to harass and intimidate peaceful protesters, while having essentially no effect on our ability to fight terrorism. For a good primer on this stuff, I strongly recommend Taking Liberties.

    I don't think this because I'm a white boy who went to Eton and Oxford: I think this because (in a small way) I'm a civil liberties activist, and I've read some of the relevant legislation.

    The Tories (and the Lib Dems, and the Greens) have spoken out against most of the abovementioned Acts. Perhaps you missed David Davies' recent resignation and re-election? That was all about his opposition to Labour's assault on civil liberties.

    They wouldn't have given us Sure Start. They wouldn't have focussed so massively on child poverty and lifted two million kids out of deprivation.

    You're changing the subject. These are good things to have done, sure, and I applaud Labour for doing them (if they indeed have - knowing the way they usually abuse statistics, I'd want to check the figures carefully before saying anything firm).

    They wouldn't have made renewable energy such a priority.

    I'm sorry, but [citation needed]. Googling, the first result that showed up was this, an article from last year about their plans to abandon their (none-too-impressive) renewable energy targets. Overall, Labour's environmental record is pretty negative - think airport expansion for an example.

    A tory is a tory is a tory.

    I'm sorry, Penny, but this is the attitude that's given us ten years of the most right-wing and authoritarian government in living memory. Look past the name: the "Labour" is just branding these days.

    Cameron has yet to be tested: we won't know whether he's all mouth and no trousers until after (as seems likely) he wins the next election. And yes, he's been short on specific promises. But I'm prepared to risk the devil I don't know compared to the ones I do.

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  4. 'I'm sorry, Penny, but this is the attitude that's given us ten years of the most right-wing and authoritarian government in living memory. Look past the name: the "Labour" is just branding these days'

    FYI, the most right-wing and authoritarian government in livign memory has been Thatcher's. Period. I have seen 'Taking Liberties' and I know what New Labour has done. I keep checks on this on the blog. See my post on 42 days. I'm not trying to deny that.

    But sorry, I don't think it's a good enough reason to vote Tory simply because they might be better. The Tories in government were far, far worse and, unlike Labour, they don't have a clutch of hardline leftist backbenchers to stop them doing exactly what they want to do, all the time.

    Cameron has made no policy statements whatsoever. Cameron wants you to believe that if you leave it to him things will be alright, but just look at London. Look at what's happened in London, already, with benefits being cut for the very poorest. I'm sorry, but however bad this government has been it's the Fabian Society compared to the last few Tory cabinets.

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  5. I'll have to admit, I'm not entirely sure on what you mean, being I'm not from England and such. But I will say that there were a couple of things I found from Batman to be questionable. The spying on Gotham which was almost a slight justification of the US government spying on the people.

    Thing is, our world has no joker. I think that the joker was far more interesting a character and found him to be preferable to batman. Sure, he was a killer, but he HAD reasons for what he did.

    If it weren't for the joker, he wouldn't have united people for a common good. The ferry scene for example.

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  6. Anon - this is the thing about batman. He embodies a world where the rich, in general, are assumed to be basically good people who can save the poor from themselves. He's walking entitlement, and part of that entitlement involves the right to spy on people and infringe civil liberties when you think it's in others' 'best interests'.

    The joker? I thought he was a very well-played, uncomplicated mad terrorist of the type Western governments would have us believe exists. In reality, terrorists don't just 'want to watch the world burn'. Most of them are desperate and are under the impression that they have sound political reasons for what they're doing. Now THAT'S scary.

    Apart from which, Heath Ledger was HAWT, in a.... dead.... clown.... kinda way.

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