Marcus A. Roberts is Deputy General Secretary of the Fabian Society and tweets on politics, sci-fi and comic books as @marcusaroberts.
As a precocious DC child of the ‘80s I knew three things: Ronald Reagan was bad, Maggie Thatcher was bad, Batman was awesome. And for twenty five years I have never had reason to doubt those precepts.
And then along came Christopher Nolan’s Batman.
Simply, painfully put, this Batman is of the Right. And it’s probably closer to the Tea Party then the Tory Right at that.
Now I have cast my mind through contortions trying to create a Left wing logical thread but to no avail. And whilst I salute my comrade Conor Pope in his attempt to claim Batman for the Left (fuelled, I imagine, by the same childhood impulse to fight the vile Right and adore the Dark Knight) it’s time to face facts: Batman is of the Right, and it’s a pretty badass Right at that.
Let’s consider the evidence. Philosophically. Nolan’s Batman represents the struggle between the individual (good) and the collective (bad). So far, so Manichean. But it gets worse. First, there’s the stereotype of Alfred’s stern Victorian fathering (‘I’m punishing you for your own good Master Bruce!’ famed Ayn Rand reader Michael Caine all but screams throughout the film). Next we see the stereotypical right-wing fear fantasy that is Bain’s dystopian collectivist vision of Occupy Gotham in which after the bankers are shot; the remaining rich are reduced to the gulag; and show trials of the ex-ruling class are presided over by Scarecrow.
Morally, the lesson of the movies is clear: the state is powerless to protect you, the descamisados are coming to string you up (Bane is, after all, mostly shirtless) and politicians even when at their most heroic are ultimately, well, Two Faced. Thus only the individual can save you.
‘But what about Batman’s “no guns” rule!’ I hear the NRA cry. ‘Surely that proves that he’s an Obama-style liberal like the rest of New York/Chicago <ahem> Gotham?’ Well, aside from the Dark Knight’s dubious distinction between the non-use of hand guns at short range but his contentment to use vehicle mounted heavy machine guns and anti-armour air-to-ground rockets, there comes the fact that his life is ultimately saved by Catwoman’s use of a gun to kill Bain — a fact that Ms. Kyle explicitly reminds him of.
And where is good to be found in Nolan’s Batman? Why in the “Big Society”, of course. It is the philanthropy of the wealthy and the kind hearts of charity workers that provide Gotham’s safety net. In fact, the state is shown to be so uncaring that as the movie nears its dénouement an army officer would rather sentence a school bus (a school bus!) full of orphaned children (oh yes, orphans no less) to atomic incineration then risk the threat of reprisal by the armed collectivists. Once again, the danger the collective poses to the individual — even in helpless hostage form — and the sheer inhumanity of remaining cold-hearted to the fate of children on grounds of mere concern for the city’s populace en masse is a lynchpin of the film’s emotional argument for the Tea Party’s distrusts.
So where does Nolan’s Batman stand on matters of policy? On the Right of course. Be it the Batman’s use of torture to extract information against the terrorist threat or his dismissal of privacy in exceptional circumstance balanced only by the proviso that the power is only wielded by an exceptional individual (as brilliantly argued by the Labour Critic-in-Chief Anthony Painter) we see a Batman universe of the Right. Not even energy policy escapes the frame as the film’s MacGuffin (like the Avengers’ Cosmic Cube before it) shows the quest for sustainable, clean energy through fusion as a project that can succeed only when backed by the private sector.
And lastly, in starkly partisan terms we see Nolan’s Batman show its true blue Tory colours when it comes to its whole-hearted embrace of Nick Herbert’s flagship Police Commissioner policy. After all, who is Batman’s staunchest ally but Commissioner Gordon?
So sadly I can’t pretend to reconcile my politics with my superhero anymore. But at least the Left still has Star Trek — a gloriously Fabian multi-cultural, money-less paradise of post-nation state federal power with the United Federation of Planets like the EU of Trevor Kavanagh’s worst nightmares. And we’ve got Doctor Who — who at least has the decency to try to overthrow Mrs. T.
But Batman? He’s yours.