Sunday, March 24, 2013

Getting Old Testament on Gotham

Scott's comment on my last post got me thinking a bit on my approach to the judgment of Gotham in Nolan's TDK narrative cycle - and by extension, to our own culture. The struggle is between Batman's fixation on saving Gotham, of refusing to write it off as nothing but decadent and corrupt, on the one hand; and of his various adversaries' finding of fault with Gotham on the other. The former, as stated here and elsewhere, is very Christological. In my reply to Scott's comment on the last post, I see the latter as somewhat Old Testament, in the vein of the judgment of Sodom or the Ban placed by God on the various Canaanite tribes.

At least, that's how I thought about it initially.

The real tension, though - at least for me - is between the individual, Christological approach to society and culture, versus what I've long seen as a consistent cycle in history. It's not my insight, this cycle, but it's pretty well documented. Civilizations rise, blossom, grow corpulent and self-destructive, and then fall. The story picks up again, somewhere else, but always it seems that for the greater good of mankind, civilizations will collapse before they can do lasting damage. "Providence," some would call it. The nature of the movement of  history, others might say. And, what I find particularly interesting, is that there is no moral conflict that I can find, obvious or otherwise, between our mandate to desire the redemption of mankind and the recognition that by some agency of Providence, history comes with its very own fail-safe against destructive human behavior. Or, I should say is that there shouldn't be.

In the case of TDK, the moral problematics arise from the fact that this historical force is personalized - not just made of men, but men who are actively pursuing what they see as their task. There's a massive difference in the quality of judgment rendered by Providence and the judgment rendered by Ra's al-Ghul. This is okay for fiction, because we know that in real life there's no Ra's or Bane trying to reset civilization; there's not even an agent of chaos like the Joker trying to make things interesting by giving us a "better class of criminal" who just want to see the world burn.

I suppose at the end of the day what I feel conflicted about is about rooting for this inevitable - from my view - Providential correction. I would like to see society's disease cured, but the practical side of me says that a collapse is far more likely and far more feasible, so why not root for that. And if there were a real-world Bane figure who could show up on the scene and hurry things along, maybe that wouldn't be such a bad thing.

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