Batman and the problem of constituent power

[As it happens, the first post on this blog will be a guest post. De Dicto welcomes David Graeber, who is publishing for the first time the unabridged original of his New Inquiry essay “Super position”.]

(Here is the original version of the Batman essay that appeared in New Inquiry. It is indeed a bit long and much of it probably not strictly necessary, so I understand why it was edited, but one or two of the arguments that got lost in the editing process were ones I was rather happy with, so I thought I might put the original out there too just in case anyone’s interested.) [PDF]


On Saturday, October 1, 2011, the NYPD arrested 700 Occupy Wall Street protestors as they were attempting to march across the Brooklyn Bridge. Mayor Bloomberg justified it on the grounds that they were blocking traffic. Five weeks later, the same mayor closed off the Queensboro bridge to traffic for two solid days to allow for shooting of Christopher Nolan’s last installment of his Batman Trilogy. At the time, many remarked upon the irony.

A few weeks ago I went to see the film, The Dark Knight Rises, with some friends from OWS—most of whom had been arrested on the bridge themselves. We had all known that the movie was supposed to be effectively one long piece of anti-Occupy propaganda. But afterwards we all agreed: we never imagined it would be such a bad film. We’d at least expected to have fun.


Let me clarify one thing from the start: it really is a piece of anti-Occupy propaganda. Some still deny it. Nolan, the director, claims the script was written before the movement even started, and that the famous scenes of the occupation of New York (“Gotham”) were really inspired by Dickens’ account of the French Revolution. This is probably true. But it’s disingenuous. Everyone knows Hollywood scripts are being rewritten continually while movies are in production, and that when it comes to messaging, even details like where a scene is shot (“I know, let’s have the cops face off with Bane’s followers right in front of the New York Stock Exchange!”) or a minor change of wording (“let’s change ‘take control of’ to ‘occupy’”) can make all the difference. Then there’s the fact that the villains actually do attack the Stock Exchange. Still, it’s precisely this ambition, the filmmaker’s willingness to take on the great issues of the day, that ruins the movie. It’s sad, because both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight had moments of genuine eloquence. In them, Nolan shows he does have some interesting things to say about human psychology, and particularly, about the relation of creativity and violence (it’s hard to imagine he wouldn’t, as a successful action film director). The Dark Knight Rises is even more ambitious. It dares to speak on a scale and grandeur appropriate to the times. As a result it stutters into incoherence.

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