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"The Dark Knight Rises", Media Violence, & Social Change

By       Message Jennifer Epps     Permalink
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Another alarming result of internet addiction left a tragically innocent victim: a depressed South Korean couple spent 12-hour stretches at an internet cafe, raising a virtual child in an absorbing fantasy game -- while back at home, their actual infant starved to death.     

In the late Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 , the hero's wife is so narcotized by an electronic fantasy life she can't even recall her previous night's suicide attempt. She lives for the nightly serial story that appears on the walls of her living-room, a fiction she is so emotionally engaged in she calls the characters "the Family." (The show also provides scripts and interactive opportunities for the spectator -- it's like the late Bradbury predicted gaming back in 1953.)

Soap opera actors have long been baffled by fans who can't tell them apart from their characters; quite a few other actors have also had that experience. A few are named on Robert Young would get asked for medical advice because he played Dr. Marcus Welby on TV, and Edward Woodward was often asked for help because of his recurring role as The Equalizer. Jason Hervey, who played Kevin's older brother on The Wonder Years, was once berated for being so mean to his sib. The biggest head-scratcher of a plethora of anecdotes comes from Dan Blocker, best-known as Hoss on Bonanza, who maintained that a woman asked him how Hoss was, and when he told her he was fictional, she replied: "I know that, all I want to know is if he's alright!"

Movie still of Keanu Reeves inside "The Matrix"

It's so bizarre it seems funny, but not knowing which reality you're living in was not so funny when a teen who watched The Matrix more than 100 times ended up taking part in the 2002 sniper attacks in Washington, D.C. The Matrix also allegedly convinced three other (separate) murderers that they were in an alternate reality; a "matrix" where murder wasn't really murder.  

Celebrity hype is also its own ongoing fantasy, existing on a plane above the narratives these professional artists create. Holmes' state of mind leading up to the Aurora shooting was probably goaded by the huge advance hype for The Dark Knight Rises. Ads for the opening of the movie would have been constant and omnipresent, and the fan base was passionate and vocal -- causing a furor on Rotten Tomatoes even before the film opened.  

Some people think they receive messages through their TV sets. John Guare's Obie-winning play The House of Blue Leaves is set in the 1960's and features an "empty nest"-aged mother descriptively nicknamed Bananas. She does little but watch TV. In a monologue, she tells her husband about a vision she had featuring LBJ and Jackie Kennedy and others from the news: "I turn on Johnny Carson to get my mind off and there's Cardinal Spellman and Bob Hope... I'm nobody. I knew all those people better than me...I know everything about them. Why can't they love me?" 

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Or as progressives like Ralph Nader have pointed out, the people on the covers of magazines are always the "winners", the ridiculously successful stars of entertainment, politics, business, and sports -- and everyone else is invisible. The onslaught of virtual reality doesn't stem from the consumer's imagination, it's pre-fabricated, and suits a particular agenda. There's a possibility that when we consume so much media it is really consuming us instead.

Batman, Counter-Revolutionary

The mainstream news media has certainly not been very diligent about the issue of massive domestic surveillance after 9/11. For starters, they ignored evidence that the Bush Administration began secretly and illegally spying on Americans months before 9/11. Consequently, in the previous Batman movie The Dark Knight (2008), screenwriters David S. Goyer, Christopher Nolan and his brother Jonathan made this kind of large-scale spying seem completely justified by having Batman do it to catch the Joker. They evidently got their news from corporate media, not from indy sources that showed the scarier ramifications of government surveillance, like "Democracy Now."

These three writers seem to continue to rely on mainstream news too much, judging from their current film The Dark Knight Rises. Their new Batman movie envisions a people's movement to "take back" New York from the rich; it fills the streets with revolutionaries. Yet it reveals them to be a criminal, violent, unthinking mob. Director Christopher Nolan maintains that he and his collaborators conceived of the idea long before the Occupy movement came into existence, and the production schedule would seem to bear that claim out. But what this means is that the Nolan brothers and Goyer (whose other writing credits include Call of Duty video games) saw the economic crisis of 2008, saw the lack of accountability for Wall Street, saw the gap between the haves and have-nots, and concluded that the most fearful thing out of all of that would be if the people were given their chance to rise up. It's ok for the craped crusader to rise, as the title indicates, but then that's pseudo-religious. He knows what's best for the people much better than they do.

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Nolan attests to Rolling Stone that the scenario was an evil person seizing control of a populist movement -- and Bane (Tom Hardy) is a nasty, nasty villain, make no mistake. But he doesn't actually steer the revolution. All he does, once he's killed various people and disposed of Batman (Christian Bale), is trap the city's police force underground and open the prisons; the rest he seems to leave up to the people. And what they do with the freedom is to run rampant. At the same time, (BRIEF SPOILER ALERT) the environmentalist and investor in sustainable energy played by Marion Cotillard turns out to be a fraud. That's the problem with The Dark Knight Rises.

Unlike Occupy's scrupulous and egalitarian parliamentary procedures, the only grassroots decision-making process on display in the film is summary sentencing. The crazed judge who presides at the lethal, retributive tribunals is Dr. Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy), the Scarecrow villain of Nolan's first Batman film and the cameo in his second. Also unlike Occupy's experiences, the confrontation between the film's revolutionaries and the police -- literally referred to as "war" -- is the complete inverse of what actually happened at protests. Nolan's police wear such quaint, friendly-cop uniforms, they look like their aim is to give directions to tourists. They brandish no weapons, not even "less lethal" ones like those they often shoot or spray at protesters in real life. On the other hand, the rebels are obviously armed and eager for violence. They've even got tanks Bane stole for them from our superhero -- batmobiles painted in camo. You can tell it's a comic book when civilians have the military advantage over the NYPD.

Still from "The Dark Knight Rises"

With the news media having already done their best to defeat the Occupy movement, the resonance some have noted between the uprising in The Dark Knight Rises and Occupy Wall Street is just the kind of simplistic, visceral demonization of a particular group that does brainwash people and lead to violence against that group -- whether in the form of hate crimes or just in acquiescence with the abusive practices of authorities or government policies. The way this works is illustrated, for example, in Vito Russo's groundbreaking book The Celluloid Closet (also a film), which shows how Hollywood has propagandized against LGBT characters, often having them either die tragically or become killers. (One notorious example was William Friedkin's Cruising, which gay-bashers referenced directly.) Jack Shaheen's encyclopedic tome Reel Bad Arabs (now a doc as well) exposes Hollywood's shabby, stereotyped, and hostile treatment of Arabs and Muslims on-screen. (Another Friedkin film, Rules of Engagement, vilifies the people of one such country and was probably very helpful in inculcating support for U.S. bombing in that part of the world.) The Dark Knight Rises, even if it was never deliberately meant to invoke Occupy Wall Street, adds another powerful element to an already dangerous technological, political, and cultural mix in our society that breeds hatred and violence. This must be very pleasurable for Frank Miller, the graphic novelist who created the ultra-violent Sin City, the racist and war-mongering 300, and the Batman comic book series which had the most influence on Nolan's film trilogy. He made headlines with a hysterical screed against Occupy on his site last November.

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Jennifer Epps is a peace, social justice, pro-democracy, environmentalist and animal activist in L.A. She has also been a scriptwriter, stage director, actor, puppeteer, and film critic. Her political film reviews are collected at: (more...)

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