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

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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.

 

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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.

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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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