Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Batman, Agatha Christie, and The 1%

Today's post is a good lesson in googling your intended topic before beginning: turns out 'Batman + the 1%' garners significant returns, not least this delightful video:

"There's already a superhero for that. It's called the Invisible Hand of the free market."

When I first saw the trailer for the latest Batman outing, the line "you’re all gonna wonder how you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us” jumped out at me: 'allo 'allo 'allo, I said, in my best Hollywood British Accent, what's all this then? Is the franchise taking on the Occupy Movement? Is it with it? Against it?  Or actually nothing to do with it at all?

Having seen the film, I'm not much the wiser. As this great Daily Beast article notes, the message isn't really that simple.

(Spoilers. Obviously.)

The big villains - Bane and the angry mob he wields - can be seen as a logical end point of popular dissatisfaction with the status quo. By freeing prisoners and arming the homeless Bane taps into the most disenfranchised populations of Gotham; the police - noble stalwarts against the forces of darkness - are driven literally underground and attacked if they're seen in uniform.

Is this what the 1% - or those opposed to popular movements generally - expect from an uprising? Giving guns to the most nefarious-looking dudes in town, stomping round with some ill-defined speechifying about giving the city back to The People, and then threatening to blow it up?

(An aside: The Mob would never blow up the city. The 1% would: for them, one city's much the same as the next, just a different place to be rich in; the main drags of London, Paris, New York, Shanghai, are pretty much the same, smears of local colour notwithstanding. It's the outskirts, the back streets, the nooks and crannies where the 1% never go, that form a city's true character. If someone had a gun to my head and made me choose between Oxford Street and Seven Sisters Road getting blown up, I would not deliberate for long.)

Bane's mob is oddly positioned as both a popular uprising - and as antithetical to the true will, and good, of The People. (Which it is: my revolution will not feature wanton violence or the threat of nuclear holocaust.) It's the nightmare scenario, the worst aspects of the downtrodden en masse, whipped up by an unhinged demagogue with some boring back-story axe to grind. More specifically it's the nightmare of the 1%: that a few unsavoury characters will blind the innately good, humble, simple peasants to the safety and justice of the ancien regime, and incite them to go French/Russian/Haitian/Kafkatian Revolution Apeshit.

I was reminded of Agatha Christie's much-maligned thrillers more than anything: in each of them, unionists,  Bolsheviks, and the Labour Party are being used as puppets by sinister forces behind the scenes. Because people can't possibly have come to the idea that (a) they are oppressed and (b) this is bad and (c) maybe they can do something about it, all on their own - and good heavens, they surely couldn't organise themselves. They're only proles, after all. No, someone else must be pulling the strings, and their purposes must be deeply sinister.

Because while a face-mutilated pig man with the voice of Sean Connery makes for a good villain, the idea of oppressed people organising themselves to do something about it is truly scary.

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