Andrew Klavan had a truly batshit (that’s a pun, there won’t be more) editorial in the Wall Street Journal over the weekend in which he argued that The Dark Knight vindicates the Bush administration as noble heroes, left to defend a world that doesn’t understand them. It’s absurd on its face, of course- Batman is a fictional vigilante who stalks around at night and punches out bad guys in his pajamas, while George W Bush was elected to serve a nation by its people. The two aren’t comparable on any terms. But you call the Joker a terrorist in the script, and people like Klavan rush to put on their thinking caps and explain how George Bush is just like Batman. It gets really dumb, though, once he starts asking rhetorical questions about liberal Hollywood. I’m feeling charitable today, and I’ll help him out:
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?
There’s no need to "put on a mask" if your point is to explore the complexities of a situation. If you want to examine the military policy in the Iraq war, you don’t need to re-shoot Star Wars from a viewpoint that’s critical of the Jedi council’s tactics against the Sith. You can just set the damn thing in Baghdad. But if you want to claim that Lyndie England was a hero and George W Bush is the bravest man to ever walk the face of the planet Earth, you need a lot of layers of allegory for people to not laugh (or spit) in your face.
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"?
Because the idea that those values can be determined without any messy moral ambiguities only exist in worlds created by people who are specifically trying to have easily identifiable good guys and bad guys. You have to create a world in which the right-wing "reality" applies. It’s easy to know who the bad guys are in Lord of the Rings because they’re orcs led by a giant evil eye. It’s easy to know who the villain is in Spider-Man 3 because he’s named Venom and wears an evil black costume. If the world actually worked that way, then right-wingers would be welcome to make their films as direct and realistic as they liked.
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.
Don’t look now, but I think that this guy just made the claim that the first person to make a film in which George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld personally beat up Saddam Hussein will be the next Jesus.
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.
And for evidence, witness how successful caped vigilantes have been at protecting major world cities from supervillains.
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.
What’s awesome about statements like this is that, when you decide that intolerance, unkindness, and hate are useful tools for a better world, you become indistinguishable from those who use them for purposes you don’t find quite so noble.
It’s almost like you become two-faced, using your unambiguous moral certainty that you’re doing the right thing to commit unspeakable acts. I don’t know if this guy actually watched the whole thing, but the self-righteous, unquestioning character convinced of his own goodness is Harvey Dent, not Bruce Wayne. And dude, I’m pretty sure he was a bad guy.
(cross-posted to www.dansolomon.com)