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The Darkest Knight Before the Dawn

With all the Hype Hubbub and $450 million in worldwide sales, I can't help but wonder; is Osama Bin Laden allowed to see movies? My gut instinct says he can't, especially not the cinematic triumphs of the "Great Satan". But more to the point, I wonder if he is aware of the shifts that are taking place in American culture and the messages it is sending. Certainly George Bush must have taken a few hours out of his busy agenda to grab some popcorn and check out Gotham's Caped Crusader. How could he not with every reviewer linking the Bush administration to the Batman?

The question might then be, does he get it. Does George Bush feel the turning tides of the superhero genre, which emerged out of the American public clamoring for a world delineated into right and wrong, transforming into a complicated global awareness of cause and effect, sovereignty, pride, and hubris? Or does he simply salivate over the idea of complete SONAR surveillance of every citizen and the idea of an in flight pickup out of the top story of a Hong Kong Skyscraper.

Chances are everyone's favorite cowboy is more into gadgets and grenades than geo-political philosophy, but it seems that Hollywood is beginning to love both. There is no doubt that the media landscape has changed with the minds of Americans over the last 7 years.

As two wars rage on in the Middle East, people are starting to realize that American heroism (also known as colonialism) may be creating the very monsters that it is trying to fight. No doubt Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight" is analogous to the situation we face with the Bush administration and its crusading in a nebulous War on Terror, but to call George Bush Batman is desperately short sided. If the emergence of Bruce Wayne's vigilantly alter ego is to be accredited to the emergence of the fanatical terrorist The Joker, we have to point out that Osama Bin Laden was bombing America long before George Bush was elected president in November 2000. We were bombing Saddam Hussain while Bush’s dad was in office, and funneling guns into Iraq to take down the Islamic Republic in the Iran-Iraq war under Regan.

In Christopher Nolan's first film in the series, Batman is told that the only way he can take on the corruption he sees, is to become more than a man. Henri Ducard tells him "If you make yourself more than just a man, if you devote yourself to an ideal, you become something else entirely… A legend". Batman is Neo-Liberalism driving its jet-black super-tank through the side of your building. In the first movie, multi-billionaire hero Bruce Wayne takes the law into his own hands after seeing the murder of his father, a man who worked to save Gotham on the back of the shiny silver commercialism of Wayne enterprises.

By the second movie we learn that the lawless fight for truth and justice in the name of citizens trying to make a good honest buck, has manifested into a criminal world of ever increasing violence. The mob ruthlessly defends its sovereignty from the crusades of an idealist who speaks of freedom while defending a still equally corrupt system.

Terrorism is bread when force rather than law is brought down upon the lawless, and in the end of the movie the fight for justice fails because the men of the law are still unwilling to purge them selves of the corruption in their own ranks. George Bush is only one more masked incarnation of the Neo-Liberal fanaticism, which feeds the madness of The Joker. The relatively sane corruption of the mob turns toward lunacy when confronted with the armored Batman. For us the legend which drives our enemies to extremes is an idea of a "The West" as the opposition, willing to root out both corruption and sovereignty with tanks. Where colonial Neo-Liberal policies have imposed them selves upon the Middle-East states, we have seen those people turn to fanaticism with increased vigilance.

Watching George Bush pack his suitcases at the end of this year will not be the same as watching Batman depart from Gotham. It is the idea of the masked avenger, which must take to the night, leaving us to respect the law even towards those we may disagree with.

Hanging upside down out of a building the joker tells us, "You just couldn't let me go could you? This is what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object…I think you and I are destined to do this forever."

What is left to be seen is whether the release of the dark night is really a change in direction. Are people really looking to loose the Neo-Liberal ideals which have created Batman and the Joker? Or is Hollywood just responding to people looking out at a war they do not want and the heroic rhetoric of a commander and chief with an approval rating of 28%. Is public consciousness truly ready to turn towards the source of the issue?

I can only hope that viewers of The Dark Knight are perceiving an allegory a little more sophisticated than Bush Vs. Terror. Still with $450 million dollars and counting, the sequel seems to be an unstoppable force as well. I guess we will have to check back in with our favorite Dark Knight to see how we are doing in a couple of year.

Screening Liberally Watch of the Day

Daily Show correspondent Wyatt Cenac plays a game of Republicans or Rappers with Jon Stewart.

