Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Am I Rooting for the Wrong Team?

A friend of mine in meatspace recently mentioned to me that Ra's al Ghul - as portrayed by Liam Neeson in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight narrative cycle - was almost precisely what he would define as a hero. This took me a moment to process, but almost more off-putting than his statement was the realization in my own mind that I kind of agreed. I love Nolan's movies and re-watch them sporadically. I've always liked the character of Bruce Wayne for the fact that he confronts evil and injustice from both the standard criminal element as well as the corruption and apathy of the society he is ostensibly protecting. It's a satisfying fantasy that, in some manner or other, somebody is meting out justice in this life; that somebody's uppance will come before Gabriel blows his horn. I'm not saying I'm on the verge of donning a cowl and batarang, but part of having a sense of right and wrong, justice and injustice hard-coded into your nature as a human being is that you don't like seeing malfeasance going unpunished. I doubt that there's anyone who would argue strenuously with that logic. Sure, there are the issues about going outside the law and excessive force and yada yada yada, but any honest person is not going to pretend that he doesn't take some secret satisfaction in the idea.

What is a bit odd to me is that I should feel such a strong affinity for characters who by every regular measure are villains. Ra's tries to cause a city he sees as a symbol of social degradation to destroy itself. The Joker...well, the Joker is like one of my old favorites, Tyler Durden - shaking things up is sort of his reason for being. Bane, in a way, fuses his two predecessors, incorporating an affinity for chaos with wiping corruption clean. There is a common thread that runs through each of these characters which is eerily similar to Batman's motivation: the burning desire to wipe out what's seen as wrong, as false, as evil. It's as if there's a moral in the story that good and bad, outside the structural controls of the law, are perhaps more tenuous concepts than we might be comfortable with. Both are less restrained, more violent, whether it's Batman or Bane. The truly disturbing thing to me about it as I look at the two sides in my own mind is that I'm not sure that they are two different sides, and I'm not sure whether Gotham is worth saving.

And given that Gotham is a metaphor for all of us, that bothers me more than a little bit, indeed.

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