Friday, July 25, 2008

And This Makes The Joker Who?

A cry for help goes out from a city beleaguered by violence and fear: A beam of light flashed into the night sky, the dark symbol of a bat projected onto the surface of the racing clouds . . .

Oh, wait a minute. That's not a bat, actually. In fact, when you trace the outline with your finger, it looks kind of like . . . a "W."

There seems to me no question that the Batman film "The Dark Knight," currently breaking every box office record in history, is at some level a paean of praise to the fortitude and moral courage that has been shown by George W. Bush in this time of terror and war. Like W, Batman is vilified and despised for confronting terrorists in the only terms they understand. Like W, Batman sometimes has to push the boundaries of civil rights to deal with an emergency, certain that he will re-establish those boundaries when the emergency is past.

And like W, Batman understands that there is no moral equivalence between a free society -- in which people sometimes make the wrong choices -- and a criminal sect bent on destruction. The former must be cherished even in its moments of folly; the latter must be hounded to the gates of Hell.

"The Dark Knight," then, is a conservative movie about the war on terror. And like another such film, last year's "300," "The Dark Knight" is making a fortune depicting the values and necessities that the Bush administration cannot seem to articulate for beans.

Conversely, time after time, left-wing films about the war on terror -- films like "In The Valley of Elah," "Rendition" and "Redacted" -- which preach moral equivalence and advocate surrender, that disrespect the military and their mission, that seem unable to distinguish the difference between America and Islamo-fascism, have bombed more spectacularly than Operation Shock and Awe.

Why is it then that left-wingers feel free to make their films direct and realistic, whereas Hollywood conservatives have to put on a mask in order to speak what they know to be the truth? Why is it, indeed, that the conservative values that power our defense -- values like morality, faith, self-sacrifice and the nobility of fighting for the right -- only appear in fantasy or comic-inspired films like "300," "Lord of the Rings," "Narnia," "Spiderman 3" and now "The Dark Knight"?

The moment filmmakers take on the problem of Islamic terrorism in realistic films, suddenly those values vanish. The good guys become indistinguishable from the bad guys, and we end up denigrating the very heroes who defend us. Why should this be?

The answers to these questions seem to me to be embedded in the story of "The Dark Knight" itself: Doing what's right is hard, and speaking the truth is dangerous. Many have been abhorred for it, some killed, one crucified.

Leftists frequently complain that right-wing morality is simplistic. Morality is relative, they say; nuanced, complex. They're wrong, of course, even on their own terms.

Left and right, all Americans know that freedom is better than slavery, that love is better than hate, kindness better than cruelty, tolerance better than bigotry. We don't always know how we know these things, and yet mysteriously we know them nonetheless.

The true complexity arises when we must defend these values in a world that does not universally embrace them -- when we reach the place where we must be intolerant in order to defend tolerance, or unkind in order to defend kindness, or hateful in order to defend what we love.

When heroes arise who take those difficult duties on themselves, it is tempting for the rest of us to turn our backs on them, to vilify them in order to protect our own appearance of righteousness. We prosecute and execrate the violent soldier or the cruel interrogator in order to parade ourselves as paragons of the peaceful values they preserve. As Gary Oldman's Commissioner Gordon says of the hated and hunted Batman, "He has to run away -- because we have to chase him."

That's real moral complexity. And when our artistic community is ready to show that sometimes men must kill in order to preserve life; that sometimes they must violate their values in order to maintain those values; and that while movie stars may strut in the bright light of our adulation for pretending to be heroes, true heroes often must slink in the shadows, slump-shouldered and despised -- then and only then will we be able to pay President Bush his due and make good and true films about the war on terror.

Perhaps that's when Hollywood conservatives will be able to take off their masks and speak plainly in the light of day.

-- Andrew Klaven, on "What Bush and Batman Have in Common," in the Wall Street Journal.


  1. Okay, I realised I was posting too much on your blog - and there are plenty of other conservatives with limited and regressive world views to go after - but this is a comparison that truly offends me.

    I am a big fan of the Bat and, if it is possible to insult a fictional character, then this joker has just done it. The World's Greatest Detective is superb at finding clues in the smallest details. Would he have missed plainly written detailed intelligence about plans to fly commercial airliners into strategic targets?
    He's known for picking his identifying and targeting his enemies. Would he have responded to an attack by Saudi nationals by attacking Iraq? Would he have found acceptable the 'shock and awe' that killed so many innocents in the process?

    If you really want to make a comparison with supertypes then a more 'blunt object' type who shoots first and asks questions later would be far more appropriate. Not the Punisher, as he too plans meticulously and thinks carefully. Perhaps the Charles Bronson Deathwish character.

    And as for attacking the brave soldiers: the liberal media are a bit upset that the military has gone charging into a country without bothering to understand local customs or culture. And it is those specific incidents of civilians being harmed that they report on. As they should.

    It's all part of the massive hubris of thinking you're the world's policeman and thinking that all it takes is big guns rather than serious research.

    Like some of the surrounding posts but this one's shabby.

  2. Jesus, Berko, I wondered where you'd been: post away, Boyo, you were one of the bright spots of my day.

    "The liberal media are a bit upset that the military has gone charging into a country without bothering to understand local customs or culture."

    Berko, what's the point of "bothering to understand local customs or culture" when your job is to kill people? Do you see how stupid you sound?

    I love ya, man, but you've got a 2x4 for a brain sometimes,...

  3. But who are you sent there to kill? Surely it has to al Qaeda and other such groups that are either a threat to the 'coalition of the willing', such as it is, or groups within (in this case) Iraq.

    Whatever the legitimacy of attaching Saddam Hussein's regime, the fight has long since swung round to the insurgents. Now I feel very uneasy about insurgents because they're not organised terrorist groups, they're locals who have reason to expel invaders. In other theatres of war, they've been known as freedom fighters and liberation armies.

    So as part of your planning strategy, you have to judge your enemy, sure, but you also have to know how to turn the tide and use a natural impetus of getting the populace to see you as vaguely benevolent. Otherwise what happens? You meet with more resistance than if you had executed the incursion with more finesse.

    None of the thug activity or the multitude of basic mistakes suggest s to me a well thought out battle. A far cheaper option than the extra troops and the extra billions, would have been propaganda backed up by discipline.

    You (and George and Donald and Dick) might not think you have to know the enemy you're taking out but Batman sure as hell does.

    Because the war was started by either a lie or faulty intelligence, the enemy hasn't been defined in the way it would with 'forces who bombed Pearl Harbour'. You oust Saddam, the Middle East's version of Marshall Tito, and you turn the whole place into anarchy, you draw in undesirable elements that were kept at bay, and you hope that you're going to beat them without (and I hope this has been factored in in some of the planning at least) creating a new supply - guys who may have just had their house blown up and have a gripe on that basis.

    He's the guy you've got to take an interest in. He probably hates Saddam more than Colin Powell. Maybe he thinks the Islamic extremists are setting a bad example.