Don't forget to catch Wyatt and other great comedians at the Laughing Liberally Barack Obama Birthday Party/Comedy Show this Monday at 8pm co-hosted by Shades of Black. $5 cover.

RSVP on Facebook or call 718-404-6009 for reservations.

The Jack Bauer Situation

I need to make a confession: I am a huge 24 fan. Jack Bauer is the man. The action is awesome. The stories are exciting (except maybe the second half of last season). It's just a really good TV show.

But as a liberal I have long felt uncomfortable (and to some degree ashamed) of my 24-love. It pains me to know that this television program that is so dear to me, such an important part of my monday night, is used by Republicans to justify torture.

Dahlia Lithwick's new article over at Slate gives a few examples:

John Yoo, the former Justice Department lawyer who produced the so-called torture memos—simultaneously redefining both the laws of torture and logic—cites Bauer in his book War by Other Means. "What if, as the popular Fox television program '24' recently portrayed, a high-level terrorist leader is caught who knows the location of a nuclear weapon?" Even Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, speaking in Canada last summer, shows a gift for this casual toggling between television and the Constitution. "Jack Bauer saved Los Angeles. … He saved hundreds of thousands of lives," Scalia said. "Are you going to convict Jack Bauer?"

But Lithwick points out that the Republicans interpretation of the Jack Bauer situation is deeply flawed (and why it's ok for me to like 24):

The problem is not just that they all saw themselves in Jack Bauer. The problem was their failure to see what Jack Bauer really represents in relation to the legal universe of 24.

For one thing, Jack Bauer operates outside the law, and he knows it. Nobody in the fictional world of 24 changes the rules to permit him to torture. For the most part, he does so fully aware that he is breaking the law. Bush administration officials turned that formula on its head. In an almost Nixonian twist, the new interrogation doctrine seems to have become: "If Jack Bauer does it, it can't be illegal."

Bauer is also willing to accept the consequences of his decisions to break the law. In fact, that is the real source of his heroism—to the extent one finds torture heroic. He makes a moral choice at odds with the prevailing system and accepts the consequences of the system's judgment by periodically reinventing a whole new identity for himself or enduring punishment at the hands of foreign governments. The "heroism" of the Bush administration's torture apologists is slightly less inspiring.

Screening Liberally: Why So Serious? Dark Knight Reviews Continue.

This is the second in our series of Screening Liberally reviews of The Dark Knight. Stay tuned for more.

Accolade for Christopher Nolan's newest Batman movie, The Dark Knight has been almost universal. The film has a 94% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes, a website which compiles and analyzes film reviews, and words like "inspired," "brilliant," and "Oscar-worthy" are being thrown around like so much confetti. Entertainment Weekly even offered Heath Ledger's performance as the Joker as evidence that the recently-deceased Australian actor would have grown up into "as audacious an actor as Marlon Brando and maybe as great."

Which isn't to say that praise for Nolan's film is undeserved--on the contrary, it's certainly one of the most interesting and well-made films to come out this year and, in terms of big, blockbuster movies, it's definitely a "game-changer": proof that a superhero movie can be subtle and introspective while still managing to be both totally thrilling and gross an enormous amount of money at the box office. It's also clear that The Dark Knight has touched a cultural nerve. Something about this bleak, unflashy portrait of a city in crisis and the moral decisions necessary to save it resonates with the American public. And much has been made of this already: check out Seth Pearce's earlier review, which presents a response to some critic's arguments that Batman and the rest of the good guys represent Bush and Cheney as they struggled to make the right decisions about how to combat terrorism.

As Seth pointed out, this is giving Bush a little too much credit. Batman--however weirdly egocentric dressing up as a bat and becoming a vigilante police officer might be--fundamentally wants to help as many people as he can, while Bush seems more concerned with keeping the rich wealthy and racing toy cars around a pond in Crawford. What's more interesting and offers more insight into our national character is how strongly allegorical the movie is, almost to the point of being epic. Reviewers have picked up on this, too, calling it alternately "Shakespearean" and "mythological." It's not a reflection of our reality; it's a reflection of the moral questions which, even in this time of political turmoil, are still relevant to us.

More after the jump!

Screening Liberally Watch of the Day

Air America "progressive" radio host Lionel makes a fool out of himself on CNN, bashing the blogosphere and progressive orgs like MoveOn.

