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.