Warning: The following blog post assumes you are familiar with The Dark Knight Rises and may contain spoilers.
I will start this argument with a provocation: The Dark Knight Rises is oppressive. I will give you a second to yell at the screen, shake your fist, and wish total damnation upon my countenance. Did you get that out of your system? Good. I will now continue. The movie is an instrument of political economic domination which stems primarily from the ideological (a la Marx and Engels) blurring of morality and social justice. In one corner, we have Batman, the protagonist of the tale who supposedly fights for order, vengeance, and American stability. In the other, there is our antagonist Bane, a militant radical who uses guile, subterfuge, and an arsenal of various high-grade weapons to bring disorder and chaos. It is my argument that, while the movie would have us favor Batman, the character we should be more oriented towards is the supposed villain, Bane. Allow me to justify this claim.
In the movie, Bane is a multidimensional character that, while he advocates for violence and death, calls for attention to a number of real social justice issues. He decries corruption and the gross inequality wrought by capitalism running rampant through Gotham City. Batman, on the other hand, essentially fights for the given social order. If we look only at the political positions adopted by our characters, I posit that the audience would be more inclined to support Bane or, at the very least, be ambivalent towards the character.
The problem at hand emerges when the movie layers moral actions on top of the characters’ political positions (I hope the reader will forgive the simplistic bifurcation between politics and morality for the sake of this discussion). Bane kills people, blows things up, and throws procedural justice out the window as he forces people to walk across a frozen river to plunge to an icy death. Despite the social justice claims, the audience is strong-armed into equating Bane with “evil.” Batman, conversely, spends a large part of the movie fighting Bane and trying to save people, thus pushing the audience to associate him with “good.” It would not be difficult to imagine a movie in which the moral positions of the characters are realigned with the social justice figure performing “good” acts while the figure of hegemony is cast as the villain. In this scenario, Bane would be a liberatory figure fighting and using his wits against Batman who in turn would be portrayed as the evil supporter of capitalism.
My contention is that by adopting the moral/political configuration, the movie is an ideological tool of the capitalist political economy—ultimately becoming a component of the means of mental production which serve to replicate an oppressive ideology. Essentially, the movie confuses morality and justice to make the viewer associate “goodness” with capitalist inequality and “evil” with social justice/socialism/anarchism.
Indeed, going further, The Dark Knight Rises flips the revolutionary narrative on its head. The very idea of revolt becomes an instrument of the capitalist status quo. For example, in one scene we are presented with the image of police officers emerging from oppressive isolation in the sewers to take back the streets of Gotham from the chaos and disorder imposed by Bane. Such images draw from the War on Crime and policing subcultural narratives (“take back the streets,” “tough on crime,” “the thin blue line,” etc.). This narrative is then merged with that of revolt. We now have a revolution for law and order capitalism and the oppressor is some amalgamation of socialism, anarchism, and even tribalism. We are taken down the rabbit hole and we come out the other side upside down and our heads screwed on backwards. The political and the moral are twisted and blurred but the end result is clear: radical and revolutionary politics are dangerous (not just to the standing political-economic order but for individual life and limb) while law and order capitalism is safe and virtuous. The Dark Knight Rises embodies the dark specter of hegemony and hegemony was a box office success.
Kevin F. Steinmetz is a doctoral candidate in the College of Criminal Justice at Sam Houston State University. When not getting angry at popular culture he can be found working on his dissertation.
Kevin F. Steinmetz, PhD Candidate
College of Criminal Justice
Sam Houston State University