It seems every time a new Batman movie comes out, we have to have the same tired, one-dimensional arguments about Batman/Bruce Wayne’s political leanings. And no, I’m not even talking about Rush Limbaugh’s claim that Bane=Bain. That one is a nonstarter, even for the drug addled lunacy that normally comes out of that asshole. That a super villain invented in 1993 (by a conservative cartoonist, no less) is somehow a Leftist political metaphor about Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital problems… No. I’m just not even starting down that road.
Instead, we have the usual claims that Batman is a fascist, except when he’s a populist antihero. Or something. It’s all rather muddled, which of course is a clue that there’s something else at work here, and that maybe a complex psychological fable isn’t the proper place to be looking for political metaphors.
Way back when The Dark Knight came out, there were a few bloggers who saw an authoritarian/Conservative bent to the character. Similar things were said about Iron Man being a shill for the Military Industrial Complex and Superman as a tool of Jingoism. Pretty much any super hero movie gets parsed for liberal/conservative bias. And while there are any number of valid ways to interpret a story, looking at super heroes through the lens of politics always irked me, but I couldn’t quite explain why.* Luckily, John August has given it some thought as well and explains the issue far better than I could:
Efforts to place TDK’s Batman on a real-world political spectrum are doomed. Sure, he’s tough on crime, but he’s also anti-gun. He holds himself outside the law, but destroys his own phone-tapping technology. Is he a Conservative? A Liberal?2 A Libertarian?
Nope, he’s just Batman. And as a comic book character, he’s allowed to hold simultaneous incompatible philosophies.
Exactly. Batman can be all these things because he is hyper-real. He’s not a citizen or a politician running for office, he’s a psychologically complex avatar, a stand-in we can use to explore larger, slightly abstract concepts about Freedom, Responsibility and Justice. That’s what is so great about Nolan’s Batman trilogy, it’s a complex movie with psychological, mythic undertones.
If you go to a viewing of The Dark Knight Rises and all you see is a mentally-ill billionaire exercising his authoritarian impulses without restraint, then you were sitting way too close to the screen.
* Also, Bruce Wayne, Billionaire Playboy would never vote. It’s out of character for the disinterested playboy persona. He can buy whatever freedom he needs, which is a decidedly Republican attitude, but one that would go completely u acted upon, outside of large donations to the popular DA who doesn’t really need the gesture. And Batman, while concerned about the plight of the poor and the disenfranchised, wouldn’t bother pulling the Democrat lever, as he knows all politicians are crooked and fallible. So there.