It's always great to see so-called "progressives" go on TV and bash what are arguably the strongest parts of the national progressive infrastructure. I guess he thinks sounding like a wingnut gives him "independence" and "character". Recently, he also blasted Keith Olbermann.

Josh Orton from MyDD:

At a time when progressives lead conservatives by every imaginable organizational metric, why keep a radio show host on an ostensibly "progressive" network who goes on TV and bashes progressives?

Thank Lionel for his brave progressive-bashing rhetoric:

Email [email protected].

I'm sure he'd love to hear what you've got to say.

Screening Liberally Watch of the Day

The one video that every liberal must watch today:


MoveOn's new ad with Boy Meets World's Rider Strong. This will be the first political ad to run on Comedy Central. And it's pretty funny too.

Leaked W Trailer

Here's the leaked trailer from Oliver Stone's new film W, a biopic of our party-boy turned President. It looks to be a somewhat sympathetic account of Bush's life stretching from his raucous days at Yale to the Presidency.

Josh Brolin of No Country for Old Men will play Dubya. James Cromwell plays the elder President Bush. Elizabeth Banks, who will also be starring in the new Kevin Smith film Zack and Miri Make a Porno which comes out the same weekend as W, plays Laura Bush. Richard Dreyfuss portrays good ol'
Dick Cheney. And Jeffrey Wright, one of the best stage actors alive (IMHO the best), plays Colin Powell.

Should be interesting. Check the trailer.

Batman and Bush's Failure to Combat Terrorism

This past weekend witnessed the release of one of the biggest cinematic events of all time: The Dark Knight. For this auspicious occasion the Living Liberally Blog is rolling out multiple Big Picture reviews in the next couple days. I'm going first. Enjoy!

Of the countless movies made since 9/11, this new Batman film might have the most accurate depiction of the political and social climate of the world as it is today. A world largely uncontrolled by law and order, instead run by criminals, who are in turn pursued by vigilante heroes who stand in for a largely ineffective law enforcement. This leads to feelings of great fear and insecurity among the people of Gotham.

In The Dark Knight, Gotham is faced with its most treacherous villain yet: The Joker. Heath Ledger's brilliant and maniacal anarchist clown should be remembered one of the finest movie villain performances of all time. Ledger's Joker eschews all order, whether it is the power of the state or the invisible hand of capitalism. He appeals to a side of humanity more disordered than even the basest most animalistic parts of our minds. His complete unpredictability becomes a power that he uses to control the population of Gotham, much like the specter of terrorism has dominated the American psyche since 9/11.

Batman, our hero, who, in the time between the first movie and this one, has fought to put most of Gotham's big villains behind bars. He's done so as a vigilante and without much support (and a little disdain) from the people of Gotham City. While much of the film focuses on Batman's trying to reconcile the good that he's doing with the hate he incurs from the public and it's elected officials, the film's true protagonist is the people of Gotham City, whose mood, almost like that of a Greek Chorus echoes throughout each scene.

The political side after the jump!

Screening Liberally Watch of the Day

Nas and Color of Change make a special delivery to racist Fox News.

What I've Heard About...because you only really listen to what your friends recommend

1. Order of Myths (from the Sundance Film Festival) opens Friday, July 25 at IFC in New York.

other screenings in other places

2. Bamcinemateck Animation Weekend is Here

3. Wall-E still rocking.

4. The new X-Files film opens tomorrow. Like the Simpson’s movie, you don’t have to have to be updated on the TV show to enjoy/understand the film.

5. More Animation at the Rooftop Film Fest on Friday. Short films plus beforehand listen to music and hang out at the block party. After the films head over to the free open bar after at Matchless. $9 for the show though.

6. A Parade of Pink Elephants

Disney took a cue from Dali and slipped a surrealist montage into Dumbo

Dali exhibit is up at the MOMA. Fantasia and a surrealism-inspired short is playing at the MOMA tomorrow, Friday, July 25, 2pm. If you miss it, you can still catch Dali’s 1929 film Un Chien Andalou. Don’t miss the beginning - the famous shot happens in the first minute of the film.

The MOMA is doing a month-long tribute to the Coen Brothers. All their great films, except unfortunately O Brother Where Art Thou .

Recommendations: Blood Simple, Raising Arizona, Miller’s Crossing, Fargo, The Big Lebowski, and of course, No Country For Old Men.