Along with a good number of American males, ages 18-34, I went to see “Project X” over spring break. Although it was an experience I will forever regret, I did get to see the trailer for the next Batman movie.
A certain scene caught my attention. About halfway through the trailer, Bruce Wayne (Batman) is seen dancing with Selina Kyle (Catwoman) at some fancy ball. As the camera pans in towards Kyle, she coyly remarks: “You think this can last? There is a storm coming, Mr. Wayne.” An ominous cut later, the voice continues: “You and your friends better batten down the hatches. Because when it hits, you’re all going to wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.” Then chaos ensues, from a prison riot to the engulfment of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
From what it looks like, Catwoman is slated to become the next leader of Occupy Gotham. And this would make sense. The choice of Catwoman as the villain holds a particularly important element to the film. Distinguished by her tough upbringing and impoverished struggles, Kyle’s character has a strong, dark, populist streak. She’s a modern day Huey Long – just with more pipe bombs, leather body-suits and the like.
General speculation around the film strongly suggests that inequality, class struggle and social order will be the dominant motifs of the final Batman film. To this point, reports last October stated that director Chris Nolan had strongly considered using Occupy Wall Street as a background for his depiction of Gotham City. Ultimately, he did not, citing concerns about trivializing the larger movement.
So, is this what we have come to? Has our national mindset really arrived at the point where we are ambivalent about the hero in the Batman movies?
Recall, for a moment, what separates Batman from other superheroes. He does not come from another planet. He was not bitten by a radioactive spider or exposed to radiation. He cannot talk to fish. He actually has no powers at all, just the resolve to avenge the wrong done to his parents by criminals. And, thanks to the fact that he was orphaned in a country without a massive death tax, he has pursued this goal with his life. His resolve and discipline are his powers.
As a superhero, he is a self-made man; he developed his education, combat training and crime fighting skills all on his own. And he uses these powers not for exploitation but for good. He, a normal man, is a hero everyone could aspire to be like.
Is it possible now that Gotham needs a hero fighting for social justice over real justice?
To many – from those who sleep in ivy towers to those who currently sleep on towers of ivy (or whatever is under sleeping bags) – this rings true. Batman, a man of the one percent, is out of touch. He can’t meet the new challenges of our society. He can’t possibly understand, let alone combat, our true social problems. The real criminals are on Wall Street – or in the offices of Wayne Enterprises. Batman might actually be part of the problem.
Granted, we do not know the details of the movie. Odds are Batman remains the hero. But the undercurrent of the trailer touches on a growing trend in our political and popular culture. This is a more dangerous, nuanced worldview that extends beyond the more visible critiques of capitalism. Wealth is no longer considered a feature of a demographic but a disposition. Affluence, seen almost as a mindset, is portrayed as an inextricable element of one’s character – one that must be contained, contextualized and, for the enlightened, overcome. Until then, prosperity clouds perspective.
This line of thinking creates a profound divisiveness extending far beyond matters of politics. When a certain intellectual class, guided by a constructed, modernist notion of the ideal progressive society, attempts to monopolize the proper expressions of empathy, we have a moral problem, not an economic one. At its core, this system of ethics is one of base suppositions: assuming innate compassion for some while unconditionally dismissing it for others.
Ideas, not identities, have consequences. Be it Batman or Mitt Romney, we should look to the heart, not the wallet, to see who they are. Occupy’s fluid boundary between disagreement and demonization is the genuine villain in this story. So let us tip our hat to Batman, our hero from the one percent, who still stands for all of us.
And in the spirit of helping Gotham, maybe we should cut his taxes, too.
Harry Graver is a sophomore in Davenport College. His column runs on alternate Thursdays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.